Category Archives: fearless knitting

In which I am the boss of my own knitting

After a brief glorious couple of days over the holidays of “knitting whatever the hell I want, please and thank you very much,” then a bit more after rounding up a few deadline projects, I’ve been able to go back to the beautiful Gwendolyn sweater I’ve had going on since, well, for far too long. I love the colour, the pattern is gorgeous, Fiona Ellis is a skilled and trustworthy designer, and let’s face it, I would love a new knitted cardi in my closet. This is all of the good.

This weekend as I pulled it out for a few more spells of working away on the back piece, I was starting to admire the cable repeats now that I could see them unfolding and they were starting to feel fluid. (I don’t know about you, but I eventually tend to get to a point with cables where the chart meshes with my brain and I only need to glance at it every so often. I love it when that happens.)

Jan9-GwendolynBack

But you know, the more I looked at the unfolding work for the back piece, the more I started to doubt my choice of size. The more I worked away, the more it just seemed like it was coming out too small. I tugged at it every so often. “You swatched for this,” my brain argued. “You did the calculations based on your gauge, and it’ll all be fine. It relaxes a bit after washing.” I kept on knitting, and tugged at it a bit more every few rows. “You can block the snot out of it,” my brain reasoned next. “It’ll be fine, you can make it fit even if it does turn out too small.”

I knitted for a bit more, and then when I pulled it out this morning for another look, I realized that I had two choices: Keep knitting, and possibly develop a constant eye twitch worrying until the very last minute about whether it will fit me like I want, or, I could rip it out and start the back over again in the next size up. I thought about it for about five point three seconds, and, well…

I went with door number two.

Jan9-GwendolynRestart

This is, of course, flying in direct defiance of the extremely rational and gauge-swatch-based decision I made a few months ago back when I started this sweater (dear God this is taking me forever, I need to step on it), at which point I reasoned that since my stockinette gauge was looser than the pattern, that I could knit a smaller size that I needed to, and get the size that I wanted. And it’s a well-reasoned argument to be sure, but neglects the fact that I swatched in stockinette and the entire back piece is completely composed of cables, not stockinette. My gut made the final call. Swatch vs. gut – who will win?

Well truthfully, I’m not sure, but I’ve had to keep so much of my brain free for so many other knitting decisions lately, that I’m willing to give it a break on this one and err on the side of possibly too big, than possibly too small. TAKE THAT, KNITTING. I am the boss of you, and I shall take the consequences.

And um, maybe stock up on chocolate. (You never know.)

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39 Comments

Filed under cables, fearless knitting, swatching

Neglected but not forgotten

As a Christmas Day and Boxing Day treat I gifted myself with some time to knit on whatever I wanted, and went back to pick up my poor neglected Gwendolyn cardigan. I started this back in September and had almost gotten both sleeves finished before getting side-tracked with other things, and I miss it. I love the teal blue and the fun cables, and also, I want the finished sweater.

Anyway, some time between the post-brunch food coma and the pre-dinner snacking food coma, I looked down at the second sleeve as I was merrily progressing on the sleeve cap, and realized that something wasn’t quite right. I had, as it turns out, missed not one but two cable twists in a row, on the same cable. So I isolated the exact 5 stitches in question, ripped them down to the point where the first twist should have been…

Dec27-GwendolynSleeve

…and then immediately went and cast on for the back. I’ll get to the cable fix later. Maybe my 2012 self would enjoy that. My 2011 self will continue in cabley denial for a bit and whirr along with the body. La la la. (FYI, if you’re wondering how exactly a person does that, Steph has an awesome photo tutorial on two ways to fix a mis-crossed cable. It works, it really really does.)

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I hope you’re all keeping well and that you have some nice gifts and treats to keep you company! I’ll be back next post with my last wee designs to ring out 2011 with, and will be pleased to show them off to you. Happy knitting in the final days of the year.

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14 Comments

Filed under cables, fearless knitting

Looping along

A couple of folks asked last week about a blog tutorial on Magic Loop, since it’s a technique I mention every so often and one that I use happily. So, ta-da! Let’s talk about that, with the aid of some photos.

