Saturday, 28 January 2017

On Knitting (+ a few questions)


Anyone who has followed this blog over the last decade may recall that my knitting forays have never actually resulted in a finished garment (at least working on the basis that, unless trying to emulate Michael Jackson's one-handed glove wearing, one really requires two gloves to avoid looking like curious creature). It's come as a source of delight and surprise to have not only finished something, but to have commenced a second project!

When my daughter visited the Christmas markets in Germany the year before last, she brought back a beautiful snood for just a few euros. Every time she's put it on since, she's chastised herself for not buying another one in a different colour, so when I was pondering her Christmas gifts this year I decided to buy a kit from Wool and the Gang so that she could make one for herself. Wool and the Gang's branding is so youthful and stylish that I felt confident that one of their kits may be enough to lure her woolwards. (And in a fit of self-gifting, I bought a navy kit for myself, so that we might sit and knit companionably. What a wonderful rabbit hole that proved to be). We both used this kit - her kit used Margaux Red, while mine contained Midnight Navy yarn.

One day over Christmas we pulled out our large balls of wool and began. The wool was vast and our friend, Ben, enquired whether we were using special 'training needles', such was their girth. I guess we were, although I think they're standard for any kind of 'big wool' knitting perhaps. We followed the WATG slip knot tutorial; long-tail cast-on video; then the moss-stitch instructions and then we were actually moss-stitching. The first few rows looked unimpressive and odd, but several rows in, the bumps began to look like a recognisably repeating textural pattern. The pattern included in the kit contained little helpful information for a beginner, so I think the intention is that you supplement it with their videos, which are are wonderfully clear and the way that they're shot makes them feel oddly calming to watch.

We later also discovered the Top 10 Knitting Tips video, which I wish I'd watched first as it's really useful.

One day, we took our knitting over to my parents house and while my sister and mum cooked lunch, my grandmother and I sat and took it in turns to knit a row each on my snood. My grandmother was always a wonderful knitter, but it's a few years since she's picked up some needles and she'd forgotten some of what she once knew. Despite the intense concentration, her face looked so relaxed and happy when knitting again. She mostly always looks happy (she is one of the most sparkly and vivacious people I know) but this was a different kind of happiness; I imagine it's exactly the way I'd look if I was handed some English paper piecing in my late 80s. Whenever it was my turn, she made such genuinely delighted comments of admiration and encouragement that I was cast back to how it felt to be taught something by her as a child - she always had an amazing capacity to teach in a way that never made me feel stupid or aware of her impatience, if she actually felt any.


Every time my daughter and I dropped a stitch, we pulled back all of our knitting and would start again, as neither of us had any idea of how to remedy our mistakes. We didn't really mind this as we were both enjoying the process of perfecting our stitches. Each time we started afresh we made less and less mistakes and on my fifth attempt I had nearly finished my snood, when I realised that I'd done my knit and purls in the wrong order. So close to having a wearable garment, I suddenly did feel quite distressed by this.  I took to the internet and posted the above photo...and later the below photo...and found out bit by bit how to fix it. It's been a while since I was dabbling in an area of craft where I'm a complete beginner, and it was lovely to be reminded anew of just how generous and warm people are in sharing their knowledge - me and my ailing knitting were so kindly shepherded back to a place of hole-free rows of moss stitch!


In the situation above, the piece of advice that seemed to ring clearest to me, was to lay all the stitches flat like 'n's and then to make sure the right hand side of the stitch was on my side of the needle, rotating the stitches 45 degrees. And also that the tail of yarn should end up at the top of the needle.

We've worn our snoods almost constantly and they are deliciously warm and cosy - thicker and warmer than anything else I own. Sadly, my daughter lost hers on a school trip to the Tate Modern last week, so I've ordered some more wool for her so that she can remake it.



I think what worked for us about these kits was that the huge wool meant that it was very quick to knit quite a large area, giving us a sense of instant gratification. Also, mentally, the fact that my kit came with everything I needed in it, made me feel more confident that I had the right size needles for my wool.

