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The knitting pages are now mostly practical, concentrating mainly on things you could well find out for yourself about knitting as your style and skills progress.

On this page you can see:

some crochet
completed at last
simple shawls
tips for socks
absolute beginners

Absolute beginners!
Grace's blanket half way
Anyone who can knit but doesn't have time, might like to have a go at the most simple blanket/throw possible. Perhaps you once made one of these yourself, or contributed to one, as a child. It could take a week or a year. Even those who can't (yet) knit can get a couple of knitting needles and a ball of yarn, and learn. The blanket is a way of learning whilst making your first project at the same time. YouTube is a good instructor for many things but you can't beat hands-on instruction from a kind person sitting beside you who would can also undo beginner's mistakes and show you how to put them right. Making a start with double knitting weight yarn and size 3.5, 3.75 or 4mm needles would be a good plan. Whichever size is most comfortable for you. Choose a colour or a range of colours that you like (obviously).

Cast on 30 stitches and make a start, working entirely in garter stitch. You can learn to knit whilst getting on with the first square of the blanket. It won't be perfect, but knitting is very forgiving I always say. By the time your first square is sewn in with the others, which will be neater, the throw will be perfectly acceptable. Real perfectionists, though, might want to rip down the first square and knit it again. The blanket above is by a beginner knitter and is half way through. It took a while to reach a certain degree of competence but now she has reached the landmark stage of knitting whilst watching TV... And as regards choice of colour, the photo shows how successful working with a limited palate can be, even if the squares come from multiple sources.

When it's time to sew up the squares I shall recommend sewing them with the rows of knitting set in alternate directions, which will help to make the finished blanket lie smoothly. A quick rinse in the washer, and drying flat, should finish the project nicely. I'm sure it will be finished before next winter!

Two surprisingly related tips for socks

magic loop
For years I have knitted socks on 4 or five double pointed needles. Not that I have knitted all that many socks. Recently I have tried short circular needles, both 30cm and 20cm, which proved slightly easier than 4 needles but still not a big improvement. I'm not great at manoeuvring the very short needle tips. A while ago I tried the magic loop but was too impatient to work out the very lengthy written instructions in the books or websites that I looked at.

Then a few days ago I thought I would try the magic loop again. This time I looked first online. So what I want to share with you is this great tutorial on the technique from the wonderful verypink. ...A round or two and I was steaming along! Do try the magic loop if you aren't already hooked. I don't think I'll be knitting socks any other way from now on. Or hats for that matter - which you can more easily try on as you go along, using this method.

Another breakthrough in my sock knitting is that I've finally worked out grafting, aka Kitchener stitch (allegedly after the British Secretary of State for War during WW1). Yes I have looked at online tutorials, including verypink's, but honestly I've found Elizabeth Zimmerman's written instructions much easier to follow in the case of this technique. Until now I've knitted my toe-ends into a dome shape, where you can just thread the stitches together at the end and which works equally well for washing and wearing - or I've made a chisel toe and done a three needle bind-off, which is quite satisfactory. Now I see that grafting is not really difficult at all and the Zimmmerman method has the big advantage of letting you pull the thread through at the end, adjusting the stitches perfectly (that's because it is uniform all the way along the row, therefore easy to remember, whereas most tutorials you will find have a slightly different method for the first two stitches, and that prevents you from pulling the yarn through to adjust it at the end). So here I give you a page from Elizabeth Zimmerman's book Knitting Without Tears, first published in 1970 and still in print for very good reasons. (I apologise for the poor quality of the image, due to the indisposition of my scanner.)

grafting page
Now that I can do fairly neat grafting I might always knit chisel shaped toes, which make perfect sense with magic loop, as you will see straight away when you try it. So for me that's perfect toe-ends from now on ... maybe.

