Up to the armholes in the Nahanni River (P202001)

This is the fourth podcast in a series that shows how I am knitting the Nahanni River sleeveless pullover, and describes techniques used in knitting the Nahanni River project: casting on for a steek, decreasing in colour work, and using symmetry to spot mistakes. It shows progress at the end of the second vertical pattern repeat.

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Nahanni River 4. Up to the armholes in the Nahanni River (P202001)


The headings in this transcript link to the point in the podcast where that topic starts. This transcript has been edited to correct errors and to clarify phrasing.


Hello. I’m Steve, also known as TeabreakKnitter on social media.

This is the fourth in a series of podcasts in which I’m talking about how I am knitting the Nahanni River vest. The pattern is by Simply Shetland, and the author is Betts Lampers. I’m knitting it in Shetland wool from Jamieson’s of Shetland (in spindrift).

In the previous podcasts I’ve talked about how I planned this project, how I cast on this project and how I’m knitting the project in stranded knitting. In this podcast I want to show you how I cast-on for the steeks (for the arms and the neck), how I’m doing the decreases in the colour work to make sure I maintain the pattern, and how I’m using symmetry to check whether I’ve made mistakes in the pattern or in a decreases.

Cast-on for steeks

I will start off talking about how I cast on for the steeks. I will do this by showing you a more detailed view, using not the yarn for the project but a larger yarn so that you’ll be able to see what I’m doing.

The steek that I’m going to make is to cover these four stitches here, that I’ve marked with a pin, that will be put on waste yarn, and might later be used to pick up an armhole, for example. I’m going to use an eight stitch steek. I’m using an even number of stitches, so that should I have to change the colour yarn in the middle of the steek, I can be sure of catching both colours of the old yarn, and both colours of the new yarn. I’m also going to be adding an edge stitch to each side of the steek in the background colour, which would normally be used for picking up armholes for the arms or button bands.

This is how I do it. I’m going to be knitting up in pattern, so keeping this pattern with 2, 4, 4, 4, 4, 2 colours. Two dark stitches before the 4 stitches I want to pick up, so here are the four stitches I’m going to take onto this yarn. You can see that I’ve already threaded it through.

Here’s the stitch before the {first steek} one, and what I want to do is to make an edge stitch, tied into this one. So, knit that stitch as normal but leave the loop on the needle so I can knit into the back of that. That’s the edge stitch. I want to mark that position, because that’s actually the start of the steek. That stitch is always going to be in knit in the background colour.

Now, before I do anything with those other stitches, I’m going to make the stitches for the steek. The first stitch in the steek is going to be contrasting with this one, so it’s going to be in the light colour yarn. I make a loop with a dark colour yarn, and knit into it with the light colour yarn. I’ve now got the first steek stitch.

I now use the light colour yarn to form of the loop, {and} the dark colour yarn to form the stitch. That’s two steek stitches.

Loop in one colour, knit in the next {other colour}. {There are now} three steek stitches.

The fourth steek stitch is going to be in the dark colour. Now, I want to be able to spot the middle of the steek very easily, because it’s the middle of the steek that I’m going to cut. So, I make another loop with the light colour, and knit with the dark colour. I’ve now got those two dark colour stitches next to each other. They’re what I’m going to look for when I cut the steek.

I now knit another three steek stitches, starting off with a stitch in the light colour.

I’ve now got one edge stitch and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 {steek} stitches. I want to make another edge stitch.

Now I return back to the main fabric. Here are the four stitches that I’m going to put on hold, and here’s the first stitch of the fabric that’s going to be knit as a light coloured stitch.

However, I want to create a new edge stitch, so I’m going to knit into that with the dark yarn, put in a placeholder {stitch marker} for the start of the steek, and then I’m going to knit through the back of the loop {in the light yarn} to give me the light stitch that I want.

And continue to the end of the row. So, that’s my cast on. I’ve got the two edge stitches that were knit into to the last stitch the fabric {before the start of the steek}. That ties them in quite closely to that, and then I’ve got the alternating steek stitches. As you can see each stitch is formed from a loop of the opposite colour. This means that when I come to reinforce the steek I can make sure that very bottom of the cast on edge and the stitches themselves are reinforced so they don’t pull back.

