Improv Knitting: Winter Leg Warmers

Over the holidays I did a lot of knitting.  There is something relaxing and comforting about knitting this time of year.  The weather locally discouraged much outdoor time, so knitting was the answer to long dark days.

For years I've complained about the gap between the bottom of my winter coat and the top of my boots. For years I've talked about want winter weight leg warmers. Now that I've had the second knee replacement, I've got more metal in me than ever, so I decided I couldn't postpone the leg warmers any longer.

This was an improvised project with no pattern, but don't be put off by that.  If you are willing to swatch, take a few measurements and do a little math, you too can have a customized set of leg warmers with just a few evening's work.


Winter Leg Warmers

Skills needed:
cast on, bind off, knit (K), purl (P), ribbing (K2, P2), knit two stitched together (K2tog), slip next two stitches as if to knit, then knit through the back of those two stitches (SSK), knit through front and back loop (KFB), knitting with two colors of yarn, circular knitting (knitting in the round), crocheting - simple chain stitch. If you don not crochet, you can braid yarn together to create the ties, or use a grosgrain ribbon.

Materials:  I used two skeins of Briggs and Little's Fundy Fog and two skeins of Paton's Classic Wool in a dark purple. While the Briggs and Little yarn is classed as an Aran weight, not worsted, it worked fine for my project (which was a bit of a stash buster).  Ideally the colors you choose should complement each other.  Designate one as your main color (MC) and the other as your contrast color (CC). If you want to use up some leftover bits, choose colors that will work with a single main color, and be sure to divide up each partial ball so you can make identical leg warmers. You may also want to give some thought to your color changes and repeats in advance.

Tools:  4.5 mm circular needle (24 inches - though you may want a 16 inch if you are knitting a small size) and a set of 4.5 mm double pointed needles (8 inches long).  Switch from the circular needle to double pointed when you have too few stitches to make using the circular comfortable.

You will need an 8 mm crochet hook to make the ties and a large eye darning or tapestry needle for weaving in the ends.  You will also want a flexible measuring tape and a stitch marker to mark the end of your round.  It is slipped from the left to the right needle as you end one round and begin another.

Gauge:  I made two swatches for this project.  The first was using the MC and doing K2, P2 ribbing. I cast on 20 stitches and knit until I had a square.  The gauge was 5 stitches to the inch (un-stretched) and 4 stitches to the inch slightly stretched.  

The next swatch, I cast on 20 stitches in the MC, then joined my CC and proceeded as follows: K1 (MC), K1 (CC); repeat to end of row.  Then P1 (CC), P1 (MC); repeat to end of row.  I repeated these two rows, then row 1 again (5 rows total). Beginning with a purl row, I switched the order of the colors - P1 (MC) and P1 (CC); repeat to end of row. Next row: K1 (CC), K1 (MC); repeat to end of row.  I continued on in this manner, switching the order of the yarn after every five rows, for a total of 25 rows.  My measurement on this swatch was 5 stitches and 5 rows to the inch (un-stretched).

Your gauge does not have to be identical to mine.  You need to know what you gauge is to figure out how many stitches will need, and where your decreases will need to be as you plan your project.

Measurements:  Before you begin knitting your first leg warner, you need some measurements.  Using the flexible tape, measure the circumference of your legs as follows: (1) around the fullest part of your knee; (2) right below your knee; (3) around the fullest part of your calf; (4) around your ankle.  You will also need to measure the distance from (2) to (4).  

In may case, the measurements were: (1) 20 inches; (2) 17 inches; (3) 16 inches; (4) 12 inches; and the length from just below my knee to my ankle was 12 inches.

The number of stitches you are using at any point will be determined by the size of your leg.  I encourage you to try the first one on frequently and make adjustments accordingly.

I made my leg warmers to wear over my heaviest leggings.  My next pair will be made from measurements taken while wearing jeans. 

How many stitches do you need to cast on?  Using my measurements as an example, I decided to go with the 4 stitches to the inch (slightly stretched).  This means for my ribbing, I would need 4 x 20 inches or 80 stitches. If your measurement leads you to an odd number of stitches, or an even number of stitches that is not divisible by four, you will need to add or subtract a few stitches.  Your ribbing requires an even number of stitches divisible by four.  If you have an even number of stitches not divisible by four, you will lose the ribbing pattern where your round joins.  (Trust me on this.)

Once you have figured out the stitches you need, pick up your MC and cast on that number on your circular needle and join in the round.  I find it helpful to cast on one extra stitch at the very end, then slide that stitch over to the left hand needle; then knit it and the first stitch cast on together.  This eliminates the pesky gap that often appears between the last and first stitches when knitting is joined in the round. 

Proceed with your ribbing: K2, P2 to the end of the round.  Then place a stitch marker to mark the end of your round.  Continue in ribbing for 2.5 inches.

Second decision: Now you get to decide if you want a double or single cuff.  If you want a single cuff, you might just continue knitting for another half inch or so.

If you want a double cuff, at the 2.5 inch mark, I decided I would decrease some stitches on either side of my stitch marker, to help reduce some of the bulk when I folded the cuff down.  To do this, I decreased one stitch at the beginning and end of the next 4 rounds (8 stitches in total reducing my stitch count from 80 to 72).  

To do this, I did the following:  

Round 1: K1, K2tog, P1, *K2, P2*; repeat * to * until four stitches remain; P1, SSK, K1.  

Round 2: K1, K2tog, *K2, P2*; repeat * to * until three stitches remain; SSK, K1.