Simple shawls

I've knitted two shawls in the last 12 months. Sadly I don't like either of them very much so I may not have them for very long... The blue and white one was knitted mainly to use up some yarn I bought for a present that wasn't knitted in time. What I learned here was that it's a waste of time (in my opinion) to knit fancy stitches with a yarn which knits in stripes, because the stitches are hardly seen. The shawl on the right is in 'my colours' but I'm not sure any more whether I actually like the idea of shawls. But this one is is small enough to wear as a scarf in winter weather, so it might get some use after all.
If you want to design your own simple shawl (as opposed to the ones that go off in all directions, which are popular just now) at the basic level all you need to do is to knit a triangle. Start with just 3 stitches, then increase one stitch at the beginning of every row, and watch it grow. For the more arrow-head shaped shawls, all you really need to know is:
Traditionally you start from the centre of the long side of the triangle and, as you increase stitches at the centre and the edges, the long side gets longer and the shawl gets bigger as you progress. By the time you finish, both of the two other sides of the triangle are on the needles. This way you can make the shawl as big as you like, or just end when you think it's big enough, or when you run out of yarn. Start off with just 4 or 5 stitches, then:

To make a Y-shaped shawl like the blue and white one above, increase one stitch at each end of each row, and two stitches in the centre of each alternate row. That's it.

To make a triangular shawl like the one at the front of the photo, just increase one stitch at each end of each alternate row and your two stitches in the centre of each alternate row. That's it.

The simplest way to increase stitches for a first go at knitting a shawl would be to knit into the front and back of a stitch (KFB). At the centre of the row, place a marker and KFB each side of it. For the row ends on the increase rows, just KFB the first and last stitch.

If you want to go ahead and knit to a commercial (or free) pattern then I hope this little outline of the structure will help.

P.S. Bear in mind that stocking stitch tends to curl up at the edges so if you work the last inch or so in garter stitch (still keeping the increases) that will make the edges firmer at the pointy bit.
Of course, you may do the whole thing in garter stitch, which gives a lovely soft cuddly and stretchy effect when finished. There's a nice baby shawl on my knitting archive page which shows this effect very well.

Finished at last!

I admit that I breathed a sigh of relief when I finished crocheting this brightly coloured throw. I found that I didn't really like working on a project that became heavier and more unwieldy as it went along. Not to mention the boredom factor or a large project, though that was relieved to a certain extent by changes of colour and by the eyewatering colours themselves.

The weight of the completed throw is 470g. The colour changes were not really worked out beforehand, though you can easily see that the main colours are grouped. For adjacent colours I looked for something of similar tone, or similar hue, but it wasn't worked out in advance and I didn't have all the yarn when I started out. It was all either from scraps from my stash, or gifted from someone else's stash, or bought from charity shops as and when. I would never be dictated to about colour in a project like this - that would spoil half the fun! So here it is, spread out on the floor for inspection:
When it was finished I gave it a quick rinse in the washing machine and spread it out to dry naturally, which is a good idea for acrylic knitting because it gives you a chance to even out any wonky stitches. This is a safer technique than blocking with a steam iron, which could lead to disaster if you are not careful (acrylic is ruined by anything too hot to touch).
You can see how well the colours echo those in the screen which was the cause of all this!
It's great to have more of these cheerful colours in the room. I even added more of the same to the wall at the bottom of the stairs.
on chair stairwell

She can also crochet!

My sitting room has traditionally been based on muted colours with occasional bright splashes, the theory being that there's already enough "stuff" within the room to create interest. But this winter I have made a large screen to partition away the stairs so as to make the room cosier. (Before this could happen there needed to be a neat wooden beam along the top of whole space, on which to mount the screen plus a long curtain, but that's another story.) From a discount fabric shop I bought a load of muted yellow fabric for the adjacent curtain as well as the screen, but then I realised that all that yellow might just be a bit too much. So I hunted in my fabric stash and found a beautiful length of dress fabric which I'd bought a while ago (from the same shop) - not because I needed it, but because I loved it, only later realising that I might never wear it.

So here it is as a screen, making a lovely difference to the room. The screen is backed on the other side with plain fabric, and lined inside with a light fleece. It's supported by wooden edging on three sides - and I won't say it was a breeze to make, mainly because of the huge dimensions. It works really well in preventing the flow of warm air out of the room, as well as brightening things up in here!
There was already a central rug in orange and the room has all shades of yellow, whites and light browns, but the stunning blue is a real departure. So I am bringing the new colours further into the room by crocheting a throw which will echo the colours of the screen. My stash, together with a little from my daughter's stash, has given me plenty to make a start, and I won't mind buying an odd ball of yarn now and again to complete it.

