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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Guest Blogger; The Neophyte Knitter

About a month ago, I decided that my book group needed a little spice in their lives, so I suggested that we read Stitch 'N Bitch by Debbie Stoller and told everyone (in my know-it-all voice) to bring "some needles and some yarn" to the next meeting. I ran right out and bought a copy of Stoller's book, read the whole thing--pattern instructions included--in less than 24 hours, and decided this knitting thing didn't look so hard. Oh, how the high and mighty are soon humbled.

Step number one, now that I've read the book, get some needles and yarn. No problem, I think. I head over to the big chain craft store and walk to the knitting/crochet/needlework section. I get my first look at just the needle choices, and am somewhat stunned. There are needles made of hard plastic, flexible plastic, bamboo, aluminum, and rosewood. There are needle sizes from 0 to 25, and everything in between. There are straight needles in 13 inch lengths, 14 inch lengths, and oh-my-god-who-in-their-right-mind-would-ever-knit-something-that-big lengths. There are circular needles, some of which separate into lots of bits so you can swap cables and needles around and basically get everything in an unholy mess. There are the terrifying double point needles. I know they have something to do with socks and the tops of hats, but I'm afraid to go there now. The choices were overwhelming. I ended up grabbing a couple of metal 14" #8 needles. Want to know how I chose them? My six year old liked them because they were pink and shiny. It was good enough for me.

So, I've got needles, now I need yarn, right? I turn around and see three full rows of yarn. Fat yarn, skinny yarn, fluffy yarn, yarn with sequins, yarn with fur, scratchy yarn, yarn that's soft enough for baby blankets. This, too, was a bit overwhelming. I finally find some 100% cotton yarn in a denim color that feels good and looks like a pretty neutral color. I'd read that you should always have enough yarn from the same dye lot to complete your project, so I dutifully check the lot number and make sure they're both the same. They are. I buy two skeins. What I'm going to do with them, I still have no idea.

I get home and flip to Ms. Stoller's beautiful casting on instructions. The diagrams are easy to follow. Ms. Stoller says several times in the book that casting on is difficult and that I shouldn't get frustrated if it takes me a few tries. It takes me one try. One, and I'm casting on like a pro. I'm thinking, "Wow, this is supposed to be hard ? Why did I wait so long to pick up this hobby?" Then, I try to knit my first row. I've cast on so tightly that I have to hold my breath and force the right hand needle between the yarn and the left needle. I finally get it worked in there, flip my yarn around the tip of the right needle, and get ready to draw it back through and make the loop. Hah. After much swearing under my breath and turning red in the face, I get it through. I do this for 24 cast on stitches. It never once occurs to me that I can cast on loosely and save myself this pain. The second knit row is a little easier. I only split the yarn twice. Now I have 26 stitches. This I do not notice, but it doesn't seem to matter all that much as by the time I hit the fourth row, I've dropped at least two more. I'm about even, I think. I enjoy this for about an hour, then pain starts shooting up my right arm from my little finger to my elbow. This is my sign to call it quits for the night.

I pick things back up the next night and try again. Still, not much luck. I decide, "Screw this, I'm waiting until book club to touch it again." Fortunately, we have an expert knitter, someone who actually taught knitting classes, in our group. She sees my frustration, gives me some yarn, and shows me how to loosen up a bit. With her supervision, I whip up 30 beautiful garter stitch rows (garter stitch means all rows are knit; no purling for me yet).

With my newfound confidence, I head back to the craft store. "Must've just been the yarn the first time," I think. I buy some beautiful pink, blue, and green variegated yarn. I look at the label and see that it recommends #10 needles. Okay, no problem. There's a sale this week. I find a pair. I buy blue this time to satisfy my eight year old. I get home and start up with the garter stitch. I'm still not really sure what I'm doing, but I've mastered the art of casting on, and I think I can knit. After a few days, and my first successful join (I had to add a second skein), I end up with this:

I decide that maybe this is pretty fun after all and make yet another trip to the craft store. I buy more needles and more yarn. I start looking for yarn on the Internet. There's some fabulous stuff out there. I mean, I knew about wool yarn, but I didn't realize there were so many types. And I had no idea there was bamboo yarn! I really want to try that. It sounds perfect for the Texas heat.