I will start out with a brief proviso – Magic Loop is the popular name given to the technique of working small circumferences in the round by using a single, long circular needle, in place of a short circular, multiple double-pointed needles, or two circular needles. It is by no means my invention, and in fact I learned this technique through a collection of things – friends showed me, Elizabeth Zimmerman mentions the same basic approach in her books, and of course Bev Galeskas and Sarah Hauschka have what is arguably the most popular publication on the subject. There are likely other resources on the technique. What I’m going to show you here is the essential basics, but as for any technique, I invite you to check out your local resources and advice from other knitters on the subject. I hope this post will spark your interest at the very least!

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So: you’re interested in working in the round for small items (hats, sleeves, socks, gloves, mittens, toys, booties…snake sweaters? Flute cozies? I don’t know, there’s got to be endless options, right?), but aren’t so keen on double-pointed needles (DPNs), or at the very least you’re interested in an alternative. I definitely enjoy the magic loop technique – I still use DPNs frequently, and haven’t tossed them away, but more often I gravitate towards ML as a default.

First: you need a long circular needle, in whatever needle size is desirable for your project, and in a length no shorter than 32″. 40″ circulars are an ideal option for most needle brands, but 32″ is an option if the cord is flexible enough. (The reasons for this will become apparent later on in this post.) I find with products like Signature Needle Arts circulars, Knit Picks fixed circulars/interchangeables, and Addi Lace needles, a 32″ is all I need. With needles like Chiao Goo “red” circulars, classic Addis, and craft-store finds like Unique or Susan Bates, the cords aren’t quite as flexible and a 40″ circular is what you need. There are plenty of other brands that I haven’t managed to spend a lot of time with that are easily in play here as well,  (Dyakraft, Addi interchangeables, Lantern Moon, Hiya Hiya, etc), so if in doubt experiment until you find the ones you prefer the most. I tend to reach for the needles I do because of a combination of preferences – the cord, the materials of the needles, the pointy-ness of the tips, how well the knitting slides (or not) along the needle and cord, and so forth.

(Since I know someone will ask – here I’m using a 32″ circular from Signature Needle Arts, with a 5″ stiletto tip, and a superwash worsted from Neighbourhood Fiber Company that I found at Fibre Space in Alexandria/DC on a trip a while ago.)

Anyway, for magic loop, you’ll need a long circular needle.

The first thing you’ll do, naturally, is cast on all of your stitches as required for the pattern (first photo, above). Next, to get the stitches into working mode, you’ll divide them into two sections, one for each needle, like so:

Nov14-MagicLoop2

It’s most likely you’ll divide them evenly, but you might vary this up slightly depending on pattern. Here I have 2 sections of 22 and 20 sts, because I’m working ribbing in k1tbl, p1 on this mitten cuff, and wanted to keep the ribbing repeat intact. You’ll note that, as one would normally do for working in the round, I have made sure that the round is not ‘twisted’ around the needle, and the yarn will be pulled from the end of the round so that when I make my first stitch, the round will be complete and joined.

This is the position you will start from at the beginning of every round, and at the mid-point of every round. Many knitters refer to this as the “start position.” Your needle tips are lined up, with the work emerging below:

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To start knitting, you will first reach for the needle tip sitting in back…

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…and pull it out along with a portion of the cord.

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Now, you are ready to knit. Just start at the beginning of the round with your two needle tips and proceed as normal according to your pattern.

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When you get to the end of that side, you’ll have the Left Hand needle now sitting loose, drooping at the end of the cord that was looping around the left side.

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So, what you do is flip the work over…

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And pull that formerly droopy needle all the way through the work so that it is lined up at the beginning position just as we had before. Then, keep knitting the other side just like you did the first side.

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You’ll notice that while you work, you’ll have two loops – one on each side of the work, where the sides divide. Managing these two cord loops is, in my humble opinion, the only real difficult part of magic loop, and this is where your needle selection will make the biggest difference. Some needles swivel and twist more than others, others pull and separate at the side join more than others. Try a few kinds and see what works for you.

Nov14-MagicLoop11

There are several advantages to this technique over others. For one, you are only using one attached circular, and so there is no risk of losing one DPN of your set – both needles are always attached to each other at all times. Additionally, this method has the effect of dividing your work into two surfaces instead of 3 or 4. If you happen to be working a pattern which has an intricate pattern over the “front” and on the “back” (as for some socks – the front of the leg and the back are often identical), working this way allows you to not interrupt either of those surface with the join of a DPN, as would typically be the case for working with a set of either 4 or 5 DPNs. This also reduces the number of potential “laddering” points to two, as opposed to 3 or 4.

The only immediate downside to this is that, if you don’t own them already, you’ll have to go shopping for some long circular needles. (But on the other hand…you get to go shopping. So, still a win? ;) )

I’ve taken the liberty of putting up a short video clip on YouTube (because, uh, maybe the zillion other video clips weren’t enough? Heh), in case you’d like to see a little 3-D action on this.

Nothing like getting your Monday off to a good start with a little learnin’. May your day be as painless as possible, and with knitting waiting for you at home!

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18 Comments

Filed under demo, fearless knitting, teaching, tutorial

Things I did this summer

Knitting progress continues apace here at Knitting to Stay Sane, but rather than show you the 6 inches more teal green sweater I’ve accumulated since last time, or the swatches and sketches and wound yarn cakes I’m happily pondering, I need to go back for some due diligence on a finished project from the summer that hasn’t yet seen the proper light of the blog since it was finished.

You may remember that I was knitting the Peacock Feathers shawl this summer, and that I gave myself just shy of 2 months to knit it in order to have it finished by my birthday – which also co-incided with the middle of Sock Summit. I think the last time you saw it it looked something like this:

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Or maybe this:

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But I never did get any proper modelled “Finished Object” shots with it, and that’s just a crying shame, because this shawl is awesome.

Oct9-Shawl1

I did, in fact, make my deadline. When I gave myself that deadline I knew it was going to be just enough of a challenge, but do-able. Most of it was done with about 1-2 hours of knitting each day, and some days all I did was two rows on it and that had to be enough. I spent the 5-hour flight from Toronto to Portland for Sock Summit knitting most of the last of the edging chart, and the rest of it the that night. Then on the Friday of Sock Summit I woke up knowing that all that stood between me and a finished shawl was the crochet bind off (which I’d never done before), and blocking and pinning out (which I had to do on the hotel bed, also a first-time experience for me). The great thing (if one wanted to look at it that way) about coming down to the wire on something like this is that you don’t have time to worry about whether or not you can pull off a crochet bind-off on a 600-stitch silk shawl while riding transit to the Oregon Convention Centre and waiting around at coffee breaks. You just do it.

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I wore it around Sock Summit the rest of the weekend, as well as the local Kitchener-Waterloo Knitter’s Fair here a month ago. It is an eye-catching shawl and I got a lot of lovely compliments on it. This shawl will get you noticed – it is big, beautiful, and any knitter who’s been around the block a few times will look at it and know that you had to put in some time and skill to get it.

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I point these things out not just to state the obvious (because let’s face it, there is no denying the awesomeness of this pattern), but to emphasize the fact that nobody, not one knitter out of the many who have admired and touched this shawl, have noticed or pointed out a single one of the what are probably dozens of mistakes I made while making it. The whole thing is not a big flaming hot mess, let’s be clear on that for sure, but there are little imperfections scattered across it.

Most of them were fairly typical lace knitting mistakes, like accidentally mis-aligning chart rows by 1 stitch and then having to fix it on the next row, but other dumbass moves were things like me reading a double decrease as a single decrease because I was knitting it during the hottest month of July possibly in several decades and my brain was oozing out my ears, and then having to fix that on the next row. But the thing is, there are thousands upon thousands of stitches in this shawl, and I read my knitting as I went and made it work and forged ahead because that’s what I wanted to do. This is 100% silk yarn, and given the choice between an imperfect yet beautiful shawl, and having to rip back silk – I choose living with the imperfections. Beauty does not need to be flawless.

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I love this shawl and I’m glad to have knitted it. It is a skills-building project that will ask a lot of your brain and attention span, but still allows you the restfulness of purling back on the wrong side rows, and the pleasant comfort of increasing every right side row in the same place through yarnovers, like typical triangular shawls do. Tanis’ mulberry silk yarn is a dream to work with (2.2 skeins for this shawl), as is the colour, and now I have this great shawl to pull from my closet the next time I want a kick-ass accessory. The pattern and yarn sat on my shelf for over a year before I finally cast on, and I’m glad to have dispatched them to this result.

What ambitious projects are waiting for you in your stash? You just never know what awesome things they could be.

30 Comments

Filed under fearless knitting, finished object: shawl, lace

Back in action

I’ve returned from my week away at the Haliburton School of Arts summer program, and it’s been a jam-packed week! I could have done without a couple of the very hot days (if you’re a few hours north of Toronto and the humidex is still in the 40C+ range, that is HOT, YO), and especially without whatever bug chomped on my foot and led me to spend my final evening of the week waiting to see an ER doc (and, as it turns out, get some antibiotics, erk), but the knitting parts of the week were all good.

My class was all about sweater knitting, particularly about knitting sweaters that fit, and assorted other things that came up over the course of the week. Our little group got on very well, in fact so nicely that we all met for breakfast on Friday morning and they surprised me with a nice card and thank-you wine. (I have no doubt that it will taste better than regular wine). By mid-week they were even dreaming up other knitting classes I should come back and do next summer, so with any luck we’ll get to do it again.

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Over the course of the week we chattered on about measuring, swatching, (and then more about measuring and swatching), pattern reading and modification, finishing, yarn behaviour, and lots more that I’m probably forgetting.

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We made duct tape dress forms, as one does.

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And we also ate chocolate, chatted, knitted, and enjoyed our luck at having an air-conditioned classroom. We commented at how convenient it is to have chosen a craft (or art?) that allows us to be able to sit and talk in a group at the same time as actually doing the execution. It really is a nice bonus.

And now I’m back in the big city again for a few days and readying myself to exchange one whirlwind for another as I prepare to leave for Sock Summit next Wednesday. There’s more knitting to be done, and I suspect some laundry and list-making.

Catch you again in a couple of days! And stay cool, knitter friends.

9 Comments

Filed under fearless knitting, sweaters, teaching

Just the right age for this, actually

Yesterday marked another year of the Toronto TTC Knitalong, an event that has changed hands from one set of organizers to another over time, and sees a slightly different yarn shop landscape every year in the city, but has been going strong for four or five years now. It is an excuse to roam the city as knitters, shopping and knitting and generally raising the visibility of the craft as we go. The participant fees contribute mostly to a hefty charitable donation to Sistering, a local women’s charity, and mostly it’s just a good time and an excuse to be part of a roving band of knitters for the day. And we lucked out and got a sunny hot day that wasn’t quite so hot as to be mimicking the face of the sun, so that was a bonus.

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Along with Lisa, I was a captain for the Red Team this year, which started in the north end of the city at Passionknit, stopping at Mary Maxim and then Knitomatic before finishing at Romni Wools. Many of the shops offered discounts or prize draws, which was an added bonus and extra bit of enabling. (I very nearly had a falling down in front of the Malabrigo Chunky in Romni Wools, then came to my senses. Though I did emerge with a bit more Cascade 220 and Royal Alpaca by the end of the day). And then we had beer afterwards, and lo, it was good. Team Red was a pretty awesome team (not that I’m biased), and I know a lot of folks went home smiling with a lot of new purchases, and even some new Works in Progress on the needles.