There's a good reason why crochet is used more often than knitting for cushions, throws and the like. The nature of crochet stitches gives crochet a much firmer finish than knitting, which you can see even whilst you crochet because the method uses up lots more yarn per swatch. You can of course use knitting for blankets, throws etc, but unless you use smaller gauge needles than are recommended for the yarn, and possibly a dense stitch such as moss (seed) stitch, you will get quite a floppy blanket - I've nothing against that, and it's very suitable for babies for instance, but it wouldn't last long on my settee. I certainly don't recommend knitted cushions, unless they're more for decoration than heavy use. c These colours are far from true, but you can see at least that there's a harmony in there. The crochet stitch I am using is relaxing but not boring (in fact it's addictive!). It's a wave / chevron stitch with 4 triple crochet stitches between the up and down waves the pattern. There's an excellent tutorial for this technique here.

yarn display early stage

Another nice thing about this project is that is is already fulfilling part of its purpose, long before it is completed!

Ripping and Recycling
plum yarn
plum socks

Here's the used yarn I bought earlier this year, for a ridiculously low price, in a charity shop. It's pure cotton, and the remarkable thing about it is the beautiful colour, sadly lost by my poor camera work. It's a plummy hue, on the pink rather than the blue side of purple, and vibrant as mercerised cotton can be. The reason I know it's pure cotton is that it takes ages to dry when washed. Another thing to be aware of if you're going to try knitting with cotton is that the smooth nature of the fibre makes it tend to split up into separate 'plys' as you knit, so you have to make sure the needle goes through the entire yarn rather than splitting it - easily done and easily corrected once you get used to it. Cotton doesn't have the tiny 'hairs' like wool or acrylic, which make those fibres stick together better than cotton. But cotton is much smoother to knit with, very hard wearing and holds its colour very well. And hand knitted cotton socks are a joy to wear.

front view back view
These image are my last surviving memory of many hours of knitting in recent weeks. So it's a pity (from my point of view) that the photo quality isn't better! But you can perhaps see that the back view, on the right, shows what I suspected all along - see below - that the yoke is far too big at the back, so that the back of the garment falls into an ugly hump shape. The thing is, never to waste time on regrets! I enjoyed ripping it up and making the yarn ready for a future project - and I especially enjoyed the end of the whole unsatisfactory business.

Projects on the go

In times of old, when I first started knitting, one would go to the shop, choose some yarn and a pattern, buy a ball or two and then 'lay away' the remainder until it was needed or could be afforded. Now of course, we are more likely to buy online, to have more than one project on the go, and even to buy yarn that we don't have time for at the moment but couldn't resist buying. A plastic bag used to be suffient for my 'left-over' yarn, but now it's called a stash and it fills a whole cupboard. Does that sound familiar?

Actually it's no bad thing to have more than one project on the go. I like to have a fairly challenging one which will take a lot of hours over several weeks, and an easier one with short rows which can be worked in spare moments or on journeys. Here is my current challenge, a top down cardigan with minimal pattern instructions.

top down cardi

It seemed straightforward, an easy concept with no fancy stitches, promising hours of relaxing knitting. However! Because you have to keep trying it on until the ever-expanding yoke is the right size, it involves several trials of putting the thing on spare yarn (because though I am not large, the measurement around my chest plus tops of arms is more than my 120cm interchangeable needles and so I couldn't try it on whilst still on the needles). And that has been a big nuisance. The learning point here is that with a step-by-step pattern you would know exactly how many increases you need to make to cover the yoke and tops of arms, and how to divide the stitches at the important stage where the sleeves meet the body. This is very important, in fact you could say that the whole garment hangs on it! Another point is that increases done over garter ridges can never really be neat. And I would have liked to see a back view of the cardigan being worn, because I suspect that the sort of yoke with increases only down the shoulder line would work much better than a yoke like this, done as a simple disc. This sort of yoke might be better when used only for the neckline to shoulders section, dividing for the sleeves much earlier, at the points of the shoulders. In fact when I try this on, the back section looks distinctly wavy.. Even after so much work I may still rip it down. I will say, though, that the yarn knits beautifully - it's Jeanie, a lovely soft Aran weight 100% cotton by Stylecraft.

