Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Telling knitting from crochet

It came as a surprise three years ago when I started crocheting to hear people call it "knitting".  Nobody who crochets or knits confuses the two, and most people who do a few textile arts can tell the difference at a glance.  But a large number of people who don't do either craft haven't any idea how to distinguish them.  

The sofa blanket and pillow above are both crochet.  If you want to get fancy, the blanket is filet crochet. Filet crochet is a technique that uses two stitches of different sizes to create patterns, using the negative space generated by the smaller stitch for contrast.

If you see someone making fabric and are trying to tell whether it's crochet or knitting, the absolute giveaway for crochet is a hooked tool.  If you aren't standing quite close enough to see whether there's a hook on the end, count the implements.  One short tool is always crochet.

Crochet also holds very few stitches.  If you see only one loop of yarn on the tool (or just a couple), you're looking at crochet.

Knitting uses at least two sharp ended needles with dozens of stitches all looped around the needles at the same time.

Knitting can be reproduced by machine, but crochet has to be made by hand.  So everyone owns a lot of knitted items.  T-shirts, socks, sweatpants, and mass produced sweaters are all knitted items.  Crochet has its own distinct stitch patterns that won't look like anything in your sock drawer.

Knitting is good at creating soft stretchy fabric such as socks.  Crochet tends to be stiffer so it's good for sturdy items such as placemats or tote bags.  It's easier to make fancy patterns with crochet and crochet produces fabric somewhat faster than hand knitting.

Crochet is inherently denser than knitting and uses one-third more yarn to produce the same sized item.  That sofa blanket in the photograph weighs about ten pounds.
Image credits:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Neglected subjects

This morning Peter Weis and I were chatting, and I mentioned that I was learning to use a knitting machine.  He replied that Singer was famous for their knitting machines, and it was a little while before we realized that he was thinking of sewing machines rather than knitting machines.  So if you've never seen a knitting machine before, this is what one looks like.  Sewing machines join fabric together; knitting machines generate knitted fabric.

That red strip hanging down from the device is a piece of knitting.  It curls at the side because it is a stockinette stitch (stockinette stitches like to roll and curl; that's how they behave).  This knitting machine has 50 hooks threaded, half of which I'm using to produce this item.  Each hook holds one stitch of fabric.  The purple item at right is a shuttle, which pushes the hooks and creates knitting stitches as it moves across the hook bed.  I operate this shuttle manually; higher end knitting machines can be punch card driven or computerized.

The advantage of using a knitting machine is that it can generate an entire row of stitches in the time it would take to produce two or three stitches with regular knitting needles.  This device can create rows up to 100 stitches wide, and with accessory extensions I could extend that as wide as the work table.

Knitting machines aren't like regular knitting needles, though.  This doesn't pack into a tote bag and carry to Starbucks.  It needs a fairly large work table with specific dimensions and it has to be clamped down.  It also requires engineering skill: a lot of things can go wrong with the assembly and operation.

Each knitting machine can only do certain things.  The hooks are sized to a given size of yarn and spaced at a fixed spacing, which means that one machine could produce baby blankets or heavy sweaters, but not both.  This flat bed knitting machine will never make socks (unless you like a seam in your socks, which nobody does--seams in socks are uncomfortable).

Before getting the flat bed machine I tried the smaller circular machine at right.  It operates on a crank and generates thin rounded pieces of knitting that are suitable for cords and edging.

The smaller machine is worth getting if this intrigues you. This device doesn't work on as many types of yarn as the manufacturer claims.  I've had success only with acrylics and wools in baby yarn and sock yarn.  It's almost a necessity to have a lace making crochet hook in order to correct for machine errors: these devices are prone to skipping and jamming.

Although once a piece gets started properly, this is far faster than manual knitting.

In recent years basic terms and concepts in textile arts have been fading from general knowledge.  These days, "needlepoint" and "knitting" and "braiding" often get misapplied to things that are not needlepoint or knitting or braiding, because a lot of people don't know enough about these subjects to tell the difference.  I've created a lot of the Wikimedia Commons textile arts categories; one has to know what one is looking at to sort the content.

I uploaded these photographs to Wikimedia Commons today; they might find their way into articles soon.