Round 3: K1, K2tog, K1, P2, *K2, P2*; repeat * to * until four stitches remain; K1, SSK, K1.

Round 4: K1, K2tog, P2, *K2, P2*; repeat * to * until three stitches remain; SSK, K1.

I then continued on in ribbing until it measured 6 inches.

Next round:  The next round will be a plain knit round and an increase round using the MC.  How many stitches you add will depend on your measurements. The patterned section of the legging has a different number of stitches per inch (un-stretched) than the ribbing did stretched.   I decided on 84 stitches (17 inch circumference x 5 stitches = 85, so I rounded down to 84, a number divisible by four).

(measurement of your leg right below the knee) x (pattern stitches per inch measurement) = number of stitches you need.  

Number of stitches needed - current number of stitched = number of stitches to increase.

I needed to increase 12 stitches (84 - 72), so I decided to KFB every sixth stitch on my next round. When I was 6 stitches away from the end of the round, I joined my CC and carried it along to the end of the round, to ready myself for two color knitting.

Beginning the pattern:  Because the color changes every stitch there is no "stranding" or carrying of unused colors necessary.  I find it helpful to keep one color on my left and the other on my right as it makes it harder for me to get them tangled up.

The pattern consists of alternating 5 row segments where the order of colors is the same.  There are two types of segments: one where there are no decreases and one where you are decreasing.  The first segment in these instructions has no decreases.  The second segment shows the colors switching up and a decrease in the third round of that segment.

First segment - rounds 1-5: K1 (CC), K1 (MC); repeat to end of round.

Second segment - rounds 6, 7, 9, 10: K1 (MC), K1 (CC); repeat to end of round.

Second segment - round 8 (decrease round): SSK (MC), K2tog (CC), *K1 (MC), K1 (CC)*; repeat to last four stitches: SSK (MC), K2tog (CC).  (80 stitches remaining.)

My leg warmer ended up with 12 segments in total because of the length of my leg and where I wanted the bottom cuff to begin.  I also ended up decreasing down to 64 stitches through the pattern section.  What follows from here is what I needed to do.  I tried it on after each segment and made my decision where to place the next decrease segment based on this, I encourage you to do the same. What follows below is what I did, to serve as an example only.

Third segment - rounds 11-15: K1 (CC), K1 (MC); repeat to end of round.

Fourth segment - rounds 16, 17, 19 and 20: K1 (MC), K1 (CC); repeat to end of round.

Fourth segment - round 18: SSK (MC), K2tog (CC), *K1 (MC), K1 (CC)*; repeat to last four stitches: SSK (MC), K2tog (CC). (76 stitches remaining).

Fifth segment - rounds 21-25: K1 (CC), K1 (MC); repeat to end of round.

Sixth segment - rounds 26-30: K1 (MC), K1 (CC); repeat to end of round.

Seventh segment - rounds 31-35: K1 (CC), K1 (MC); repeat to end of round.

Eighth segment - rounds 36, 37, 39 and 40: K1 (MC), K1 (CC); repeat to end of round.

Eighth segment - round 38: SSK (MC), K2tog (CC), *K1 (MC), K1 (CC)*; repeat to last four stitches: SSK (MC), K2tog (CC). (72 stitches remaining)

Ninth segment - rounds 41, 42, 44, 45: K1 (CC), K1 (MC); repeat to end of round.

Ninth segment - round 43: SSK (CC), K2tog (MC), *K1 (CC), K1 (MC)*; repeat to last four stitches: SSK (CC), K2tog (MC).  (68 stitches remaining).  At this point I switched to double pointed needles. 

Tenth segment - rounds 46, 47, 49, 50: K1 (MC), K1 (CC); repeat to end of round.

Tenth segment - round 48: SSK (MC), K2tog (CC), *K1 (MC), K1 (CC)*; repeat to last four stitches: SSK (MC), K2tog (CC). (64 switches remaining)  

Eleventh segment - rounds 51-55: K1 (CC), K1 (MC); repeat to end of round.

Twelfth segment - rounds 56-60:  K1 (MC), K1 (CC); repeat to end of round.

Next round:  This is the last round before you begin ribbing for your cuff.  If you need any remaining stitch decreases, this is your opportunity to make them.  Break contrast yarn leaving a 6-8 inch tail.  

As my ankle was 12 inches in circumference, I decided to go with 60 stitches so there would be plenty of stretch the cuff.  12 inches x 5 stitches per inch (un-stretched ribbing) = 60 stitches.  I needed to decrease 4 more stitches, so I decided to decrease two stitches on either side of my stitch marker.

Using the MC, (and carrying along the tail of the CC at the back of my work for the next half dozen stitches), I proceeded as follows:  SSK, K2tog, K to last four stitches, SSK, K2tog.

Next row: Continue in K2, P2 ribbing until your bottom cuff is the desired length (15 rounds in my case).  Then cast off being careful to maintain the elasticity in your bind off.  I find it it helps to use a slightly larger needle in my dominant hand when casing off.  I used a 5 mm instead of a 4.5.

Weave in all ends on the wrong side of your work using the tapestry needle.

One leg warmer is now done!  The second will go faster as you won't be stopping to take measurements as often.

Making the ties:  The ties are intended to act as garters to help hold the leg warmers in place so they don't slide down. I made mine by holding three strands of yarn together and using a 8mm crochet hook, simply chained until I reached a length that worked for me.  If you don't crochet, you might consider braiding strands of yarn, or using a grosgrain ribbon or other fabric tie.


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