I'm doing a lot of sewing for various deadlines at the moment, but I so enjoyed making my snood over Christmas that I didn't feel quite ready to put knitting on hold entirely, so I bought a Joni Kit and I'm limiting myself to just doing ten minutes early in the morning or last thing at night. My husband thinks that taking a break from my sewing by doing more handiwork is a very curious thing indeed, but somehow this time feels like a complete break and is both reviving and relaxing.

And it grows so quickly! I chose the Joni scarf, because it uses the same moss stitch that I was already used to, but with much finer wool and narrower needles, so it felt like a fresh challenge. I also hadn't bothered to find out what 'slipping a stitch' at the start of each row involved for my snood, but decided that I'd learn how to do that (so incredibly simple that it barely warrants the word 'learn'!) and so this time I have a lovely smooth edge to my knitting. The wool for my Joni scarf is wonderfully soft and this bluey-grey is one of my favourite colours to wear, so I'm looking forward to finishing it.

When I ran into problems on my last project, several people suggested using a 'lifeline' so that if I wasn't able to correct a mistake, I'd only ever have to pull my knitting back to the lifeline. This was such good advice. I've repositioned the lifeline every ten rows or so and I've now made use of it once and can affirm that it works like a dream! For the uninitiated, just use a big embroidery needle to run a line of thick thread (or in my case, slim ribbon) through the stitches currently on the needle. This then saves those stitches from unravelling if you need to pull it back later. It's not always the easiest of things knitting the first line of stitches following inserting the lifeline as it's a job to avoid it becoming entangled in the stitches, but other than that it's very simple and works wonderfully (there's a clearer photo at the top of this post).


I have a few questions that I wondered if knitters might be able to help me with. The WATG video tutorials are amazing, but I also always really love having a book to refer to. Maddeningly, I was sent this beautiful book several years ago, but despite having looked on every shelf, I can't find it anywhere. I'm wondering whether to re-buy it, although I think what I'd also really like a book that contains a big library of stitches, as I feel quite fascinated by all the different textures that can be created. As the book is likely to be more for inspiration, rather than practical use (if I find a stitch I like, I'd possibly look for a video on how to do it), I'd really like a book where the emphasis is on it being gorgeous (which Erika Knight's books do seem to be). My local bookshop seems to stock far more sewing than knitting books and I'm finding it difficult to pick on online - do you have any recommendations?

Also, I have become quite obsessed by the idea of creating mittens that look a bit like these thrummed mittens - I love those tiny little 'v' shapes. I wonder though, is there a way of getting the same finish with less bulk inside? And if so, what's it called? I often keep gloves in my handbag and so prefer slimline ones. And would this be running, when one can barely walk?

Thank you in advance if you're able to give any advice.

Wishing you a happy weekend,
Florence x

17 comments:

  1. I think duplicate stitch over individual stitches would give you a similar look to thru ms. It's a technique where you use a needle threaded with yarn to stitch through the path the yarn follows in the knitting. (That sounds clear as mud, sorry! There are lots of tutorials that explain it better than that -- this one: http://techknitting.blogspot.com/2016/04/duplicate-stitching-on-knitting-how-to-plus-tricks.html is good)

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    1. Goodness - what an incredibly helpful reply - that's exactly it! Thank you so much. The tutorial looks fantastic and it doesn't look like it would be too difficult for a beginner to attempt, either. I'm so grateful. Thank you. x

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  2. Hurray, more knitting! My book recommendations are, without hesitation or doubt: Elizabeth Zimmermann's 'Knitting Without Tears' and 'Knitter's Almanac' (2nd one for the writing as much as the knitting); and for stitch patterns Barbara G Walker's 'Treasury of Knitting Patterns', which is so truly encyclopaedic that it comes in multiple thick volumes (I have the 1st and it's got loads of amazing k/p combinations). None of these books match your specification at all - b&w photos, funny line drawings, etc - but you should get them anyway! Your comment about having "the right size needles for my wool" tells me that KWT chapter 2 'Gauge: Required Reading' really is required! Thrummed mittens: I think you could work a similar pattern in Fairisle/stranded colour-work, not a total beginner project but not terribly complicated either. xx

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    1. Absolutely, these are the books I would rexommens too. They are classics in the knitting world.