I discover quickly that knitting can be an expensive hobby if you don't watch out. But I also find that there are lots of people who buy old thrift store sweaters and unravel them to make new and exciting things. I'm not sure yet how to construct a sweater, so I'm not quite ready yet to unravel one, but I'll get there one day.

I'm still pretty limited to rectangle-shaped things. I made a second scarf that added the purl stitch and made stockinette:

I'm on my third scarf now. It's looking pretty good. I think I'm going to move on to hand towels next. Some day in the not too distant future, I plan to really stretch myself and make a hat. Or add fringe to something. I can see how people get addicted to knitting. It's hard to put the needles down. It's seriously cutting into my reading time. Fortunately, there are plenty of books and blogs about knitting, so I can combine the two addictions and get my money's worth from both.

If you think you might be interested in knitting, I recommend the following books and websites:

Stitch and Bitch by Debbie Stoller

Mason-Dixon Knitting by Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne

Crazy Aunt Purl - This woman makes me laugh like crazy.

Yarn Harlot


And the most helpful site of all, - I love this woman. She shows you how to do everything

Jenny O

Thank you Jenny O. I know nothing about knitting. I tried crocheting once, but couldn't get the hang of it. I was laughed at "if you can make chainmaille, why can't you crochet?" Because metal is easier to work with. For me anyway. So I find people that can knit fascinating. No, not in the "They have a hand growing out of their forehead" kind of way. ~Phelan

Want to teach me something? Have a neophyte story to tell? email me at eirennaigh at juno dot com and tell me all about it. Please keep it on DIY projects, include your pictures and links.


Anonymous said...


Thanks so much for inviting me to be a guest blogger. I'm so impressed by all the creative things you do, and I love to read the things you write about them. It was fun to share a little bit about my newest hobby (obsession).

Jenny O

YokoSpungeon said...

Great article JennyO! It reminded me of my earliest forays into knitting. You'll soon be churning stuff out like a pro, because your tension looks great!

greedy said...

Yay JennyO!

Lynn S. said...

Wait until you try spinning! Much easier even than knitting, and you get at least twice the value for your crafting dollar in enjoyment--once when you spin it, and once when you knit it. I sometimes get more than that; if I buy a raw fleece, I get the pleasure of sorting it, dyeing it, carding it, spinning it, and then knitting it. That's five times the benefit. "Sure, but you're not counting your time." Dude, I'm not counting my time because IT'S A HOBBY. It's what I do for fun. Do you count your time when you, say, play video games, or knock a ball around a golf course? Of course not. And in the end, I have something functional, and you've got a high score--good in video games, not so much with the golf. :)

alrescate said...

Wonderful....I'm afraid I'd end up tangled in yarn though.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! I'm currently trying to make a neat ball of yarn out of a pile of tangly mess. I've been at it for a couple of hours now and am tempted to toss the whole thing and buy a new skein! :D

Jenny O

teripittman said...

Cotton is a bad choice for beginner yarn. It's inelastic and will show any irregularity in your tension. If you can't abide wool, there are some decent acrylics out there and there's also alpaca. Personally, I can't understand why anyone wouldn't want to use wool.

Anonymous said...


You're right; cotton is a bad choice for a beginner. Wool is much better for learning. But I didn't know that at the time. :)

I tried some acrylic yarns, but they don't hold a candle to the natural fiber yarns I've been using.

I live in Texas, so the cotton is better once you've gotten the hang of things. Some of the wool yarns are just too hot 10 or 11 months out of the year.


Meadowlark said...

Loved this!

I'm still not much further, but have learned two or three more castons, have tried cables, learned to un-knit to fix mistakes and at least enjoying it. I still find my eyes hurt from staring so intently, but that's another problem for another day.

Thanks for a smile today.

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