When I first started knitting seriously in the late 1980’s, I had to buy knitting magazines and books to find patterns. One old favourite, “Our Best Knit Baby Afghans – book 2”, by www.leisurearts.com, still provides many options to learn interesting lace patterns.
Now, with the proliferation of websites like Pinterest, and others that specialize in selling knitting supplies and patterns, anyone can find inspiration for projects and choose free and affordable individual patterns. I recently found very detailed patterns for making toys – a stuffed deer and a koala. These will be my first attempt at toy-making, and they look like good challenges – but it might be awhile before I complete them and share them with you!
I record all my knitting projects in a spiral notebook, with start and end dates (including re-doing); yarn name, type, colour, number of balls/hanks used, and care instructions (useful information to include when gifting); needle size; pattern size; rows to show progress; and, the (eventual) name of the recipient.
Above is the first page of five, that recorded the making of this adorable 3-piece set, which I started on February 9 and finished knitting on March 10. It might have been finished sooner, but I had to undo and re-knit the front (the crossed-out numbers over second-to last row) and later, the first sleeve. Once washed and dried, I hand-sewed my unique labels on each piece with red silk thread. The labels were designed by my talented great-niece J. Guan; you might recognize the water buffalo! They were woven by www.LabelNet.ca of Cambridge, Ontario.
There are so many choices in yarns now than when I first started. For example, when I was looking for yarn for the multi-coloured sweater in my earlier blog on “Using up your stash,” it was difficult to find tweed-like yarns. Now there are all kinds of textures, colours, and materials.
There are websites to help you find substitutes, so you are not limited to buying the yarns suggested in a particular pattern. I am still amazed with sock yarns that are dyed to create automatic patterns, and not just stripes! Because I mostly knit blankets, outfits, and hats as welcome gifts for new babies, I use machine washable and dryable yarns. Much easier care for Moms and hopefully, more likely that the items will be used.
A fun yarn I like is eyelash. I found some at the dollar store for .99 a ball. It’s easy and quick to use on large needles (mistakes can be hidden or easily undone) and it has a lovely drape and a soft, fluffy feel for shawls. Most of the shawls I have made with it were done freehand, with no pattern. I have also added them to baby hats and blankets for added texture (and to use up stash).
In addition to the feature photo of my free flowing pink and white shawl at the top of this post, here is another shawl with buttons that allow the wearer to adjust the drape, and a baby hat made with eyelash yarn, all modeled by our dia de los muertos figurine, Beatrice, named after her Oaxacan creator. Below is a baby blanket with a lace pattern. I didn’t have enough of the either yarn, so added the eyelash to lengthen the blanket and add texture.
I can’t remember when I first tried knitting in the round with circular needles; but I now use them exclusively, even for knitting flat items like blankets and shawls. I recently tried using straight needles for a wide scarf using bulky yarn, but found it to be too heavy and awkward to hold. It didn’t take me long to transfer the project onto circular needles.
There are still some patterns for tubular items like sweaters, sleeves, and hats that are knit flat or open and require the maker to sew them together. But I prefer a more streamlined look, and I can usually figure out how to knit them in the round, to avoid a bulky seam; or just look for a different pattern with a similar shape.
I have used needles made of metal, plastic, bamboo, and wood. My favourite are the wood as well as the plastic ergonomic needles by Prym (bottom right). The latter are three-sided plastic needles, with hooked tips that do not pierce the yarn, and have a steel cord that doesn’t curl like plastic tends to do. The blue metal straight needle was bought in China. This is the scarf I made starting with the large straight needle shown below.
Knitting keeps my hands active, but engages my brain as well, especially as it learns a new pattern. It requires focus, concentration, and attention to the moment. At the beginning of a blanket project, for example, I may keep referring back to the pattern instructions, but will eventually knit from memory. So similar to learning a new karate move, I am building fine motor skills and creating new neural pathways.
Knitting takes up time, but I think of it as multi-tasking. I knit in the evenings while watching TV, listening to an audiobook, or chatting with friends around a summer campfire. On long trips, I can take in the scenery in the passenger seat and the activity helps keep me awake. Zoom webinars were also a good time to knit, while learning something else.
I have found community too. For the past few years, a group of dedicated knitters have met on the second Tuesday of the month for an hour and a half of sharing, problem solving, and socializing at a local coffee shop. We stopped meeting during the pandemic but are so grateful to be able to meet face to face again.
Knitting is a time-honoured tradition and an art. I am following in the handwork of my mother, who knitted auspicious Chinese words onto pillowcases and multi-coloured sweaters for me, without the benefit of written patterns. They were all designed in her head. This is a cherished vest made by my mother’s hands for me when I was in my teens.
Here is a website https://knitfarious.com with lots of useful information for beginner knitters, including basic tools, knitting terms, DIY hacks, patterns, tutorials, and more.
Creating a new garment or usable item is a joy in itself. Watching the transformation a long piece of string into something practical and beautiful is very satisfying! I don’t often see the reaction of people who receive my donated items or mailed welcome gifts (and babies don’t really care), but I have made them with love – of the craft, the process, and tradition – and hope that the items will be used and passed on for years to come.