      Join Ravelry too (www.ravelry.com).

      Enjoy your knitting adventure!

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    2. I'm feeling quite contrite for being dismissive of books lacking nice pictures now, Nina! I went and read some Elizabeth Zimmerman with the 'Look Inside' feature on Amazon - doesn't she write in the most divine and characterful way! I think I've fallen in love with her. Thank you so much for being quite insistent about these and not recommending what I'd asked for at all - they look wonderful and will definitely find a place on my shelf.

      You can use any size needles with any wool?

      I hope you're having a lovely weekend. x

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    3. Thank you so much, Anonymous, for doubly recommending them - they look wonderful.

      I'm forcing myself to avoid Ravelry until I've got some more free time as I fear it may offer too much inspiration for me to continue with my ten-minute rule :) x

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    4. Ravelry is like a whole other internet just for knitting - I find it a bit much! A yarn can be knitted at various (infinite?) tensions, so yes, with different needle sizes, but there's a 3rd factor in the equation: YOU! So even to acquire the same tension (gauge) with the same yarn, different people will need different needles. Gauge doesn't matter too much with a scarf, but if you're making a jumper (or mittens) it will change the size. My grandmother has always followed the needle size recommended on the pattern and then had to choose a recipient for the jumper *after* knitting it, because the size was unpredictable! She knitted me a cardigan a few years ago and I made her check gauge/change needles first, and bingo - a perfect fit. x

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  3. I agree that stranded colourwork would be a good way to recreate the look of thrummed mittens! (It's not Fair Isle - that's a very specific tradition. I'm a pedant about this…) If you like thrums but want them to be a lot less bulky you can use silk roving rather than wool; it looks and feels wonderful.

    As for running before you can walk - knitting is very forgiving! Jump right in!

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    1. Thank you for the encouragement, Kat!

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    2. Thanks for the correction - pedantry much appreciated!

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  4. Great blog, loved this post especially the bit about your grandmother. I found you on Instagram and I love your snood. Amanda

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  5. It sounds like you are taking on knitting much the same way as I have - small achievable projects, a zen-like reaction if you stuff up, etc. I highly endorse the life line but regardless of yarn size I recommend using a heavy weight sewing thread or dental floss because anything heavier will make that row of stitches just a little fatter and can stand out esp in stocking stitch. I also have the philosophy of learning one new simple skill with each project - cast on method, cast off, creating a new stitch etc etc. have fun and don't be put off by perfectionism. The first few things will always have a few wonky bits!

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    1. That's exactly it for me too. I'm really enjoying knowing very little, having low expectations of myself and doing something where I'm relatively uncritical of my work, because I don't know enough to be so yet. It makes it very relaxing. On that front, it's actually probably best not to learn too quickly, isn't it.

      Thank you so much for the advice on the ribbon - I'd thought that was probably wrong at the time, but felt too impatient to try and root out some embroidery floss from an inaccessible place. But using dental floss?!! That's an amazing idea - I would never have thought of that. And I have a weird habit of buying huge quantities of dental floss as I store it in lots of different places (bathroom, desk drawer, handbag etc) and so always think I might be close to running out...but in reality, have about 10 packs about the house! A dental floss lifeline, I can definitely do - thank you.

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  6. Congratulations on your first knit! It is wonderful. I am just knitting my first ever things too, some socks, which I showed on my blog today. They are nothing like as good as your knitting is!!

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  7. I just knit myself a pair of Fiddlehead mittens (pattern by Adrian Bizilia) and they are stranded colourwork with two different yarns and then they're lined with a duplicate mitten as well so you end up with three layers of wool around your hands. They're very warm without being as puffy as thrummed mittens and i would say just as warm or warmer. But then I love in Canada so my requirements for warmth in mittens might be more stringent than what you're looking for?

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  8. I am glad I came across your post as I put up my knitting 6 months or so ago....I live in HOT Houston Tx and really don't need knitted items! But after reading your post I want to knit again!

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x

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