Knitting: looking back at 2020 and a plan for 2021

Like a lot of people, I think, 2020 was a year when I had quite a lot of downtime for knitting, but overall it felt a bit flat. For most of the year, my attention span was so very short, and I felt I only had the energy for small, quick projects. And for a lot of the year I was knitting alone: because of COVID-19, my knitting group moved to meeting online from March until around July, and even though the sense of connection was there, knitting (and crochet!) is so much about touch, and sharing what we were working on with the rest of the group just wasn’t quite the same via Zoom (it was actually Google Meet, but that’s neither here nor there).

Mardi Gras knitted accessories

I do feel a small sense of accomplishment, looking back at 2020 though, as I did get quite a few of those small and quick projects finished. I started the year with the Ex-boyfriend Socks (Nathaniel bought me some lovely alpaca yarn from Hahndorf as a “break up gift” (who knew that was a thing!) and I turned it into socks and gave it back to him). I made accessories for Mardi Gras (an earring and a crown) out of the rainbow acrylic yarn I got for cheap in Lincraft’s closing down sale, and during lockdown I made three pairs of socks for myself, two pairs of mittens, and I had a go at embroidery onto knitted fabric with duplicate stitch.

The horrid cotton socks that look good but were not fun to knit

But there were a few speed bumps in my knitting too. After lockdown, in June, I started on a pair of cotton socks, and I hated knitting them so much, it took months to finish them. I found out via these socks that I hate working with cotton yarn, and even worse. I made the mistake of using a dark colored yarn on black needles (KnitPro Karbonz, which are by far my favorite needles), and I ended up losing any enthusiasm I had for knitting at all. And the Manta shawlette, the one I was so excited about at the end of the year progressed slowly, and is now indefinitely on hold: the pattern isn’t all that fun to work (it’s fiddly lace, has too many SSP stiches in it, and is worked around a double yarn-over in the middle which makes it feel like the whole thing is going to fall apart at any time) so I wasn’t enjoying knitting it, and in November the pattern designer went on a full-on “reverse racism is a thing” rant on Instagram, so I just didn’t want to work his pattern any more.

Christmas hat for Adrian with Latvian braids

I figured I wouldn’t be able to send knitted gifts home for Christmas this year because of postal delays: Australia Post had consistently only been offering a very limited service to the UK for much of the year, but I checked the Australia Post website in late October, and they’d re-introduced Express Post to the UK, so in two weeks (!!) I managed to knock out two pairs of socks and two pairs of gloves and made the Express Post last date for Christmas. That early deadline, of course, gave me time to make a hat for Adrian.

Over the Christmas period, I worked on another pair of socks for myself (very very basic ones), two jockstraps (one as a gift for a friend in Japan), and I started work on the Anubias shawl, which is very exciting.

As we move into 2021, I’ve found my enthusiasm for knitting again, but I do want to plan my projects this year, rather than just doing whatever I feel like when I feel like it (I think that was part of the problem with 2020: I didn’t have a plan so it all felt very erratic).

The Anubias shawl – a work in progress

The first part of the plan involves always having a pair of socks on the go. I never saw myself as a sock knitter, and I still don’t really, but I do quite like knitting socks, they don’t require a lot of *inspiration*, and I find them a good way of always feeling like I’m making progress. January’s socks are already finished, so I’m ahead of schedule (shhh, I cheated: they’re the basic basic socks that I started in December), and work on February’s socks can start. I bought some gorgeous hand-dyed yarn from my friend Mel, and I’m planning a pair with a lace panel running up the front and instep. After that, my Instagram friend Matt Akers (who I have a crush on) designed a collection of socks for Pride, so I might give one or two of his patterns a go.

I’ve already started planning for Christmas, including two jumpers (my nephew will be getting a Tin Can Knits FLAX sweater for Christmas) as well as a couple of Fair Isle projects.

The Mizu-sake coaster designed by Duke of Nikko (it reads 水 on the other side)

As well as finishing the Anubias shawl, working on my Christmas projects, and always having socks on the go, I have plans for some smaller projects that I will be working on to break things up a bit, and to make sure I get some things actually finished fairly regularly. Another Instagram friend, Duke Akiba (who I also have a crush on) designed a gorgeous hat called 绿 Midori (which is the Japanese word for green) and I’m looking forward to starting that in February. Duke is also the king of double knitting (I made his 水酒 Mizu Sake coaster last year and love it), and I’m planning to use his double knitting principles, as well as Amimoji principles and try to make a double knitting coaster with the character 愛, which means “love”.

There’s more planning to do, and I’m sure things will change as the year progresses, but for 2021’s knitting, I’m feeling much calmer, much more organised, and much more enthused!

Knitting supplies: advice for beginners

A question I often answer and am sometimes asked is:

I want to learn to knit; what basic supplies do I need?

I’m going to answer this with what I think are the basics, with some specific recommendations on products. Note, this is my biased view; other people will give you different advice, but this is definitely my opinion on the best and most versatile products to get started with.

Assumptions:

  1. I’m going to assume you don’t want to spend a fortune, but do want some borderline decent supplies to get started.
  2. I’m also going to assume you just want to pick up some needles and yarn and start knitting. You don’t want to knit a thing (at first), you just want to practise the stitches.

