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Knitlist FAQ 4, knitting terms and techniques

Last updated July 27, 1998

Contents

This is FAQ #4 of four knitlist FAQs (short for "Frequently Asked Questions"). This FAQ includes information about popular knitlist projects. The other three FAQs include the rules and regulations of the knitlist; sources for some of the specific patterns frequently mentioned on the knitlist; and general knitting information.

  1. What do "yarn forward" and "steek" mean?

  2. What does "ssk" mean in a knitting pattern?

  3. What is the difference between Fair Isle and intarsia?

  4. What is "I-cord"?

  5. Is there any help for left-handed knitters?

  6. How do I convert among US, UK, and metric knitting needle sizes?

  7. How do I convert from US to metric measurements, and vice versa?

  8. I have a pattern in a language I can't read. Where can I find an international knitting glossary?

  9. Where can I find reviews of various kinds of yarn?

  10. What do those wash care symbols on the ball bands of yarn mean?

  11. Where can I find information about repetitive strain injury (RSI) and carpal tunnel syndrome?

Recent changes

July 27:
  • Added URL Constance Guy's article about carpal tunnel syndrome
April 22:
  • Updated number of yarn reviews available from Kim Salazar

What do "yarn forward" and "steek" mean?

Here are some definitions from Annabel Smyth <Annabel@amsmyth.demon.co.uk>, Brixton, London, England:
yarn forward
Basically you have a translation problem -- Americans call yfwd "YO", or "yarn over". What's happening is that you are making an extra stitch--when you knit two together, you decrease by one, and you need to increase again so that you have the right number of stitches on your needle. If you bring the wool to the front of the work and then knit a stitch, you will have a loop of wool going over the needle. This forms a new stitch, and also leaves a small hole in the work, which it's meant to do as part of the lace pattern. In some old patterns, "O" for "over" will appear. This is the same as YO or yarn forward. Conversely, "N" in old charts means "narrow" or k2tog.

steek
If you are going to have to cut a garment -- a cardigan worked in the round, for instance, and then cut up the middle, the steeks are extra stitches to mark the cutting line and provide a little hem.

What does "ssk" mean in a knitting pattern?

It's a decrease; it means "slip one stitch as if you were going to knit it; slip the next stitch the same way; put both stitches back onto the left needle; and knit them together. Here is a tip from Helene Rush, sent in by Doa Bumgarner:

Okay, here's my contribution to the list. This technique I came up with several years ago and some of you may like to use it. Work "ssk" as follows: Insert needle in front of first st and in back of next st and k 2 tog. This will look exactly like the traditional "sl 1, k 1, psso", or "slip, slip knit (ssk)", but is done in one movement.

What is the difference between Fair Isle and intarsia?

Well, first, let's note the similarities. Both intarsia and fair isle knitting deal with color. But the way color is used is entirely different.

In Fair Isle knitting, usually not more than two colors are ever used at once in a row. The two yarns are carried all the way across the row, using which ever color is appropriate at the time, with the other color carried loosely behind the worked stitches, creating a float or strand. This is also called stranding. Usually, one tries to limit carrying the non-worked yarn over long distances, usually no more than 5 stitches. Otherwise, the stranded yarn must be woven in.

Fair Isle is usually worked in the round, with steeks (see above) at the armholes, and possibly the neckline.

In intarsia knitting, the colors are worked in solid blocks. Usually, because of the nature of the pattern, one cannot easily strand the non-working yarn. In this case, each yarn is worked only in the area that it is needed, and kept in bobbins. When one color is "abandoned" for the next, the yarns must be twisted around each other to keep a hole from forming.

What is "I-cord"?

Here is a definition from Clifford Williams <williams@southern.edu>:
I-cord started out being called Idiot Cord because it resembles what an idiot might make by mistake. But, wait, it can be used many ways for decorative effects. So, now it is I-cord (and it gets a little respect).

It is done on double point needles, but it is "almost" like regular, flat knitting. Cast on three or four stitches. It doesn't work well with more than that. Now, slide the stitches over so that you can knit from the "wrong" end. (It will make more sense in a minute.) Knit the row accross. Slide the stitches to the other end of the needle. Do not turn. Place the knitting in the other hand. And knit again from the "wrong" end. This will twist the knitting into a small cord. Just like what some of us used to do with wooden spools and nails.

Is there any help for left-handed knitters?

If you are left-handed and just can't figure out those #!*% directions for right-handed knitters, Gail Goldey (goodyarn@mindspring.com) has kindly offered her help. Email her, and she'll see what she can do for you. (She is left-handed herself, and has taught knitting for years.)

How do I convert among US, UK, and metric knitting needle sizes?

Here's a helpful chart. Follow this link if your browser doesn't support tables.

