Monday, October 26, 2009

A crash course in illustrating | More on Judy's Magic Cast On

For the past 2 weeks I've left my knitting on the shelf and focused on (a) becoming more fluent with Illustrator, and (b) creating illustrations that would be easy to follow. Specifically, my goal was to have illustrations of Judy's Magic Rib for you this week (see my previous post "Ode to Judy" on this). I got as far as Judy's Magic Cast On in purl. So, I'll finish the illustrations for Judy's Magic Rib next time. Following the illustrations is a philosophical discussion on the purpose for doing this in the first place!

How to do Judy’s Magic Cast-On* in purl:
Hold the yarn like so. The black line represents the working end of the yarn; the red line represents the long tail. The working yarn comes up and over the bottom needle and leans to the left.


1. With your forefinger, lift the working yarn (black) over and around the top needle, then down and in front of the bottom needle. I'll show this in two steps.


(1a) First, lift the working yarn over the top needle...


(1b) …then down and in front of the bottom needle.


2. Now take your long tail (red), and with your thumb, throw it over the bottom needle and around the working yarn. You'll rotate your wrist out and back to do this. This is also shown in 2 steps.


(2a) First rotate your wrist out, and with your thumb, throw the tail over the bottom needle...


(2b) Then rotate your wrist back in. Note how the tail now crosses in front of the working yarn, on the underside of the bottom needle.


Note also that you have one loop around the top needle and one loop around the bottom needle.

Now repeat step 1 (both a and b). Lift the working yarn over the top needle and bring it down in front of the bottom needle.


As you pull the working yarn around the top needle, this pulls the tail up from the bottom. You now have two loops around both needles.

Now repeat step 2 (both a and b). Rotate your wrist out, throw the tail over the bottom needle, and rotate your wrist back in.


You still have 2 loops around both needles. The next time you repeat step 1, you’ll have 3 loops on both needles.

Keep going, and pretty soon you have a group of stitches on your needles:


------begin philosophical discussion------

Ok so now that you have JMCO-purl on your needles, perhaps you’re wondering why I would bother to figure this out in the first place. Why use JMCO-purl if you can just do JMCO? Well, a couple of reasons...

One, because I wanted to be able to cast on in a rib pattern, so that I could make mini-moebii cuffs for socks, hats, and other small openings (you can use JMCO to start a moebius -- more on that later). Two, because I just plain like taking stuff apart and reverse engineering it.

Ah, and on that note, some of you out there in blogland may notice that my JMCO-purl is not, in fact, the true reverse of the original Judy’s Magic Cast-On, as published in Knitty in 2006. (See my *notable word below for details.) Yes, a very astute observation. Well, as with many things in life, there are multiple ways to do JMCO. And here I would like to take this opportunity to plant a subversive seed in your brains by quoting Judy Becker herself:

“If I did everything the "right" way, I never would have invented JMCO. And if Cat had actually followed the JMCO instructions, it probably would have been years before I realized that it doesn't really matter which way you wind the yarn around the needles - the magic is in the middle (sort of like Voodoo Donuts). So strike those words from your knitting vocabulary!”

Yay Judy! Subtext: don’t assume you have to follow the instructions (yes, even my instructions) to come up with something that works for you!

------end philosophical discussion------

*A notable word about JMCO and stitch mount:
Normally when knitting or purling, the stitches are wrapped around your left needle leading with the front leg. Take a closer look at the last illustration and you will notice that the black loops on the top needle do just that; they lead with the front. Whereas the red loops on the bottom needle lead with the back leg. This is on purpose, and this is where my method diverges from what would be the reverse of the original JMCO.


Why does this matter? Well, say you’re starting a toe-up sock. After you cast on your stitches, you’re going to rotate your needles 180 degrees clockwise and work across the red stitches. See what happens as you turn the work 180 degrees?


The red loops, now on the top needle, change orientation and lead with the front leg, and the black loops, now on the bottom needle, lead with the back leg. Work across the row of red stitches as you normally would, then rotate clockwise again, and the black loops would once again lead with the front leg. Magic!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A little shameless self-promotion

If you live in the Seattle area and are interested in learning how to knit a moebius, I will be giving a free, informal workshop at The Weaving Works on Thursday, Oct 22 from 6-8 pm. Yes that's TODAY. Sorry for the late notice.

Please see the Weaving Works' List of Fall Classes for information on this workshop, as well as many other fine activities they have going on.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

We interrupt this regularly scheduled program...

Y'all can blame TECHKnitter for lighting a fire under my butt to figure out how to make illustrations, rather than relying solely on photos. For the past week or so I've been rather obsessed with learning this skill. And there's a learning curve, so I don't have anything presentable to share with you this week.

Well ok, I guess I can show you the result of my first lesson...