The reason I used the eight stitch steek is so that when I reinforce I’ll be tying those two stitches together and those two stitches together so if I change colour in the middle, the two old colours are going to be held together and the two new colours are going to be held together, so that the whole fabric is reinforced even if I’m changing colour.

So that’s how I cast on for my steeks.

Decreases in colour work

In this next section, I want to show you how I do decreases in the colour work so that I maintain the colour pattern. The idea for this came from Roxanne Richardson, and the URL of her video is shown in the list of “useful links” at the bottom of this page.

I’m going to show you what I do, again by cutting away and using a larger yarn so that you can see more easily what I’m doing.

I’m going to show you how I do decreases when I’m {knitting} stranded colorwork, and I’m going to show you how I decrease around this steek in the middle here.

So I’ve got an 8 stitch steek, with 2 edge stitches on it. I’m going to decrease here, in these two stitches, and in these two stitches in just the same way as I would for an armhole. I’m working in a chequerboard pattern that makes it very easy to see see how the stitches are lying. I’ll just work up towards the decrease. One more stitch.

And we have a light and a dark stitch that we going to do the decrease on. Now, if I was working in a single plain colour, I would do a knit two together (k2tog) here, so that the {decrease} stitch was lying parallel to the seam. So I’ve got a right leaning stitch so that it will look neatly lined up against the seam, which will actually be made into the edge stitch. But look what happens now in the colour work if I do that. (I’ll just pull this back stitch tight a bit so that you can see what is happening here). So you can here that you’ve got your colour work. You’ve got white, brown, white, brown, white and when the next stitches tighten, those stitches lie over each other each other, so we get two white stitches next to each other – which is not what we want.

If we undo that, and instead of doing a right-leaning knit two together, I do a left-leaning ssk {slip, slip, knit} (I’m succeeding in making the stitches quite loose by re-working them!) you can see what’s happened here now. We’ve got white, brown, white, brown, white, brown, white and the dominant stitch here is the brown.

Let’s work our way over to the other side {of the steek}.

On the other side the seam will be leaning the other way, so it’s where I would normally do an ssk {slip, slip, knit}. I’ve got a left-leaning stitch so that it follows the line of the seam. Let’s see what happens if we do an ssk on the left-hand side of this.

Slip, slip, and it’s going to end up with a dark stitch. And {now knit} the light stitch next to it.

Once again, when things are tightened up, what do we find? We have two dark stitches next to each other.

Let’s see what happens if we do knit 2 together {k2tog}, a right leaning stitch. Knit 2 together brings that left hand light stitch on top. And again, I’ll knit through it so it is easier to see what’s happening here.

Using the right-leaning knit two together {k2tog} we have kept the light, dark, light, dark, light pattern. And you can see that there’s a dark stitch tucked underneath.

If you look on the other side, again the light stitch is tucked underneath the dark stitch, so you’ve kept the continuity of pattern going better.

So, in colour work,  when you come to an area of decrease at the edge of the fabric, you want to use a decrease that leans TOWARDS the edge.

So if you’re coming up the fabric and to the left you’ve got an edge of the fabric at which you will be decreasing, you decrease using the ssk {slip, slip, knit} left-leaning stitch to do a decrease there. On the other side, where you are at the edge of the fabric and moving in towards the centre of the fabric as you knit, you want a right-leaning decrease, the {k2tog} knit 2 together. That way you lay the correct colour on top on the public side of your work. This keeps {colour} continuity of the row before the one you are knitting at the moment.

So that’s the rule: to do a decrease in colour work lean the decrease TOWARDS the edge of the fabric.

That’s how I do the decreases in my colour work.

Using symmetry

In a previous video I talked about how I follow the chart and make sure I can see what the pattern was on the previous row when I’m knitting the current row as a way of finding out whether I’ve made mistakes or not quite early on. Something else I use is symmetry.

Patterns are quite symmetrical in this and most other stranded knitting, and you find what happens at one arm hole happens at the other. What happens either side of a V-neck tends to be symmetrical across the two sides. I can use that to spot whether I have made mistakes in the colour work, whether I have done the right number of decreases and things like that.

I’d like to start by talking about the different types of symmetry.

You have translation symmetry and reflection symmetry. These are particularly helpful to knitters. There are also other symmetries called rotation and scaling, that I won’t talk about in this podcast (or the T-torial whose link is in the “useful links” section below), but designers might be particularly interested in those.