American European metric Original UK New UK metric
0 2 14 2
1 2 1/2 13 2 1/4 - 2 1/2
2 2 1/2 - 3 12-11 2 3/4 - 3
3 3 1/2 10 3 1/4
4 3 1/2 -- 3 1/2
5 3 1/2 9 3 3/4
6 4 8 4
7 4 1/2 7 4 1/2
8 5 6 5
9 5 1/2 5 5 1/2
10 6 4 6
10 1/2 6 1/2 3 6 1/2
-- 7 2 7
-- 7 1/2 1 7 1/2
11 8 0 8
13 9 00 9
15 10 000 10
17 12 1/2 -- --
18 14 -- --
19 15 1/2 -- --
35 19 -- --
50 25 -- --

Lois Baker's FiberLink has a revised version of this chart, including antique needles and lace ones.

For those who like tiny needles, here are needle conversions for steel wire lace needles. Thanks to Judy Gibson for this. (0000 is the same as 4/0.)

mm 0.50 ? 0.75 1.00 1.25 1.50 1.75 2.00
American 8/0 7/0 6/0 5/0 4/0 3/0 00 0
English -- -- -- -- 17 16 15 14

How do I convert from US to metric measurements, and vice versa?

A handy conversion from US to metric measurements is that one inch = 2.5 centimeters. (That's approximate; more accurately, it is 2.54 cm per inch.) So, as is usually printed on ball bands, 10 cm (centimeters) is equal to 4 inches. And 1 meter is about 1.1 yards.

If the ball band has a grid of knitting stitches, the top number is usually stitch gauge (for example, 22sts = 10 cm, or 22 stitches per 4 inches), and the side number is the row gauge.

Thanks to Susan Koenig for this suggestion.

I have a pattern in a language I can't read. Where can I find an international knitting glossary?

With the help of many members of the knitlist, Kim Salazar has compiled a knitting glossary. It contains common knitting and crochet terms in 14 languages. It's available for browsing or download at:

Where can I find reviews of various kinds of yarn?

Thought about making something in a certain yarn and are uncertain, about its care, yardage, etc.? With the help of many people, Kim Salazar (she has been busy!) has been compiling yarn reviews. Her web page has reviews of more than 400 yarns. The reviews contain information about a yarn's yardage, fiber content, quality, care instructions, and so forth. The yarn review collection is still a work in progress, so don't be surprised if your yarn of interest isn't there. Please feel free to contribute your own yarn review. Again, Kim's web page is:

What do those wash care symbols on the ball bands of yarn mean?

There is a Web site that shows and explains all the garment care symbols: You can also get there from Fiberlink at: Click on "Common Thread," which also includes a collection of links to information about moth prevention and other fiber care.

The following explanations come from Jo Azary (jo@irvine.com), who has written verbal descriptions of the symbols as they are described in The Principles of Knitting, June Hemmons Hiatt, p. 328, copyright 1988, Simon and Schuster, ISBN 0-671-55233-3.

International care symbols

Washing

The wash tub symbol indicates that the article can be washed by machine or hand. The hand in a wash tub symbol indicates that the article should be washed by hand only, in water 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

A wash tub with a number indicates in degrees Celsius the maximum temperature at which the article can be washed.

95 degrees C 203 degrees F
60 140
40 104
30 86

Dry cleaning

A circle containing the capital letter A indicates that the article can be dry cleaned with any solvent.

A circle containing the capital letter P indicates that the article can be dry cleaned with perchlorethylene or white spirit.

A circle containing the capital letter F indicates that the article can be dry cleaned only with white spirit.

A crossed-out circle indicates "Do not dry clean."

A crossed-out circle in a square indicates "Do not tumble dry."

Bleaching

A triangle containing the lower-case letters "cl" indicates that the article can be bleached.

A crossed-out triangle indicates "Do not bleach."

Ironing

A diagram of an iron with one dot in the base indicates "Cool, can be ironed up to a temp of 120 degrees C (248 F).

A diagram of an iron with two dots in the base indicates "Warm, can be ironed up to a temp of 150 degrees C (302 F).

A diagram of an iron with three dots in the base indicates "Hot, can be ironed up to a temp of 200 degrees C (392 F).

A crossed-out diagram of an iron indicates "Do not iron."

Where can I find information about repetitive strain injury (RSI) and carpal tunnel syndrome?

The LA RSI Support Group maintains an excellent Web page containing general information, descriptions of personal experiences, recommendations of products, and more: Also, Jean Chang's Knit Review pages contain a compilation of posts of knitlisters' experiences with RSI: And one more: Constance Guy's Web site features an article she wrote about carpal tunnel syndrome:
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Emily Way (emily@woolworks.org)

Last updated July 9, 1999