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Knitting 101

I am not sure about you, but while I love the convenience of being able to hop in my car and drive to the mall to purchase whatever clothes I need, I find that after just a few wearings, there’s something terribly wrong. I think it’s actually a few things, but quality certainly tops the list. I find this to be the case whether a garment is made abroad or right here in the good old USA. Hems fray, buttons come off too quickly, and what’s supposed to mold to my shape ends up being this strange blob that no longer appears to be something meant for a person. (In an upcoming article, I will help you the basics of mending clothes, but that’s for another day.)

Apart from being shapeless, things just don’t last as long as they did when I was younger. I am even taking into account the fact that I was hard on my clothes growing up. Like most kids, I paid very little attention to what I was sitting in or on; I climbed up things and tore shirts and jeans in the process. I frequently forgot to add clothes to the hamper on wash day but was usually happy to wear them again (although getting away with it was another story)!

Although I have this complaint about most clothes, my biggest pet peeve is with sweaters. Despite washing all my knits by hand, I doubt much of anything is made by hand these days. Knitted items fray, bunch, bulk, take on shapes of their own, and tighten in places that, ahem, women don’t need them to.

Back in the Day

Nothing will ever come close to the quality and uniqueness of the sweaters my mother used to knit for us. Two things we looked forward to on our birthdays and for Christmas were books and mom’s sweaters that came with love knitted into every stitch. While I was happy to pay close attention when she cooked, I could never sit still long enough to learn even the basics of knitting from her. As we so often say, “hindsight is 20/20.” Had I only known then what I do now, I would have done anything I could not to nod off when she was knitting. I wouldn’t feel so “behind the eight-ball” today as I try and pick up a craft that before too long will be the only way to get my sweaters or other knitted items made.

You certainly couldn’t have told me two facts when I was an early teenager:

  • There’s no substitute for doing things by hand.
  • None of that will even matter when I don’t have gas to start my car or the prohibitive price of gas will be factored into the price of that poorly made sweater.

Learning How to Knit

One thing I learned when I decided to take up knitting is that what made me fall asleep as an observer is actually part of what makes it such a pleasurable endeavor. My mom used to describe it as being hypnotic, and today we’d probably call it, “being in the zone.” She could hold an entire conversation while she knitted something. I am not quite there, at least not yet.

It amazed me that she knew by feel, not by sight (my mother was legally blind) that a stitch was out of place or that she dropped a loop. Whatever she made were works of art, with complicated patterns, and often they incorporated three, four, five, or more colors.

Although you can learn the basics of knitting fairly quickly, as with everything, practice makes perfect. Just when you think you have it, you realize you don’t have anything at all. Certain you followed the pattern, your first sock may end up resembling a hockey stick. Keep at it and you will get the hang of it. Just think back to your first pot roast, your first Thanksgiving turkey, or your first soufflé and how much you laughed and then ordered take out. This is going to be a similar experience. At least it was for me.

KISS: Keep It Simple Sweetie!

With your head in the clouds, you’re sure to want to start with something lofty like a sock or a sweater. Ready to impress your spouse, kids and especially your mother, it’s only natural. Hold that thought until you’ve perfected one-dimensional garments—for example, a scarf. If yours turns out better than my first attempts, knit a few more before moving on to more complicated garments. Winter’s coming, and they make wonderful Christmas presents.

Start with a pair of straight knitting needles. As you progress, you can get fancy, but for now, KISS. At the craft store, they’ll have a bunch of patterns to thumb through. You can also do a Google search for scarf knitting patterns where you’ll find numerous free ones. I don’t suggest, even as simple as a scarf might seem, that you try and create it from your own imagination. Remember, you want to be successful for your first attempt. Buy some yarn from a crafts store, or if your general store sells it, buy it from there. Texture and thickness is more dependent upon your taste. I like working with yarn that has a smooth texture and isn’t particularly thick or bulky. Although most accomplished knitters would suggest you try a light colored yarn, I had to be different. I started with purple because it’s my favorite color. It’s a little easier to work with one that is light so you can really see what you’re doing. I would actually suggest if you like purple, go with lavender, and the same with blues, greens, and reds. Use pale blue, light green, and pink over the darker hues.

Whether you are knitting a scarf, a hat, a sock, or something pretty advanced such as a sweater, everything starts with a cast on. It’s your foundation from which all things are possible. By far the easiest one to attempt is what’s known as the Long Tail Cast On. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I can only imagine what a video is worth. I could attempt to write ad nauseam step-by-step instructions, but one advantage to a video is that it has a pause button.

In keeping with the KISS theme, start with a basic stitch, such as the continental method, which can easily be done whether you’re a lefty or a right-handed person. Step-by-step instructions for the Continental method can be seen here. There really are some things that need to be seen in order to be understood.

Yarn in hand, pattern displayed prominently before you, and seated comfortably either in a rocking chair or propped up on your bed, there’s no better time to start than right now. Initially it will seem awkward. You will probably drop the needles a couple of times, drop a stitch, double loop, or not give yourself enough slack. That’s the part that takes practice. Think of it like driving a stick-shift car. In the beginning you had to look down at the pedals and wondered how you would ever let out the clutch in time with shifting the gears (all while keeping your eyes on the road). Today it’s just as natural to you as your daily routine, isn’t it?

If it seems too complicated to master, keep something in mind. The first person that taught herself to knit had no instruction. Needing a pair of socks to keep her feet warm, she likely fashioned a needle out of stick and made some thread or yarn of some kind and then tried different things until her hockey sticks resembled a pair of socks.

©2011 Off the Grid News

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