Originally published Monday, March 3, 2008
Do you remember that popular novel of the late 1960s? It was written by Ira Levin, if I recall correctly, and later made into a popular movie starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. I wonder if Rosemary’s baby had a belly button?
My newest baby, the Orkney Pi, has a belly button thanks to Rosemarie’s baby, the Belly Button Circular Start. You can see the “umbilical cord” in the photo above. It’s the little white blob next to the Orkney Pi. Yes, my Orkney Pi is sitting on Pink Cotton Candy baby blanket. She must be a girl. ☺
One of my favorite types of knitting is to make a round or square blanket, shawl, tablecloth, or doily by starting in the center and knitting outward. The only difficult part of this technique is the actual start. The knitter has to begin with only a handful of stitches, and working with them, especially when using a fine yarn, can be very trying. The needles want to twist and fall out of the stitches, and the weight of the needles can pull on the stitches and distort them. Those first few rounds are treacherous, to say the least.
There are a number of ways a knitter can deal with such a difficult start. One is to cast on the stitches and knit the first couple of rows back and forth. The knitting can then be joined into a circle and knitting in the round can commence. The small seam that needs to be sewn will blend in and not be noticeable. If a provisional cast on is used, the yarn tail can be threaded though the loops of first row of stitches to close the circle giving a very neat finish.
Another option is to use a provisional cast on and start with a later round in the pattern so that you are working with a larger number of stitches. Then, at some point, the provisional stitches can be picked up, the waste yarn removed, and the center knitted inwards using decreases instead of increases. One still has to deal with knitting a very small number of stitches and the needles will still want to fall out of the stitches, but at least there is knitted fabric into which one can anchor the idle dpns to keep them from falling out of the stitches.
I prefer to cast on using one of the circular beginnings. I like the look of the finished product. And, with practice, one learns to avoid the twisting of the needles and discovers ways to cope with needles that want to fall out.
Now would probably be a good time to mention that the problem with the double-pointed needles sliding out the the stitches can be eliminated by using one of two techniques that use circular needles, magic loop or two circular needles. But the circular needle methods have their own problems, especially when working with very fine yarns. With two circular needles, the weight of the idle needle pulls on the stitches and can stretch and distort them. With magic loop, the process of pulling out the loops can stretch and distort the stitches. Although I use both of these techniques for various circular knitting chores, I don’t use them when working with lace weight yarns.
I definitely prefer Rosemarie’s Belly Button Start over the other two. Emily Ocker’s crochet method is fine, but because it is crochet, it leaves a ring that is just a little too thick for my taste. The knitted version that I found in A Gathering of Lace, and that is credited to Thom Christoph in that book, takes a little practice and is a little fiddly, but it may be worth the effort because it gives a very delicate and neat center.
But Rosemarie’s Belly Button Start is the pick of the litter, imo. You knit a flap that gives you something substantial to hold onto, and once you join the stitches into a ring, you can knit as many rounds as you like before joining in the working yarn. It is easy to thread the tail into the first round of working stitches as long as you follow Rosemarie’s suggestions and use a waste yarn that is smooth and contrasts with the working yarn. I used white crochet cotton and found the contrast with the natural white wool working yarn sufficient.
I really like my new belly button. Thank you, Rosemarie Buchanan!