In terms of translation symmetry, this is where a shape is repeated either horizontally or vertically. In this case you can see the triangle is repeated as you go across a line. You might see minor variations, in this case in the colour, but basically we’re interested in the things that are common.

In a written knitting pattern, translation symmetry could show up as a repetition in a row knit 2, repeat (purl 2, knit 2) three more times, or
repeat (rows 3 to 5) 10 more times that would be a vertical repeat.

So this is a repeat within a round or row, and this is a repetition of a group of rows. If you do one of these repetitions, you can compare your current repetition with earlier ones to see that they’re the same. If they’re not the same, you can work out where you made your mistake before it is covered up by more complicated patterns coming on later.

Looking at that another way, you might have your knitting represented in a chart, and a chart would often have a motif that is then repeated as you go along a row or you go up a row, just like this one.

What’s not necessarily obvious from the motif itself is what the overall pattern looks like, where you will often see other symmetries appearing that you weren’t obviously aware of.

Here we have got the 1,2,3 horizontal repeats and the 1, 2, 3 vertical repeats. As the original motif is repeated you can see that it’s forming an overall systematic design which is of set of crosses on a background or, if you prefer, a set of diagonal lines with the crosses between them.

You can use this as you are knitting to be able to compare what’s happening in this repeat with what’s happening it that repeat.

The other type of symmetry {that I will discuss} is reflection (as things would appear in a mirror).

What happens as we move from left to right is the opposite of what happens as you move from right to left. This can useful in knitting when you’ve got something like an armhole or a v-neck.

Coming back to our pattern, you can see this vertical {reflection} symmetry here. If you come up column 10, if you look to its right, on the top row you’ve got a white, black, black, black and on the left you got a white, black, black, black. So what’s happening on one side of the line of symmetry is the opposite (is happening in the opposite order) to what’s happening on the other side.

Translating that into knitting, and say we’re here, and we have got a v-neck that we’re doing in the middle of the front of a jumper {sweater in the USA}. What happens if you have a v-neck? The V is normally placed along a line of symmetry in your design, so that the left-hand side of the garment looks like the right hand side of the garment, and everything is nice and symmetrical – balanced left and right.

As you do your decreases, what you actually see here, starting at the bottom, is that what’s happening on the right hand side (as you look at it in your knitting) is that things are happening in the opposite sequence to on the left, and the same as you go up through all these {rows}. As you knit across your V-neck, once you get to the far side you can check that you have the same sequence black, white, white, as you move away from the V.

You can also use this is as a way of working out where {in your pattern} you should start knitting again after the V. As you have got the chart, you’re working your way across and often this {the starting point} will be set in from the edge of the motif as is it shown in your pattern. When you pick up the other side of the V-neck you can just say “where am I in the pattern? I’ve got to be looking for where it goes white, white, black, black, black” and you can look for that sequence on the other side just to check you are picking up and knitting your chart from the right place.

As for armholes, often you’ll find the armholes are symmetrical. You’ve got the same pattern as you leave the armhole on what to you as you knit is the right hand side as you looking at it, as you have on the opposite side. So again, you can check that at the beginning of the part of the garment you are knitting you have got the same sequence in reverse as you have on the opposite side.

That doesn’t always work, though. This {example pattern} is offset slightly. It isn’t symmetrical. {For example, if you} take this line you’ve got one black there and 2 blacks there. However you will often find that the front and the back of the garment are the same, so if you’re looking at the front as you knit it and you’ve got the sequence two blacks anda white on this round then as you’re knitting the back and you come away from the armhole you’d also expect to see two blacks and a white. And the same {principle} the at other armhole.

So that’s another way in which you can do the checking, even if an individual part of the garment isn’t symmetrical, you often see a symmetry with a different part of the garment that you can check as you are knitting.

I’ve been talking about this in terms of colours, colour work. It applies equally if you are using stitch patterns, such as knits and purls, and for lace work and other open work where things can get a bit more complicated. Certainly as you knit one repeat of your pattern you can check that with the next repeat immediately you have finished the second repeat to make sure you have the same sequence of stitches. At that stage it is easier to go back and correct what you’ve done. Once you’ve done a few more stitches, and even gone on to the next row {or round} of your knitting, it becomes far more difficult to correct your open work.

