A few months ago I took up a new hobby – knitting! It is not something I’ve ever done before in my life, even though I’ve done many other creative “craft” activities. A combination of circumstances got me started. First, I received a couple of lovely knitted gifts for my new grandson. I looked at these works of art and thought, “I’m an accomplished seamstress. Why couldn’t I make something like this too?” Second, scraping the bottom of my financial barrel to pay my grad program fees meant I had no money to buy Christmas gifts this year – so I decided to make them all. Third, I was in the craft store down the street when I fell in love with a ball of yarn. No, literally – I had gone to the craft store to purchase some clip-on earring backs so I could convert some pierced earrings into clip-ons (I’ve always been too chicken to pierce my ears, but that’s another story) when I spotted several balls of this beautiful sparkly grey & black yarn. I later learned it was called eyelash yarn, and the brand was what seasoned knitters called the “cadillac” of eyelash – Funny Lux-Pelsgarn. I was hooked. I picked up this yarn and turned it over and over in my hand. The texture, the look, the feel, was so seductive. It wasn’t cheap, but I had to have it! I purchased three skeins, then visited my local Walmart to buy some knitting needles.
I really had no clue what I was doing at first. Years ago my father had bought me a crochet needle but I never learned how to use it. My mother had knitted a sweater once, but I remember it turned out to be extremely large and even though she, too, was an accomplished seamstress who could work wonders with a sewing machine, after a few more attempts she gave up knitting. I always had it in my head that knitting was probably too hard or too time consuming for me. At one point I had learned how to cast on, and I knew the basic garter stitch, but that was it.
But I had this lovely yarn that I was determined to convert into something beautiful and useful. Finally, one afternoon I sat down and tried to remember how to cast on. After tying dozens of slip knots I gave up and logged on to the Internet in search of help. Sure enough, after wading through several sites that provided convoluted explanations of how to knit, my memory was jogged sufficiently to allow me to start my project. Of course, since I’d never knitted anything before, I didn’t have a clue how many stitches to begin with. I decided to make a scarf, and cast on about 50 stitches. After knitting several rows, I realized I was going to have a completed piece of knitting that was way too wide for a scarf, but by this time I had gone too far and couldn’t go back!
By now I had caught the bug. Every time I was in the store I perused the yarn section, finding more eyelash yarn that I could not resist. Even more exciting, I discovered a craft store that had hundreds of yarn varieties in every imaginable colour. I added to my yarn collection, bought some more knitting needles, and started another project. This time, however, I used the helpful patterns included on the back of the yarn package. I also spent many hours on the Internet, searching how-to-knit websites, trying to teach myself how to do other knitting basics – purl, cast off, add or increase stitches, adding fringe.
I started to knit with a real frenzy, eager to get all my gifts completed in time. I did several scarves, then tried a shawl. The first one didn’t turn out that well, but I got better with the second. I did a couple of hats. Then I tried a fringed poncho. By the time I finished tying hundreds of yarn ends onto the fringe edge, I experienced an incomparable sense of satisfaction – I was amazed at my success.
My original knit project had been put aside, but every so often I would return to it and add a few more rows. It had morphed into a large piece of something, definitely not a scarf! Pretty soon I decided it would have to become a cozy fur-like throw, and each time I was in the store I would purchase another ball of yarn to add to the project.
I became interested in more complicated knit techniques, and eventually found an excellent website with instructional videos. Now I was in heaven! I could learn and practice virtually any knit technique. After casting on and testing out multiple stitches, I became quite competent at a wide variety of different stitches and methods. I learned how to knit with two yarns, how to cable stitch, how to join yarns. I never knew there were so many different ways to cast on and do basic knit stitches! Although, the first time I tried circular needles, I reversed my needles when I set them down, and unintentionally knitted the ends of my work together! I figured out where I went wrong, however, and managed to fix the mess I had made.
Soon I became confident enough to tackle a more complicated patterned baby blanket. Even though it is only a four-row pattern, I’m using multiple colours of yarn, so it took me a while to figure out the best way to join yarns. It has turned out well so far, and once I’m finished, I plan to attempt a large afghan that includes several yarn colours and a complex 12-row pattern.
I’ve gotten carried away, of course. But there are many things I really like about knitting. The main thing is that knitting is perfect for a multi-tasker like me. I feel horribly guilty if I ever sit down to do only one thing, so knitting alleviates that guilt. I can knit while I read my textbooks. I can knit while I watch TV. It’s relaxing and it’s creative. It’s also fairly portable – you can take a project with you and knit while you wait, particularly if you are using circular needles.
If you are a beginner and want to learn to knit with minimum frustration, here’s a few things I’ve learned. As beautiful and seductive as it may seem, eyelash yarn is not the easiest to start with, and there are several other “fancy” yarns that are difficult to work with as well. If you start with a difficult yarn, it is easy to become discouraged. You may be halfway finished a scarf with a beautiful piece of eyelash yarn, when suddenly a dozen stitches slip off the end of your needle! The fuzzy strands make it very hard to find and pick up lost stitches, so you face the choice of unravelling and starting over again, or finding some extremely creative way to hide the very large hole! I also had trouble with a funny twister yarn that left me with unattractive loose loops all over the place. Some of these fancy yarns are quite pricey, too, and you may end up with a very expensive, shapeless scarf full of holes that you are too embarrassed to wear! I would suggest that, before even attempting an actual useful piece, you practice your stitches on an ordinary medium-weight yarn. Second-hand stores and garage sales are good places to pick up surplus, cheap yarn and knitting needles, so you can practice without spending a lot of money. I also found it easiest to work with larger needles, about a size 11 (8 mm), and it’s helpful to have a darning needle and small crochet hook for finishing and tying up loose ends.
I began practice by casting on about 20 stitches (enough so you can see what you have stitched, not so many that you have too long a row to work with), then I would stitch several rows in each stitch – that way I could see what a garter stitch looks like, how a knit/purl alternate row creates a stretch, what happens when you join or drop stitches, how different sizes of needles will alter the weave, and of course, how to cast off. I tried out many different kinds of stitches, tested several ways of casting on, and tried both the “continental” and “english” styles of knitting, until I found stitches that were comfortable for me. If I wanted to try a pattern, I tested out every stitch and every set of rows to ensure I was doing it right. I also tested measurements to see how long a piece of yarn I would need to knit each row (nothing worse than running out of yarn when casting off!) Once I felt confident enough, I switched back to one of the fancy yarns. I even knitted some wild & crazy slippers out of practice squares.
Of course, too much practice and getting into fancy yarns, complicated stitches and complex patterns defeats much of the purpose of knitting for me. As much as I want to create beautiful things, it’s too hard to knit a pattern while multitasking – I need to be able to read my course text while I knit! It’s also easy to get carried away with a project, distracted when I have too many other things to do.
On the whole, however, I’ve been pleasantly surprised and happy with what I’ve created. My family, on the other hand, may soon get tired of all the scarves, shawls and afghans!
A couple of great sites for knitting help:
Lots of videos & excellent explanations:
Free patterns & more by the Bernat yarn company:
Good stitch resource:
funny lux pelsgarn: