Monthly Archives: June 2011

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.)


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.)


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!


Filed under fearless knitting

Knit or perish

Yesterday I had a leisurely afternoon in the city and went by the Purple Purl for a spot of knitting and a latte, and ended up knitting in the midst of a stop in the City Chase event. (Essentially a city-wide scavenger hunt/Amazing Race style event which benefits Right To Play charities. Note to self: find someone fit and crazy and sign up for this next time.) Teams of two were busting it to get to at least 10 stops out of a list of many more, where they had to do a task before checking off the destination as complete. Apparently there were things like “taste the ice cream and identify the flavour” at the ice cream shop, or “one person poses and the other one draws” at the art college.


At the Purple Purl, it was “knit 3 rows of a scarf, each player must knit minimum 10 stitches.” This was pretty hysterical. I don’t want to wager a guess at what the shop looked like at the height of the day, but by middle of the afternoon teams were still flooding in. I ended up coaching a couple of them just to pitch in. Whoa, man. That was a trip. I’ve taught people to knit before, but never in 5 minutes or less. It was fascinating. Some of the folks had knitted before, but many of them were completely new to it. And to get the destination checked off, they had to knit enough to execute 3 rows.


Most of the teams, by that time of day, had done 9 or 10 stops and were on the way to winding down. There was one who was on destination number 18 – some of these teams were there to play. They had never knitted before, but they picked it up. I watched them go through all the beginner learning adjustments – shifting the stitches closer to the neeedle tip as you start to move them from left needle to the right, holding both needles with the left hand to make it easier to wrap with the right, watching to make sure the wrap was complete before moving the stitch off – all compressed into a couple of minutes.

I’m going to remember this the next time I hear someone who says they don’t have the time or ability to learn how to knit. These folks had neither, and did it when the crunch was on. Kudos to the folks at the Purple Purl for coaching all these competitive beginners all day long.

I think I’ll definitely get some knitting in this Sunday afternoon – I hope you do too!


Filed under Uncategorized

Skipping the markers

It’s been a week of good knitting progress so far, and although attention to the Peacock Feathers shawl isn’t quite as far along as I’d like it to be (errr, only 5 weeks away until Sock Summit deadline, HEH), but it’s coming along nicely.


As often happens with lace patterns (and as I have often done myself when writing patterns, and I completely support this approach as an option), this one directs you to use stitch markers to denote pattern repeats on the lace rows. After the second chart or so, when I’d gotten to one of the rows requiring you to shift the markers left or right by one stitch, I decided spontaneously to just ditch the markers altogether. And you know what? It was the best decision ever. I found that I had been paying more attention to the markers than to the emerging lace itself, and that without the markers I was able to focus more on what the lace actually looked like – I was “reading” my knitting much more clearly. It was very much an “ahhhhh” moment.

Sometimes I often think with knitting patterns that if we could just write down what’s in our head, it would save us so much trouble. That if it were just possible to say “okay, so you’re making this lace pattern where there’s a skinny swooshy thing waving around alternating between these other larger leafy swooshy things, and there are yarnovers in between all of them, and you’ll do that for a while until it switches to something different,” then it would all work. But then on the other hand, maybe the process is about getting your own brain to come to that conclusion all on its own?

In the event that this is far too philosophical for a Wednesday, I’ll leave you with a picture of wee Athena, one of my two kitty companions this week. I give her until Friday before she figures out how to send emails and order from Amazon.


Catch you next time! Stay cool, and keep the knitting close by.


Filed under lace

Summer logic

I think if one so happens to be sitting down to knit with a shiny, pink, girly-ish sort of skein of yarn, then one should definitely also have a pink, girly-ish sort of drink to go with it.


I mean, that’s just the only reasonable thing to do.

I thought so.


Filed under design, socks

Stop the madness

There will come a day, hopefully one day very soon, when I am not stubbornly transfixed by selecting colour combinations of Knit Picks Palette for potential colour-work designing. I am very sorry to announce that so far, today is not that day.


I keep endlessly shuffling them around, deciding “okay this time for sure” that I’ve got it, swatching it up, then not being entirely happy with it and trying again. I think that this time I might have it…but then check in again tomorrow morning and we’ll see about that.


This weekend as a change of pace from that, and distraction from the fact that I am still not back onto running and need to figure out what the hip woes are actually all about (show me a runner who can’t run and I will show you the dictionary definition of the word “miserable”), I allowed myself to be kidnapped by knitters into the city. On Friday it was ‘Drunken Knitters’, a monthly gathering of Toronto knitters in a pub, which I always mean to come in for and almost never actually do. Just in case any of you think I am the only one cracked enough to take on colour-work or lace while under the influence, I can reassure you there were knitters present doing both of these. This includes Michelle, who was working away on stranded mittens on 2.0mm needles, and pausing between sips of Guinness to pet her progress happily.