Let’s have a look at what that means in practice. Here’s an example of where we can use translation to find a mistake in our knitting.

In this swatch you’ve got a front which has a v-neck opening and armholes that you can see on the front and on the back. What we have here, if you look in the vertical, we have the pattern repeating there and there, is that that cross has got a white centre, and that cross has got a brown centre. So there’s a mistake. This repeat is not the same as that repeat. That centre is wrong.

Things get a bit more complicated as we try and find the mistakes on the front here. Just to help you orientate yourself, here is the front of the knitting, and I have highlighted the edges of the steeks with those blue threads. You can see here if you got the v-neck and you’ve got the two steeks on either side.

With that to help us, what can we see?

First of all if we look at what’s happening here and what’s happening here in this sequence, we see quite clearly that there are two white stitches as we come away from the edge. And here, we appear to have a brown and a white. If you compare what’s happening, this is where I’ve used a knit two together which is sloping towards the interior of the fabric, instead of an ssk which would have been sloping away. If it had been sloping away, the white stitch would have been dominant, not the brown stitch.

We have got a difference here, that as we are coming in, you have got two clear white stitches here,  and we have got two stitches being joined together here. I forgot to decrease on this side. On this, down here, is another sequence that if you look is incorrect. In this one I have used a slip, slip, knit (ssk) which is a right leaning stitch, instead of a left leaning stitch. You are getting a different appearance down on this bottom part, here.

Looking on the back and the front at these armholes now.

You see here that we’ve got two stitches in white and one white below them and a brown above that. Here you’ve got the two {white} stitches, the one {white} stitch and a white above. That should be the same {as on the other side}, of course.

We have got the armhole here. We are starting the pattern away from the armhole should be the same, but it’s not. Here you have got the mistake – that round should be a white.

On the left here you have part of a cross up against the steek, Here I have got a full cross against the steek. There must be a mistake there. In this particular case, the mistake was that I forgot to decrease. Again, we are using the translational symmetry of comparing the front and the back.

So by understanding that you can use the various repeats in your pattern to see where things should be the same, so you can compare them, and understanding how the shaping of your pattern is symmetrical, either side of a centre line in a symmetrical pattern, or between front and back, when you are knitting your piece, you can see where there are differences where there should be no difference at all, and you can go back and correct those problems before they get buried under the next few rows {or rounds}.

That is how I use symmetry to help me find mistakes in what I’ve done early, so that I can correct them.

Progress with the project

Now I’d like to show you the progress I’ve made with this project.

I’m about halfway up the arm holes at the moment. It’s a good time to take stock because I’ve knit the body, I’ve started knitting the steeks so I can show you where the steeks are, what they look like while I’m knitting them, and I can also show you something about how I’m planning to do deal with the ends of the yarn.

So here it is.

This is the project so far, and the first thing I want to show you is this, the steek at the front. You can see that here is the gap at the start of the steek, and the stripes up here are where I will actually cut the steek.

The other steeks are at the edge of the arm holes. Here, the gaps how much are larger at the bottom because I’m holding more stitches for the underarm, but the width of the steek switches themselves, the banding here that I’m going to cut, is the same.

If you look inside, you’ll see the ends. As I said {in an} earlier {podcast} I didn’t weave in the ends as I went along. I’m going to weave in these ends later on. We then come to the steek for the armhole. Above the arm hole all those ends are actually in the middle of the steek, so once I’ve secured, reinforced, the edges of that steek and cut down the middle, all those ends there will be exactly the same as the knitted rows, in that there will be a cut down the middle there, and for every single row the strand of wool will be finishing at the middle there, so this set of ends I won’t need to weave in because they’re held by the reinforcement of the steek.

So this is where I am. The reason I stopped at this particular point is that I have reached the vertical repeat in in the pattern. So it is a convenient place to stop, do the filming, and remember where I got to.

What’s next?

So that’s my progress on the Nahanni River vest, and in the next podcast, which I expect to be the final podcast in the series, I’ll show you the last few techniques that I’m going to have to use in order to knit it. I’m going to have to reinforce the steeks to stop them unravelling, and I’m going to have to cut the steeks to make the arm holes to make the V of the neck, and I’m going to have to pick up and knit the arm bands and the neck band.

So that will be the topic of the next podcast.

Until then Happy Knitting!

Links to items mentioned in the podcast