Friday, November 17, 2006

Craft of the Week: Knitting

Here's a photo of the scarf and hat I knitted this week:

These are the first things I have ever knitted - it's definitely not as hard as I thought it would be!

When I said Craft of the Week it's kind of tongue-in-cheek.  When I usually start some craft project it's not with the idea that I'll only do it for a week.  Generally what I'm thinking is "Wow, this is so much fun I'm going to do it every day for the rest of my life!"  However, that enthusiasm usually dies after I work on the project obsessively for a few days and burn out on it.  Then I don't pick the project up again until months later (at which time I get burned out on it all over again).

Anyhow...while searching for something to do last Thursday I somehow hit on the idea of learning to knit.  I went to the store and bought a "learn to knit" kit and a cheap ball of yarn.  After a bit of trouble getting started (I had problems figuring out how to "cast on," which is just attaching the yarn to the needle) I eventually figured out how to do the two basic stitches (the knit and purl stitches).  I then tried doing a few fancy stitches but got annoyed quickly.  It took me over two hours to do a 1 inch by 2 inch sample of a cable stitch (the one you see on sweaters all the time).  It took so long because I had to count each stitch I did and had to constantly switch back and forth between knit and purl stitches.

At this point I wanted to actually try making something, but all the items listed in my how-to book required counting and fancy stitches.  So I went on the internet and started to look for instructions for a scarf that could be done just by making the same stitch over and over (without counting!).  Here's a link to the instructions that I ended up using:  The Blue Blog Scarf Patterns.   The pattern I used was the loopy garter stitch skinny scarf.  Note that "garter stitch" is just a fancy name for using the regular knit stitch over and over.  These instructions are very short, but they do the job.   I used very bulky yarn (Red Heart Light and Lofty in Cape Cod Multi) and size 13 needles.   Since my yarn was so bulky and my needles so big I only made the scarf 10 stitches wide.  It ended up being just over 5 feet long (I used almost all the ball of yarn).  I originally wanted to add fringe to the ends, but I left it off since it didn't look right when I started to put it on.  Using large needles and bulky yarn is great if you are a beginner, because it makes any mistakes less noticable.  I dropped several stitches and didn't do a very good job of repairing them but the mistakes aren't noticable at all.  The scarf took about a day and a half for me to make.

So, after finishing the scarf I decided I wanted a matching hat (since I live in the southwest making hats and scarves is a little pointless, but what the heck, it's fun).  So I found a hat pattern online that again called for doing the same stitch over and over again: Crazy Aunt Purl's Roll-Brim Hat.  "Aunt Purl" writes very funny instructions which were really easy to understand.  Only difference between my scarf and this hat is that, since the hat is a circular object, I had to buy a circular needle (two needles connected by a cable) to knit it.  Of course I bought the circular needle (size 13) before reading the pattern thoroughly, so I later discovered that I would also need four double-pointed needles of the same size as the circular needle to finish the project (double pointed needles work better than circular needles when the knitting gets really small, like at the peak of the hat).  And my local store only carries double-pointed needles in size 3 - much smaller than the size 13 I was using!  I didn't want to do the whole thing in size 3 - the smaller the needle, the longer it takes to knit something (at least for me!).

So to finish the hat I ended up buying a dowel rod about the same size as the size 13 needles.  I cut it into four pieces and sharpened the ends of each piece to a point using an oversized pencil sharpener.  They weren't the greatest replacements (splinters on the ends kept catching the yarn) but they functioned adequately.  Other than having the right sized needles, my only other piece of advice when making this hat is to knit at least 7 inches before starting the decreases (a knitting term Aunt Purl explains).  I only knitted about 6 and 1/4 inches and it feels like the hat is a tiny bit too short.  The hat took less time to make than the scarf - I finished it in under a day.

So, having finished the hat and scarf I am now working on a pair of matching mittens.  They're giving me a bit of trouble!  Since the mittens are smaller in diameter than the hat the circular needle won't work.  And since my "dowel needles" are difficult to use I didn't want to have to struggle with them through two whole mittens.  So I ended up using the size 3 double-pointed needles from the store.  This means the mittens are taking forever, and having to work with such small needles is giving me awful hand cramps.  I've been struggling with one mitten for three days now and it has just gotten to the point where it looks like a fingerless glove.   Since we're going to the mountains for Thanksgiving I hope to finish the mittens before then so I can actually get some use out of them!

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