Knitting Basics Explained
It is my hope that you will fall in love with the art of knit as much as I have. Travel with it. Knit when you are just watching TV or riding in a car. It is very relaxing and therapeutic. Many airlines will not allow scissors but will now allow knitting needles again. I find knit to be a great utilization of time that would otherwise be lost. And I am one of those multi-taskers that can’t stand wasted time. If you are like me, you will love learning to knit. So which is easier, knit or crochet? You will have to choose for yourself.
4th century Egyptian socks
A life-long passion
People are always asking me which is easier; knit or crochet. It’s not that simple. I like them both. Knit has only two stitches to learn but you have two needles to manipulate so you are using both hands. Crochet has only one hook to manipulate but you have to learn 7 different stitches. However I love the soft smooth way that knit feels against your skin when you are done, as opposed to the rough, stiff feel of crochet. Although, I find crochet perfect for lace and jackets that you want to have a slightly stiff feel. I love to ware knit. It hangs and fits nicely and is soft and warm.
The creation of knitted garments, it is believed, goes back to the Stone Age. Bone or wood could be easily made into needles. Yarn was abundant with the twisting of animal hair, especially sheep. Unfortunately, fiber arts do not pass the test of time well and there are no knitted garments found to support the theory that they date back that far. The earliest evidence found is a knitted sock found in an Egyptian tomb dating around 1500 BC. That’s an old sock!
Knitting in Novels
Barbara Delinsky’s relies heavily on knitting whenever the main character is stressed. The main character Dana, has given birth to a noticeably bi-racial baby but both she and her husband are Caucasian. Suspicions and distrust run high as they wait for the DNA test to come back and in the meantime, Dana, begins a search for her biological father whose heritage her mother never told her about. The knitting is only a side note really but is the calming influence in the story. Since this story has a lot of genealogy research as well as knitting, I really enjoyed it. Family Tree
Yarn is created by twisting fibers. Animal hair, cotton fibers, flax fibers, or any fibers long enough and kinky enough to twist. This can be done by hand but it is a slow process. So it was only a matter of time before someone invented devices to twist the fiber for them easily and efficiently. Drop spindles have been around for thousands of years. They are very efficient but require you to stand. With the invention of spinning wheels, the spinner was allowed to sit.
First, the fibers are combed with large, sharp “cards.” This is called carding the fleece. The cards pull the fibers in the same direction and then roll them into a long worm-like roll called a “rolag.” The rolag is then pulled and twisted into string. Two or more of these strands are twisted together (or plied) in the opposite direction, making yarn.
Sheep’s wool has natural oils called lanolin and this makes the hands of the spinner very soft. Many spinners prefer to card and spin the fleece without washing it first to get the full benefit of the lanolin. But there are some that wash the fleece first to eliminate any dirt and sticks, also removing the healthful lanolin.
Another Resource for Knitting
Annie's Attic has been a popular crafters and knitters magazine for decades. (My grandmother subscribed 50 years ago) Annie's Attic offers dozens of patterns and tips in each small magazine. There is also a website by that name with patterns and offers for the knitter.
Did you knot how much trouble someone went through to make yarn so we could wear knitted socks?
Most yarn is just fibers twisted together. The longer the fibers the stronger the yarn. However, even short fibers can be made strong by plying them together. The plying is done by taking at least two or more twisted threads and twisting them together in the opposite direction. This is called plying. Several threads plied together make the yarn thicker and stronger.
The gauge is a small knitted swatch with the number of stitches and rows that you work per inch. It is recommended that you work a sample swatch at least 4 inches square using the specified yarn and needles before you begin your project. If you have too many stitches and rows to the inch, you will know that the project will turn out larger than the pattern says. You could then use smaller needles or knit the project at a smaller size. For instance, if you wanted to knit a sweater at a size 16 but your gauge swatch turned out to be larger than you wanted, you could knit the sweater as a size 14 instead, or use smaller needles. If your gauge swatch turned out to be smaller than the pattern stated, you could use larger needles or a larger size.
In the front piece I knitted to the right, you can't really tell but I got so excited knitting the pattern that I didn't even notice that the piece was much larger than it should have been. I was knitting this for my daughter who is about a size 12. I am a size 18, and let's just say this finished piece could fit both myself and my daughter in it if I had finished the sweater. I could have ripped it all out but didn't have the heart to after all the work. Now I use it as a sample of what NOT to do when you are knitting.
