How to knit: easy mum’s own tips

Have you ever thought of learning to knit? In my blue January piece, I mentioned starting a new craft with a family member, as my daughter had been prompting me to take her to our local craft shop.

Part 1 – Choosing the wool was a whole creative adventure. 

What wool can a beginner handle? The structure, feel, fatness, color, fluffiness, ingredients all had to be discussed. And then the needles, thinner for tight-knit, fatter for a looser quicker weave.

What article of clothing did we want to end up with? I had been musing over a hippy grunge jumper made of granny squares. Finally we bought 14 balls of Aran wool, allowing 6 per jumper and extra for discards. One blue, one cream was the plan. I had misgivings about how to make a squared object hang around my waisty curvy body. But, hey, I wasn’t going for perfect, more like characterful.

Not a complete noob, my brushes with knitting began as a child with a couple of attempts at squares in baby yellow, which surprisingly I kept till I was in my late 40s in my ‘Childhood Box’. Not sure why. They looked more like ruined cobwebs.

I had a blitz when we moved back into mum’s house, there was so much of her stuff to hide away, and reluctantly I binned them. I maybe still connected with the painstaking effort that had gone into them, the maternal guidance to cast me on, the joy of creating from nothing, the exciting discussions for a scarf, a jumper, a whole winter collection.

As a teen in the 80s I got into it again and produced 2 jumpers, one mariniere off a pattern with mum doing all the fiddly bits. The other was vibrant deep lilac, hairy, with poofy sleeves and rainbow stripes round the cuffs. I’d forgotten, but saw it recently in some old photos I dug out.

Mum was born 1933, a war baby. She remembered things, the fear and the bad food and the cold. She told me how girls were taught to knit socks and gloves in quantities for our men at war. She was good at it, knew how to read a pattern.

My last effort was a stubby stripey scarf made of a medley of small balls from Tiger, an abandoned craft gift belonging to my daughter. It has pride of place in my wardrobe, worn with my Aran grandad cardi, and is kept in place with a kilt pin I found in my grandmother’s haberdashery box.

My stubby scarf

But here, now, there is no more mum to catch a dropped stitch, to take over, to decide the pattern. In my search for a substitute, I inquired at Wimbledon WI and they have a fun knitting circle, but my daughter wasn’t keen on making the journey. I inquired at Putney WI but it’s all about knitting for hospitals. I found a neighbour who was pleased to help me knit caps for premature babies. I was getting a guilt trip from just wanting to knit for myself.

So YouTube it was sorted it. I found a few excellent tutorials and I was off, casting on all on my ownsome. Square 1 was all knits, which you write like this * K all *. It’s what I remembered, and it’s even got a name, Garter stitch.

Reverse Rib, showing the purls curling over

Then I decided to challenge myself to learn a different purl-knit stitch pattern for every square, because on and on the same seemed dreary. There’s a myriad of fun Knit-Purl variations. I totally recommend as clear, helpful and generous with ideas.

The first few went well, where the pattern was K1P1 sort of thing. I was operating on the blind assumption that the stitches looked like the written pattern.  So Row1 would be the top row, and so on, you would think. Yes? And if it says Row1: *P1, K1* then the first stitch you expect to see at the beginning of your first row is a Purl, right? I plotted the stitches on squared paper to help keep track.

Well no. And it was half way though the ‘Chevron Seed’ square, when I noticed my pattern was scrambled. So I back-tracked in the knitting and realized how it works.

The Square of The Revelation

Any end-result is knitted from the bottom up, beginning bottom right. So imagine building a Marble Run game and recording a marble zig-zagging down 6 chutes, ending bottom right. Well rewind your footage in slo-mo and that’s the order of stitches. Add in the fact that the camera has to swing to the back and then the front every time the marble changes direction.




Tribute to Dame Viv

So odd-number knitting rows are a mirror image of the written pattern which follows English writing rules regardless. All my plottings had to be replotted post-epiphany.

Reluctant to unpull everything, I resolved to leave the mash as a tribute to my progress, and got the right look in the upper half of the square. Character not perfection remember.

And sucks to all those employers who think you’re scrap at 50.

Another complication: because you’re facing onto the back and the front alternatively, you have to be conscious of what effect your stitch is having on both sides. What you purl when it says purl looks like a knit stitch when you turn the corner and start the next row… so purl is a knit and vice versa, depending on your viewpoint. Respect to the knitters…

Once I had kind of understood how the purl-knit thing works, I got cocky and planned out my own designs; a Voldemort scar, a punky  tribute to Dame Viv saying ‘Fuck OFF’, some Mondrian squares, and a cross to remember my father-in-law.

My wodge of motley squares is growing.

Harry Potter scar

To Be Continued…

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