Judy Becker's Magic Cast On beyond socks: good bye, ribbing!

I envisioned the pattern on my Komi vests to start right away at the bottom, without ribbing. Ribbing is a necessary evil of every knit garment: it keeps edges from curling up. The goal was to kiss good-bye to ribbing.

I wanted the pattern start from the very edge of the garment without ribbing, that keeps edge from curling up.
Judy’s Magic Cast On which I found in my trusty little book Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor was just the technique that accommodated my design.

General instructions

Judy’s Magic Cast On is used mostly in knitting sock toes. It looks very neat and truly invisible. There are many YouTube videos, but here Judy explains herself.
I will go directly to the design idea.

Basic recipe for bottom-up sweater/vest on circular needles

Overview: The idea works for garments knit bottom up.
You create a counter-tension of two fabrics knit in opposite directions from the cast-on rows without adding too much bulk.
First you knit up and down, fold the fabric, gather the stitches onto another pair of needles and knit together. Continue knitting the garment in a round, as usual.
Press the fold when the garment is done.

Needed: 3 circular needles of your project size, 2 longer and 1 can be shorter. Some quantity of thinner (sports or baby weight) yarn in addition to your project yarn.

  1. Cast on necessary number of stitches using 1 shorter and 1 longer set of needles.
    If your item requires 220 stitches then each needle should end up with 220 stitches. The direction of knitting on one needle will go up and on another – down.
  2. Before knitting, look attentively which side the yarn twists are on. The twists should end up on purl side.
  3. Knit “up” several rows in stranded color work. (I knitted 5).
  4. Knit “down” with a thin and dense yarn fewer rows. (I knitted 4.)
  5. Fold fabric and transfer stitches to the third needle: one stitch from one needle, one stitch from another needle.
  6. Continue the pattern on color work side, carefully knitting each stitch together. Inside fabric should remain as invisible as possible.

The finished edge looks a bit puffy. Carefully press the fold when the project is finished. Avoid stretching the edge.
Here is what I ended up with:

Thin inside band does not add bulk, but provides sufficient counter-tension to prevent curling.

If Judy’s Magic Cast On worked for socks and a vest edge and socks, it should work for mittens. My next idea was to knit two-sided mittens: one side – of fine angora, another side – of sock yarn. The success did not come cheap. It took 3 tries to get it somewhat right. Two sided mittens is a fancy idea that you do not have to follow, but the idea of using Judy’s Magic Cast On to knit mitten tips produces beautiful round shape.

The tips of the mittens: you can see Judy’s Magic Cast On, I hope. The outside of the mittens is Debbie Bliss’s angora. The palm side is a fine sock yarn from Peru.

Meanwhile… Let’s return to my Komi vest: the edge obediently stays down!

Komi knitting I: an accidental discovery

I stumbled into little known knitting tradition of the Komi people after making my first tunic from Alice Starmore’s Fishermen’s Sweaters and designing my own vest. The diagonal patterns of the Komi socks and mittens mesmerized me.

In the previous post I featured the vest of my own design inspired by the Komi knitting.

One of my first projects was a pattern called Baltic from Fishermen’s Sweaters by Alice Starmore. I wanted to make something that honors my roots from the Baltic shore.

Alice Starmore wrote in the introduction to her pattern that she could not find any fishermen’s sweaters from the Baltic regions except the one Estonian sweater in the Finnish museum. She based the pattern on that sweater executed in a yarn of lovely gray shades. Starmore’s book was published in 1993. This was the decade when very little was known about the knitting traditions of the former USSR.

After I finished the Baltic sweater, I knew that knitting according to someone’s instructions is not my forte. I love to design my own things.

For my next project, I googled Russian redwork embroidery. There were plenty of images on internet. Beautiful and suitable for knitting.

The woven towel from Perm region of Russia

The modified weaving pattern from a towel end was just right for the vest.
The vest has a few interesting technical features. I will write about them in detail in another post.

I abandoned the rule of using same type of yarn in stranded color work. A mix of fluffy Katia Alpaca-Silk (doubled) and a gradient set called Katia Ombre (sports weight).
It is a pity that Katia Alpaca-Silk is discontinued, but to my knowledge, there is compatible yarn under label Drops.

The swatch for my vest.

The combination of thicker, fluffier yarn and thinner, smoother yarn allowed me to use larger needles ( #7 US). The vest turned out to be of right thickness and went reasonably fast.

Komi vest inside out.
I did not use steeking for neck and arm openings. The technique is not suitable for very soft yarns knit on larger needles.
Also, one has to catch floats every 3 stitches.