Everyone is different and knits differently. Like a fingerprint or handwriting, knitters develop a particular style and rhythm. This is neither good nor bad. It is individual. Therefore the gauge helps you to be sure all your hours of work will be worthy effort and the pattern will come out as you want it.
The Blossom Street series by Debbie Macomber, begins with , all about the yarn shop called A Good Yarn opened by Lydia Hoffman. The series takes many twists following several shops that open on Blossom Street, not just the yarn shop. However the books featuring Lydia’s yarn shop include knitting patterns, good for beginners, as she is teaching a class for beginner knitters throughout the story. It also is a lovely story knitting hearts and lives together as they learn to knit. In the first book they knit a prayer shawl, the next one is a baby blanket and the one following they learn to knit socks. Once you read the first one you will be hooked and want to read the whole series. The Shop on Blossom Street
How to Measure Gauge
I knit rather loosely and therefore all my gauge swatches turn out to be larger than the pattern calls for. Knowing this, I simply use smaller needles than the pattern calls for. If the pattern says to use size 10 needles, I will usually use 9 or even 8 to make the gauge match the pattern size. Conversely, my mother knits very tight. She has to use larger needles than the pattern calls for to get her gauge to match. I think it is fascinating how we are all unique in everything we do. This is what makes us human. This is what makes your project made by “hand.”
One lady wanted to make a ribbed hat for her son, whose head measured 22 inches. She wanted to know exactly how many stitches to cast on. The best way to do this is to make a gauge. She cast on 10 stitches and knitted for about 5 rows, then measured. It turned out that the 10 stitches measured 2.5 inches. Dividing 22 inches by the 2.5 gave us 8.8. We multiplied that by the 10 stitches and she knew to cast on 88 stitches. Because the hat is stretchy, she made it slightly smaller by only casting on 80 stitches. Using a little math, the hat fit the head of the boy perfectly.
The gauge is hard to determine for the beginner. You have to learn with practice to hold the yarn with the same tightness throughout the project. Beginners may find that parts of their first few projects are very tight and parts pucker because they loosened up slightly. This is to be expected until you achieve a uniform rhythm that you will probably keep the rest of your life.
Help for Tight Knitters
Tight vs. Loose
Typically, beginners start by holding the yarn very tight, too tight even, and as they gain experience and confidence, they loosen up. Though you wanted a square piece, you may end up with a rhombus. Keep practicing. You will eventually get the right tension with the yarn.
My daughter wanted to knit a baby blanket during her pregnancy. Unfortunately, she had some complications with the pregnancy and began to knit tighter in the doctor’s waiting room on several occasions. Her blanket began looking like an hourglass shape. There was nothing she could do to fix it except rip it out and start over. You may find your emotional state will show in your work also. But I find knitting to be a relaxing and therapeutic way to take your mind off your troubles.
The holding of the yarn and the needles are crucial to being able to knit easily and quickly. At first it may seem awkward and foreign to you but you will be able to master this with a little practice. Many people are able to knit in the dark or while watching something like TV. It only takes practice until it becomes second nature, rather like typing on a keyboard.
This is the fastest knitting method once it is mastered. If you have not already formed the habit of holding the yarn in the right hand, try this method. Once it is second nature, it becomes the fastest and smoothest of knitting methods. You can pick up speed and knit garments in no time.
The yarn is held in left hand, intertwined between your fingers to keep the tension tight and looped over the index finger for control. Some people add an extra loop around the little pinky finger for extra tension but I don’t find that is necessary. My last three fingers hold the yarn tight enough without an extra loop. The last three fingers are also holding the project and left needle.
With the yarn held in the right hand, you must stop between each stitch in order to let go of the right needle and draw the yarn over the end of the needle’s point. This is time consuming and requires you to keep your eye on the project. You must pause between stitches. For beginners, this offers some control, but you will never be able to pick up real speed with this method.
Both methods are acceptable and both can be mastered with ease. The question is, which is best for you. Do you need the extra control of the American Fingering or would you like to develop the speed of the Continental Fingering? I prefer the Continental method because I can knit fast and smooth with little time spent looking at what I am doing.
With both methods, the needles must be held one in each hand. Usually the forefinger (either right or left) guides the yarn and holds the loops on the needle. The thumb and the last three fingers keep the project from sliding off the needles too soon while still keeping the loops near the points. This takes a certain amount of dexterity but will become second nature very quickly.