Saturday, December 13, 2014

Sittin' and Knittin'

Good morning, my little chickens! I'm taking advantage of this quiet Saturday morning to pop in here. I know things have been very quiet in these here parts lately. Life has been a little...tumultuous...lately, and it looks like it might be that way for a little while yet. This has left me with not much desire to sew (other than my ruffled Christmas trees the only stitches I've sewn are those in a garment making class I'm taking with my sister). However, I have been knitting like I get paid per stitch (but not sharing with you as you'd think I'd be showing you the same photo over and over again even though I swear the sweater I'm making is indeed growing).

Seemingly out of nowhere I was hit with this sudden understanding of my knitting and how it works. After ten years of knitting (though it's been easy squares and rectangles, really) I felt that flash and felt like "Oh! Duh!" Suddenly, like when a little kid realizes that those symbols combine to be a word that means something, I've been able to read my knitting like a lovely, lovely story. I find myself sitting at work and getting excited towards the end of the day that I'm going home soon and can knit. And no, I haven't suddenly turned eighty years old. Those folks who say the rhythm of the needles and the feeling of yarn running through your fingers is truly therapeutic are not lying. I have felt a tremendous sense of calm in some recent shaky days while I'm inserting needle--wrapping yarn--pulling the stitch through. Mind you, I've also gotten super expert at tinking ('knit' spelled backwards, and therefore undoing my work), but even that hasn't stressed me like it used to now that I can do it properly.

When people find out I can knit they always say "But isn't it difficult?" No, it's not. Like anything new, there's a little bit of awkwardness that goes away with practice. But the motions are simple, and with so many resources available it's easier than ever to learn so many things. Here are two of my favorites.

First up is Very Pink.

This is one heckuva YouTube channel and website (where all the videos are also posted). I have learned so much just from sitting and watching videos (even if they don't apply to what I'm doing at all). There are tricks and fixes for knitting problems, tutorials for fancy pants stitches, and easy patterns available for sweaters, socks, and more. Staci's teaching style is wonderful--to the point, but with enough information to be successful. I'd never heard of this site before, until Lion Brand Yarns posted her video tutorial for one of their patterns (a pattern I would have bypassed with a major 'Ugh! Gah!' until I saw her version). This is the project currently on my needles, by the way. So if you're just starting out or already know how to knit, I highly recommend this site.

Next is a Craftsy class I just took--"Improve Your Knitting--Alternative Styles and Methods."

Granted, it's not free, and it assumes you know how to cast on, knit, purl, and bind off, as it's an exploration of different styles for holding your yarn and needles, and different methods for making those same stitches. I learned soooo much from this course (I thought there was English and Continental styles, end of story. But there is so much more than I ever imagined (and there's probably still more information out there). The instructor's teaching style is easy-breezy, sprinkled with humor, and shot at excellent angles so you really get to see every detail. Craftsy classes frequently go on sale, and they have a wish list option in case you want to drop hints for a Christmas gift to anyone...

OK, so we've covered learning resources; now what about tools? All of the following bits can be widely found at yarn shops, craft stores, and a huge amount of websites (do some searching for the best deals).

There are so many options, but if you're just starting out I recommend bamboo needles to learn on. Acrylic/plastic needles come in so many pretty colors, but they have a little more friction when it comes to getting stitches off the needle. Aluminum needles are very satisfying to hear clicking away, but they can be quite slick and eager to let go of the stitches (which is fine, but not when you're just trying to learn the motions). Bamboo is right in the middle--just enough friction that your stitches don't fall off the needle, but not enough that you feel like you're dragging your stitches off.

Like all needles, they come in straight and circular (circular having a long cord to allow for very long lengths, but some also find the shorter needles of circulars to be more comfortable). Not too hard, not too soft, quite comfortable to hold--I'd recommend a set of straight and a set of circulars so you can see what feels best in your hands. If you like knitting, you don't have to have two collections of needles but can go with what you like, depending on what you're making.