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It is always a lot of fun doing things like this, because you can go around for the day completely immersed in Knitting World, without actually leaving the Real World of the city. You get to be among your own kind (with whom you can say things like “hey I almost lost it in front of the Malabrigo Chunky over there”, and they will know exactly what you mean, or they will not blink an eye if you do things like read a pattern on your cell phone in one hand while casting on with the other), and yet you don’t have to retreat to the woods to reach said Knitting World. It’s like day camp for knitters.

The other fun part about this is encountering the reaction from non-knitters, because in using streetcars and subways to get around on a Saturday (or even walking around), while also knitting (because a lot of knitters plan ahead and bring projects they can work on while standing or riding transit), and while carrying bright red tote bags…uh, well…we get noticed.

We had an interesting bit of chatter with one guy on the streetcar who was genuinely curious what it was that we were doing (he wondered if we had arranged to have a team on every single streetcar/subway in the city), and we explained about the knitting and the shopping and the charity and the fun. He nodded and seemed to think this was reasonable, but then commented that we “seemed a bit young to be knitters.” We explained to him that, no, actually knitters come in all ages and in fact some of the fastest growing age demographics in knitting are the young adults.

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It is easy, immersed in knitting world and only sharing our craft with other knitters, to forget that some people actually experience this world as brand new information. It always seems like people should have caught on by now, that everyone should know by now that knitting world is actually pretty big, is located everywhere, and lived by people in all walks of life. Sometimes, you need to go out with a big group of knitters and pull out your knitting in the middle of a busy subway, just to make sure that everyone knows that, just in case they’ve forgotten – because they sometimes forget.

And really, we are all, in fact, just the right age for this.

Happy knitting this Sunday! Wherever you are.

21 Comments

Filed under fearless knitting, knitting in public, knitting tourism

On not being a beginner anymore

Every so often I have occasion or just the random presence of mind to consider the whole idea of “skill levels” in knitting. I have actually started to sort of actively resist using categories like that when talking about patterns or designs; I prefer instead to refer to the specific techniques involved in executing the pattern, so that a knitter can relate the pattern to what they do and do not know already, and consider what they may or may not need to learn before or during the execution of the knitted item itself. Because really, the only way to learn cables is to knit something with cables – even if it’s just a swatch that you later turn into a coffee cup cozy or something like that. (But I accept that these categories exist and are not going anywhere, and that if a pattern uses more than knit, purl, and basic decreases, we are probably in the intermediate category. Or is it advanced beginner? Lalalaa I digress.)

And then there are weeks when I arrive at such thoughts when, for example, I am watching a bunch of brand spanking non-knitters try furiously to knit a few rows of garter stitch under the pressure of a competition clock, or ripping out one of my own designs in progress to start on it a 3rd time, or drinking a cocktail while pondering colour theory (me on Sunday evening), and realize that there are a whole lot of different things that make a person not-a-beginner anymore. It’s a pretty vague category and one that sort of exists on a continuum more than anything else. (I mean, really, have you ever heard anyone say, “I just learned the last knitting thing I didn’t know. Now I know how to do everything in knitting and I am totally 100% done now since there will never be anything new in knitting. I’ll go try this scrapbooking thing instead.” Absolutes are hard to come by, is all I’m saying.)

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If you should happen to be one of these people in that vague category of new-ness, or just plain like thinking about knitting skills, I humbly offer this list of 5 ways you too can consider some steps towards no longer being a beginner.

On not being a beginner anymore: 5 ways

1. Make peace with ripping back, or ripping out and starting over.
We are incredibly fortunate as knitters to have embraced a craft that allows us, if we so choose, to completely eliminate any evidence of our mistakes and still be able to re-use the materials that produced the mistakes in the first place. Being able to rip back and re-knit – or at least to decide for ourselves whether we would prefer the re-do option or whether the errors are something we can live with – is a sign of exercising your own decision-making and control over your knitting, and it means you’re not going in blind. You recognize that getting the final product you want is the real goal, not whether or not you’re avoiding the momentary pain of having to rip out hours (sometimes days) of hard work.