plum socks

My easier project is a pair of cotton socks, worked with sock weight yarn which is part of an excellent charity shop bargain. It's been worked before, though thankfully I didn't have to unravel the former garment myself. It doesn't matter that I haven't soaked and straightened the yarn beforehand to take out the wobbles, because socks are very forgiving in the wearing (when did you ever have to try on a pair of socks in a shop to make sure they fitted?)

I'm glad that I made myself become familiar with sock making. I always do the traditional English form and there are good reasons why it became the gold standard. Toe-up socks are actually more fiddly at the heel stage (in my opinion) and, as I've said before, it's easy to use just a small amount of yarn by dividing the yarn in two (as you would with a to-up sock) if you start at the top end with a provisional cast on and come back later to use up the whole of your yarn. Of course there are many more than two styles of sock knitting, which you will enjoy exploring later if you decide to take up the noble pastime of sock knitting.

new yarn

Oh and did I say that it's nice to have at least one thing that you're looking forward to knitting! My next socks will be made with this delicious smooth 100% cotton yarn that I bought on holiday. They may not be worn until next summer but it will be nice if they are ready for Christmas giving.

A simple formula for finishing socks and hats

Below is a formula for finishing off a tube shape (like the top of a hat, or the toe of a sock) where you want to achieve a dome shaped finish. This is different from most traditional ways of finishing a sock, which most commonly use a chisel shape instead of a dome. It's also different from what you would do if you wanted to produce a pointy hat, where the decreases are spread over a longer length, or indeed a tea-cosy type of hat where you simply gather the stitches into a strong thread and finish off.

For this formula I am indebted to Ursula von Wartburg's 1973 book The Big Book of Knitting, which is still available second hand very cheaply online. It's a book aimed at children and progressing, by explaining simple principles, to showing how to knit all the standard knitted garments, including socks. Photos of intricate socks made 40 years ago by children as young as 9, are enough to make you weep.

These instructions apply to socks knitted in the traditional top-down way. There are good reasons why top-down became traditional in the west, which you will discover if you are tempted to get more deeply into socks! And if by any chance you want to use up a whole skein which might run out before you come to the end of the second sock, you can start each sock a little way above the heel with a 'provisional' cast on and divide your remaining yarn into two for finishing off each sock.

    Firstly, where to start forming the toe? You usually start decreasing when the sock just covers the little toe. To be even more precise, you may want to know that if you start with 6 stitches between decreases you will make a 6.5cm long toe box; 5 stitch decreases make 5cm long toe box; 4 stitches make 4cm long and 3 stitches make 3 cm long, etc.

    Instructions apply to knitting in the round, but you can easily adapt if you prefer knitting hats on two needles. In this case, read 'row' for 'round'.

      Divide the stitches on the round by 10, or use the nearest number for dividing by 10.
      From this number, subtract 1.

      For instance, if you have 71 stitches then divide 70 by ten then subtract 1 = 6.
      Similarly, if you have 36 stitches then divide 40 by ten then subtract 1 = 3.

      Start the decreasing round by k2 tog at the beginning of the round, then knit the number of stitches from your calculation, then k2 tog, then knit your number, all along the round.

      Then knit the same number of rows straight as the number of stitches between decreasing stitches above.

      In all the following rounds, the number of stitches between k2 tog is decreased by 1, and the number of plain rows is also decreased by 1.

      Finally k2 tog all along the round. When you have either 2 or 3 stitches on each of your 3 needles, draw the yarn through all the stitches and finish off neatly.

toe end socks sock toe end

(my favourite socks have rounded toe boxes using this formula)

hat stretching

Please note: The flat shape for the top of this hat was worked on two needles with decreases on each alternate row.

In the photo the hat is actually being stretched on the seat of a stool. A classic remedy if the hat turns out a bit too small!

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