I noticed something during my searches, which turned a pattern selection into an amateur science project: many diagonal geometric textile patterns posted online were captioned as Perm region of Russia. Perm is a city in the Republic of Komi, a federal territory within Russia. The native population there was not Russian.

A little more research yielded an intriguing story of the ancient textile tradition which is little known to the world: Komi stranded color work knitting and Komi weaving.

What became clear from my amateur research that the attractive diagonal geometric patterns in hand-knitting that we think of as Estonian or Latvian or Russian might have been borrowed from the Komi people, who live to the west of the Urals Mountains. The Estonians, the Finns and the Komis are of the same Finno-Ugric ethnic group and they live on neighboring territories. The Komis adopted the technique of knitting earlier than their cousins. It came from their Asian neighbors.

The Republic of Komi on the map of Russia

The search for Komi knitting books brought only one result, but a lot of other fascinating materials. The history of the Komi and their knitting is a testimony how much the fate and heritage of a small ethnic group depends on twists and turns of the history. It is the story well worth telling.

In the next several posts, I will write about the light and dark periods of the Komi knitting.

Knitting a vest: all in one piece and no ribbing

Just in time for the winter! I made another vest for myself. This time I tried two ideas: smooth transitions of colors and patterns and to do away with traditional steeking and ribbing. Colorwork patterns from the traditional Komi textiles.

I love the diagonal patterns of the Komi textiles. They are easy to combine together: one pattern flows into another creating visually intricate fabric.
Also, gradient and contrasting colors add liveliness.
My vest looks complicated, but with a few design tricks it is not complicated at all. I jotted down here a few ideas for you, my fellow knitting artists, to use in your projects.

Side note
The Komi people live in the Russian North. Alas, the Komi textile art is not well-known beyond the Russian borders. I will dedicate my future blogs to the fascinating story of their colorwork knitting tradition, meanwhile, I recommend Charlene Schurch’s Mostly Mittens: Traditional Knitting Patterns from Russia’s Komi People to explore the fascinating geometry of the Komi folk art.

Materials and tools

I do not buy “sweater quantities”. The experiments with yarns of different weights and textures procured somewhere as odd lots at bargain prices are far more interesting. It is also a good thing for Mother Earth.
For this vest I used light gray Katia merino/silk (doubled), a set of Katia Ombre (blues), sock-weight red wool with a lost label from Savers, leftovers of recycled angora yarn (oranges and yellows) and good old Cascade 220 for the hem borders.

Because I combined thicker and softer yarn with thinner and firmer yarns, I was able to use larger needles (#7). Such combination did not make my vest bulky or shapeless.

if you decide to repeat the experiment with mixing yarns, Katia merino/silk (now discontinued) can be replaced by the yarn produced under the label Drops. Drops offers more interesting range of colors.

As to Katial Ombre, it can be replaced by any other label that produces gradient yarns in Sports or sock weight.

Design challenge

The goal was to design a true single-piece garment without ribbing and without steeking (steeking is not suitable for soft yarns. The delicate yarns do not “stick” well like famouse Shetland wool. The cut edges will droop miserably).

The vest is knit on round needles bottom up. From the arm holes it is continued in flat knitting up to the shoulder seams.

The true design challenge was to get rid of ribbing round arm holes and neckline. Here is my solution: at the tip of the neckline and round the armholes I created 6 stitches out of 3. Those 6 stitches are knit in reversible style: knitting with gray yarn, purling with periwinkle yarn. The reduction of the stitches under the arm and around the neckline was with the 4th stitch from the edge, if you are looking at the right side of the fabric. That stitch was always of the same color: it creates a nice line round the openings.
When the vest was complete, I ran a string through the tube formed by reversible knitting to prevent excessive stretching.

Another small, but important technical trick: I inserted a short row near the shoulder seam to accommodate shoulder slope.

Here is how the edges of the vest look from the wrong side:

The wrong side of the Komi vest

Pithy “how-to” instructions

I publish here only the technical drawing and the color chart of the vest.
Note that I’m of a very generous size, so adjust the stitch and row counts according to your size.

If you decide to use the color chart below, remember the important task of centering the repeats of Bereginya pattern ( a stylized female figure ) along the hem. Bereginya means Mother-Protector in old Slavic languages.
Alice Starmore wrote the best instructions on centering and adjusting the border patterns in her books Fair Isle Knitting and Charts for Color Knitting. I recommend highly these two books if you are into stranded-color knitting.
By the way: the diagonal patterns of the Komi textiles are great for decreasing or increasing to fit a desirable size.

Bereginya border is 24 st X 18 rows. The leftmost strip of 12 st is the reduction of the pattern.
The repeat chart for “squiggles” is marked on the top of the pattern by dotted line.

Thank you for reading. I hope, you got a creative idea or two!