Anyway, in an effort to keep you entertained in spite of my lack of instructional materials for this post, I bring to you this little ditty:

(Watch on YouTube)

I suspect it will appeal to parents and cat-owners alike. It's amazing what babies will find to entertain themselves.

Stay tuned, my first illustration project will be instructions for Judy's Magic Rib.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ode to Judy

There once was a knitter named Judy
And one day, while sick and all woozy,
She made up a trick
It's really quite slick
It's a cast-on, and it is a beauty.

In the Spring of 2006,
Judy Becker published her Magic Cast-On in Sock knitters around the world quickly adopted this ingenious technique and applied it to toe-up socks.

But what about other ways to use JMCO? And other patterns, besides stockinette stitch?

After I learned how to do Judy's Magic Cast-On, I adapted it to a rib pattern. This is useful for all kinds of things -- but mostly I use it to make mini-moebii.

This little guy, for instance, is the perfect size for making baby socks. (Yes, that's
Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind-Off at the edge.)

My latest video walks you through doing the traditional JMCO, reverse JMCO (i.e., purl), and JMCO Rib -- which, with Judy's permission, I have affectionately named "Judy's Magic Rib."

(watch it on

In the video I show two strands of yarn tied together in a knot. This is just for visual reference so you can more easily see which end is the working yarn (purple) and which is the non-working, or tail, end of the yarn (red). Normally Judy's Magic Cast-On is done with a single strand of yarn -- in fact, that's what's so great about it!

Note that Judy's Magic Rib will always have a visible half-stitch shift at the cast-on row. I happen to think this is an endearing feature, but I know Judy doesn't love it.

Thank you Judy for sharing your ingenious cast-on with all of us!

Below are some images that I hope will clarify the process of doing JMCO-purl. You need to get comfortable with this before you can master Judy's Magic Rib. (10/23 Addendum: Note that the exact method here shown for starting JMCO-purl is a little different from what I show in a later post, "A crash course in Illustrator." The newer one is better!)

1. Put the yarn around the bottom needle with the ends coming toward you, the non-working end (red) coming over the top. Get ready to swing the working (purple) yarn up with your forefinger so it crosses in front of the non-working (red) end.

2. With your forefinger, continue upwards; swing the working (purple) yarn up and over the top needle, bringing it back through between the needles.

3. With your thumb, grab the non-working (red) yarn...
(The working yarn is now IN FRONT of the bottom needle -- sorry this is a bit obscured in the photo).

... and swing it in front of the working (purple) yarn, and up and over the bottom needle.

4. After you swing the non-working (red) yarn over the needle, rotate your hand clockwise.

5. After you have rotated, use your forefinger to bring the working (purple) yarn up, over, and between the needles.

6. Then, as in step 3, grab the non-working (red) yarn with your thumb and bring it in front of the working yarn, and over the bottom needle.

You now have two stitches on your needles. From here, continue from step 4 (in which you rotate your hand).

Hope this helps to clarify Judy's Magic Cast-On in purl. Stay tuned for written instructions for Judy's Magic Rib!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Is there a topologist in the house?

Seriously. Because I would really like to know what is the proper name for this form:
It's a double-knit moebius. But what's the mathematical name of this thing? It's got a half-twist, so it must be a moebius. But it has an inside and an outside, which means it has volume, so it can't be a moebius. So what is it? (My best guess: some kind of twisted toroidal form). If there are any topologists out there reading this, I hope you know the answer, and that you will let me know.

Here is my latest video, which explores these topics.
(View in YouTube).

Here's where this saga began...

Once upon a time I learned from Cat Bordhi's book A Treasury of Magical Knitting how to knit a moebius. Pretty cool. Then I heard through the grapevine that Judy Becker had made a doubleknit moebius, which naturally made me want to try to make my own. Only I wanted mine to be continuous, with no insertion point. The image above is what I came up with. The red crochet chain shows where the stitches came off the needles.

While I was knitting it, I was vastly curious what I would end up with if I bound off the edges separately and unfurled it, instead of grafting the edges together. So, here's what you get if you pull off the crochet chain...

Pull the sides apart...

Untwist, and voilá!
To my complete surprise, I found it to be the *exact same* form that you get if you cut an ordinary moebius down its center axis: a tube with 720 degrees (2 full turns) of twist.

Ergo, you can take this form and re-shape it into an ordinary moebius (note how the knit and the purl sides meet in the middle here):

I don't know about you but I thought, oh man, this is way cool!!

If you stuff the closed form to give it some volume, you get this:

Note how the half-twist goes away as it gains volume, and instead you get a spiral running through the middle. Awesome!

I've continued to explore this topic and found that there are yet more ways to create a doubleknit moebius, some of which may surprise you. Stay tuned...