A note: while understanding that you don’t want to spend a lot of money initially, knitting is an expensive hobby. You can, of course, buy a pair of needles and some acrylic yarn from the $2 store and knit with them, but I promise you that you’ll hate knitting if you do that.

Needles

I think for beginners, the best way to get started is to buy a 24″/60cm circular needle, size 4mm or 4.5mm (US size 6 or 7), and made of wood. (A lot of beginners start with bamboo, but I think that’s way too sticky. While having a bit of grip is good so your stitches won’t fall off the needle, if you’re constantly dragging the stitches along it will be irritating and you won’t enjoy knitting.)

With a circular needle you’ll be able to practise basic flat knitting, as well as circular knitting and magic loop knitting.

I am going to recommend KnitPro Symphonie fixed circular needle size 4mm. It’s AU$10.38 from LoveCrafts – or check your local yarn store.

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Yarn

There are loads of yarns available and it can be very confusing when you’re starting out. Most beginners start with acrylic yarn because it’s cheap and available everywhere – DON’T DO IT. The quality of cheap acrylic yarn can be so bad that it is genuinely unpleasant to knit with, and you’ll end up thinking you hate knitting when you just hate the yarn.

I recommend starting with wool yarn, in weight 4/medium/worsted/10-ply (it’s all the same thing, just different names depending on your location). Buy two 50g balls in two different light colors. 

This weight of yarn is probably the easiest to work with, and your stitches will be big enough for you to see. It’s also a good weight for your needles. Wool generally feels nice to work with and is really forgiving. It’ll have a bit more grip on your needles too. It’s really important to get light colors so you’ll be able to see your stitches easily.

If you’re in Australia I recommend Morris & Sons Estate 10-ply available from their website for AU$6.45.

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Other supplies

Aside from needles and yarn, there are a couple of other things I recommend you get. Not essential, but they’ll make life easier.

  • A crochet hook. I recommend an aluminium one with a soft grip handle, in the same size or a size smaller than your knitting needles. They are useful for practising picking up dropped stitches, as well as provisional cast-ons (I don’t expect you to know what that means!). KnitPro has one that’s good value: AU$4.37 from Love Crafts.
  • A yarn needle/tapestry needle. You’ll almost certainly want to practise weaving in ends or seaming, and these are essential for those things. They’re available everywhere (even supermarkets) for a couple of bucks, and the cheapest ones are fine.
  • Stitch markers are very useful for when you are practising increases or decreases. You can buy them, but for beginners you can make them by just cutting up a plastic drinking straw (one of the thick ones for milkshakes) into thin hoops.

Things you probably already have

  • A ruler. A 6″/15cm one is fine, as is a 12″/30cm one. A metre stick/yardstick is probably a bit too big.
  • A tape measure. The flexible 60″ ones that are everywhere are perfect. No need for a fancy retractable one.
  • Scissors, any size – even nail scissors will do, but massive kitchen ones might be a bit unwieldy.

A teacher

I think going to a beginners’ class at your local yarn store is the best way to get started, but that might well be impractical or unaffordable. There are lots of YouTube channels, some of them are good, and some of them are not. I recommend VeryPink Knits – Staci Perry of VeryPink is an excellent knitting teacher, and her videos are very well produced.

Please feel free to get in touch if you want more advice or if you dispute any of this! I’d love to chat knitting with you!

I’m making a hat

I have taken up knitting again. Not seriously, but just as a pastime. I have in the past knitted a couple of things – well a couple of scarves, because that’s all I knew how to do. But last week, I did a little bit of learning, including learning how to read a knitting pattern, and I found a very simple pattern that wasn’t a scarf and I made a start.

This is the pattern I found –  it’s a simple hat, “Cozy Cobblestone Cap”, and the pattern looked manageable.

I felt a little apprehensive about starting because it really is the first thing I have ever made from a pattern, but I was brave and cast on and knitted the first row.

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The first ten rows were garter stitch, so it was a pretty easy start, and got me well into the flow. And I progressed quite quickly. Then the tricky (not really) part. The second section was the “cobblestone” pattern bit – alternating between knitting and purling every couple of stitches – I’ve never managed to do that before, but a couple of YouTube video lessons, and I managed it. Day two and the pattern was emerging.

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By the third day I’d knitted enough that the pattern showed and I was able to wrap it around my head – it was starting to look like a hat!

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IMG_20160426_173607508Disaster struck on Sunday night though – after knitting about six rows, I noticed I was knitting on the wrong side – I’d either missed a row or added one somewhere, and I couldn’t see exactly where. I spent an hour or so on YouTube trying to learn how to rip back the stitches to get back on track, but… I wasn’t game enough to try. I decided to just add another row to get back onto the right side, and hope the inside-out section looks like it’s just part of the pattern.

Last night I finished the main section and started the crown. I had to learn to decrease – the simple but new-to-me SSK (slip, slip, knit) stitch. Again, a couple of YouTube lessons, and some practice on a practice bit of fabric that I have on the go. The crown didn’t take long, and the knitting of the hat is finished! All that is left to do is form the shape and sew the seam. So I think a couple of YouTube videos on seam-sewing will be the order of today.

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I’ll update when it is finished – hopefully it will be a hat and it will be wearable. And hopefully we’ll have a cold winter so I can wear it!