I hung out some more at Lisa’s and got some free kitty cuddles, visited the Purple Purl, and knitted a bit. I met up with Jane who, fresh from a visit to the camera store for new toys, stuck a hat on my head and took pictures of it. As one does, when one hangs out with knitters.



When next we meet, I hope to have solved the colour decision, or at least have moved on to another set of knitting decisions. Happy knitting! Keep the yarn close by.


Filed under colour-work, design

Well, it’s speedier, at least

I’ve been doing a bit of swatching this week, toying with some design ideas and playing around with colours and options. Which is also a sort of professional-looking way of saying “I’m sitting in an indecisive mess of yarn,” but then, as Annie tells me, a creative mess is better than tidy idleness, so I’ll take it.


As I am wont to do, I’m looking at colour-work and twisted stitch cables. I have been wanting to start on some more sweaters of my own using these techniques, and finally have a bit of time to sit in the mess to do it. And then I remembered what both of these things have in common, which is how annoying it is to work them flat. Well, for me, at least. I know there are people who love doing stranded colour-work flat and don’t mind purling back in 2 colours at all, but me, I’d rather do it in the round and steek that sucker. Similarly, twisted stitch cables, or any combination of stitches worked as knits ‘through the back loop’, are a heck of a lot more fun on the knit side since purling through the back loop tends to involve mildly contorting your wrists. Ergo, I prefer it in the round if I can help it. (See: almost every sock pattern I’ve designed, ever.)

The simplest way to swatch for a project you’re going to do in the round is to do a full swatch in the round, say on DPNs or a small circular needle. Or, as knitters like Elizabeth Zimmerman and others with a voice of experience have advocated, knit a hat. It’s more useful than a swatch in the long term, and bound to fit someone when it’s done, and then you have both a hat and all your gauge information in one fell swoop. Of course, this also means taking the time and yarn quantity required for a full in-the-round undertaking, which you may not want to commit to at the time. You might actually just want a flat swatch’s worth of time and yarn. So, then, this is when you break out the ‘speed swatch’ approach. I did a whole mess of these back when I was deciding on a colour-scheme for my Venezia pullover, though at the time I didn’t know that’s what they were called and just sort of thought of them as ‘a sort of cop-out way of swatching in the round but not really.’


What you do here is cast on enough stitches to get you a decent amount of fabric – say, 5-6 inches worth – onto a circular needle, and as you work through the swatch, when you get to the end of a row you just slide the whole works back to the front of the needle sort of like the carriage-return on a type-writer. (A circular needle is both flexible in the middle and pointy at both ends, which is why this works. Circular needles: not just for circular knitting any more!) The effect is that you are only ever knitting the Right Side of the work, so you will get a gauge reading similar to what you will actually have when knitting in the round, since knitting in the round will also only require you to work the Right Side.

The other effect is that the wrong side of your swatch will look like a big ol’ mess, since every time you start back at the beginning of the row, you leave a trail of yarn behind.


Once you’ve done the amount of swatching you feel comfortable with, you cast off as per usual, and then get out the scissors and snip those yarny strings at the back, and then you have a flat swatch. Provided your swatch is not 100% non-wool, the strands will not unravel at the sides very quickly and you’ll be fine.


This also works well for just plain stockinette if all you want to do is avoid the process of going in the round – say, for a sock. DPNs would work well enough in place of a circular needle, if they’re long enough to handle what you want to cast on.

When you’re done, there is naturally still the question of what to do with the swatch once you’ve finished it and gotten your gauge reading and had your way with it and don’t need it any more. But everyone likes knitted coasters, right? I thought so.

Happy swatching!


Filed under design, swatching

Because summer said so

So, I’m through Charts 1 and 1a of the Peacock Feathers shawl. That’s…almost like being halfway done, right?

Well okay, possibly not. I’m not going to lie – I want this shawl. I’ve had the materials all ready to go since last year’s Knitter’s Frolic (Tanis Fiber Arts mulberry silk, in Velvet), but now the mental push finally came to shove when I realized I wanted to be able to wear this at Sock Summit at the end of July. That’s still a pretty flipping insane deadline to give myself, I realize, considering this is far from the only thing on my needles, but I’m going to give it a shot. A girl needs something to wear out on the town with her fellow knitters, doesn’t she?


At least, that’s the vision I’ll keep in my head to keep me going. Like any other lacy enterprise, until I get to the final moment of binding off and blocking, it’s still going to look like a lump of tangled purple weeds. But it’s a silky smooth lump of weeds at least, and the yarn is lovely to work with. I’m planning on designing something with this yarn in the near future, so in a way this project is sort of like one giant test swatch. Who’s to say a girl can’t multi-task a little with her finished-object dreams? A little reminder to appreciate the process as well as product.

And because summer does appear to mean business already, I’ve quickly dispatched the Silk Garden Hourglass and it’s having its own blocking session at the moment. Time to rotate in some lace.

I hope you have a cold beverage of choice to keep you and your knitting company this weekend! Keep the yarn close by.


Filed under lace, shawls