2. Become savvy about yarn substitution.
This is a big huge enormous knitting world that we live in. It’s bigger than when I started knitting 7 years ago (that was before Ravelry, when blogs were new, and when nobody had ever even heard of things like Wollmeise), it’s certainly bigger than when my mother started knitting, and we here in North America in particular enjoy a wide range of yarn shops in both bricks-and-mortar and online forms. There is a lot of yarn out there. Of course knitting designers and publishers choose yarn for particular reasons. Of course they would like you to knit with the yarn they used in their patterns. And with the combined power of yarn shops and the internets and a bit of cash, there’s not a lot that’s impossible to acquire.

But sometimes it’s not as feasible to do that, for any number of reasons. And when you can look at a pattern and know things like “oh, that’s a multi-ply worsted-weight wool/alpaca blend yarn that they probably used because it’s warm and also has really nice drape,” then your options open up wide. HUGE, in fact. It’s better to know why that yarn was chosen than to find that specific yarn in the first place. This comes with time, and practice, and asking questions, and appropriate levels of knitting geekery.

3. Ditch the whole concept of “sizes.”
Sizes matter a great deal when you go into a store. You have to know your shoe size if you want to buy shoes and socks. You have to know your dress size at a particular store if you want to buy garments there that will fit you. But in knitting world, you’re not buying your hand-knitted clothing from a store. All of this information is actually almost entirely useless when you are knitting something for yourself. When you’re knitting a sock for yourself, for example, the only reason you might want to know what your shoe size is, is to estimate the quantity of yarn you might need. That’s all. (I’ve learned, for example, that as a person who wears Size 11 ladies shoes, I need at least 360 yards of sock yarn to knit a pair of socks – 375 or 400 is even better.)

What matters more is that you know the measurements of your own body. If your foot has a circumference of 9 inches, and the sock you’re about to knit has a finished circumference of 8 inches, then that gives you about an inch of negative ease (which is about what you want in a regular sock, so they don’t fall down), and that means you can knit that sock without adjusting it. If on the other hand, you’re knitting that same sock and have a foot circumference of 7 inches, then, well, you need to either look for a smaller size in the pattern, or adjust your gauge or yarn or both to make that sock fit, or else anticipate that you will be knitting a pair of loose and slouchy socks. The same goes for sweaters: pay attention more to the finished bust measurements and cross-shoulder measurements than the size listings. This is the information that will actually help you make things that will fit you.

Because, you know, I have a 36-inch bust and really broad shoulders that add up to me being between sizes anyway. At least with knitting I can modify the sweater so that it fits me, rather than hanging my head miserably in the middle of Old Navy because the XL tee hangs like a potato sack but the M that fits my waist makes me look like a football player, so I buy the L instead as a middle ground that still doesn’t quite look right but at least lets me go out in public looking somewhat like an adult. (Just saying.)

June16-PeacockFeathers

4. Try new stuff.
You know what the difference is between the knitter who makes things with cables on them and the knitter who knits things with no cables on them? That first knitter is the one who took 30 minutes out of her life to learn/get someone to show her/watched a YouTube video about/figured out on her own/took a class at a yarn shop about cables, decided she liked it, and now she knits all kinds of stuff with cables on them.

(It’s also possible that that second knitter DID try cables, decided she hated them, and knits lace instead. Which, go ahead with your bad self, Lace-Instead-of-Cables Knitter.)

5. Just knit. Knit a LOT.
That thing that Malcolm Gladwell is on about in ‘Outliers’, about success being a combination of opportunity and putting in 10,000 hours worth of time? Well, I’m pretty sure he’s right about that. Anyone who keeps knitting, regularly, will get better. You can bet on it. You will figure out new ways to hold the yarn so that you can throw or pick a bit faster or easier, you will learn new stuff, you will find new patterns, you will eventually get lonely and that will throw you into the path of new knitter friends who will show you new stuff and patterns and other ways of doing things…and you will get better.

Just keep knitting. Keep knitting a LOT. And you will no longer be able to say that you are probably a beginner knitter. Probably, by that point, you will be creating new beginner knitters yourself.

What else would you add to this list?

Until next time, knitting friends!

34 Comments

Filed under fearless knitting