When you finally finish a project you'll want to weave in your ends nicely. I used to use aluminum darning needles (they look like big sewing needles), but they never glided like I liked or seemed to want to cooperate, as I found myself tugging way too hard. Recently I found these bent-tip needles:

That slightly bent tip is more helpful than I ever thought at seeing where I'm weaving. I don't know what it's coated in, but these glide through the yarn so smoothly and comfortably. Plus isn't their little case adorable? I love these things.

When you get started going, you'll find that some patterns tell you to "do this thing for this many rows." There are a lot of different stitch counters out there, but I'm going to show you my favorites.

First is the kacha counter (where do they get these names?).

This is great for simple row counting. I especially like it because it reminds me of two things: one is the little thingee baseball umpires use to count balls/strikes; the other is a miniature version of one of those counters you see used in chess games. It's kind of satisfying to smack the top like you just put that row in checkmate.

The other is a peg counter:

This one is great if you need to count a few things at once (for example, how many rows you've done as well as how many decreases you've got to do). I use this one less than the other as I tend to shoot for simpler patterns, but it's invaluable when you need to keep track of several things.

Next up is a needle sizer/stitch gauge:

Let's say for some reason you've got some needles but no idea of the size. You just slide them through the holes (like sizing a ring) and there you go. And that little 'L' cut-out is how you can measure your stitch and row gauge (very important if you need something to fit like a sweater or a hat). Quite a handy little tool, but not totally necessary (you know I just love my gadgets, though). Most needles have the size printed right on them, and a small ruler (don't use a measuring tape--they get a little shifty sometimes) works just as well for checking gauge.

And last but not least is a set of point protectors:

These come in different styles and sizes, but I love the ones that look like something other than an earplug--I have several of these 'socks' because...cute. There are lot of styles, though. For example, I have recently (like in the past five minutes) started coveting these Pac-Man protectors:

These keep your work from sliding off of your stitches when you've laid your knitting down. Sometimes just pulling your work of your knitting bag can cause things to shift and move in a way you don't want. These keep everything where it needs to be until you're ready to work again. I've also read stories of how nosy or excited pets (or even young children) have had less than positive experiences when meeting the business end of a knitting needle poking out of a bag or something. So these are excellent for preventing various unwanted catastrophes.

Again, all of these bits can be widely found at yarn shops, craft stores, and a huge amount of online places.

Regarding yarn--people will tell you to knit with the best you can afford. That's great when you're experienced, but when you're learning that's not necessary (and can be wasteful if you find you don't really care for it). I still don't go for pricey yarn even after all these years. My recommendation would be for a mid-range worsted weight yarn. The super-soft yarns are lovely, but can split easily which can be frustrating. Cotton can be a little unforgiving to work with. So I would say to get a nice worsted weight acrylic or wool blend in something that feels good and in a color you like (I swear I don't work for Lion Brand, haha, but their Vanna's Choice yarn would be great for this!). Once you're feeling confident you can try out different fibers and price ranges to see what you love working with.

OK, this ended up being way longer than I thought, and I really must trot. But I hope you've found this helpful, and that it's maybe sparked a bit of an interest in learning something new (whether you knit already or not--there's always something to learn). Toodles!

Note: Just in case you were wondering, I have no association with any of the businesses/people/websites above. When I find something I love I like to share.


  1. Bethany, I'm sorry to hear your December is not starting out merry and bright. Why do the holidays often come with drama? I hope things brighten up for you soon.
    About Chibi and Kacha, of course you know Clover is a Japanese company, so these names are actually Japanese words. Chibi means little or small and cute to boot. Pets are often named Chibi. Kacha is the sound the counter makes when you click it. Those old gumball machines you turn the handle to get the candy or toy out of are called Gacha Gacha machines here. Pretty neat, eh? Now you can say you know some Japanese. Mata ney! (See you later!)

  2. Bethany those PacMan point protectors are cute. I love Chibi tapestry needles with the curved tip and have used them for years. My new favorite counter is a ring counter that fits on your finger, so it's handy and right there to click. It's digital too.

  3. Hmm, maybe my mum would like some of those, especially the curved needles, must see if I can find some here for her stocking



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