The Two-Year Knit Hat Project

By now, all seven of you who read this blog know that I started my journey into learning to knit in 2017. I practiced and practiced and practiced. And then I practiced a whole bunch more. I knitted and frogged, knitted and practiced binding off (horribly), and swatched until I couldn’t swatch anymore.

Since knitting hasn’t come as naturally to me like crochet did, I had to work even harder to get a comfortable muscle memory going to where I could knit without wanting to throw something.

I got into making washcloths, then a knit scarf for my husband, a small baby blanket (which I still need to post about!), and even a cowl, which turned out really well. I made so much more progress in the first 18 months of knitting than I thought I could or would.

However.

HOWEVER.

I have watched other people new to knitting start whipping out hats immediately and I’m wondering, what am I not getting? Why can’t that be me? What’s the secret? I basically took up knitting in order to make hats and two years in, nothing.

Part of the frustration for me has been that I don’t want to work with double-pointed needles. I wanted to learn the technique that would allow me to decrease without using a whole bunch of extra sticks. In addition to watching several YouTube videos on Magic Loop, I bought a comprehensive class on Craftsy (now Bluprint) with Lorilee Beltman, one of my favorite teachers I’ve found there, and I proceeded to watch the lessons on getting a hat completed a couple dozen times.

There are so many elements to knitting in the round that present tricky situations: which type of circular needle you use, joining, decreasing, which tools you’ll use to decrease, and finishing your hat so there aren’t any holes, to say nothing of keeping an even tension. A friend pointed out I could have tried knitting flat and then seaming, but I have tried my hand at that with other crafts (Tunisian crochet, for one) and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. Completing a knitted hat in the round was the goal.

At last, something clicked after I finished some of my other projects, and I felt I was ready to try the half-loop method, followed by decreasing with Magic Loop. I swatched and made sure my gauge would be similar, if not exact, prepared my needles, and got started.

I swear, I almost stopped before I’d even finished round 2, because I had messed up something with the join. It didn’t click until round 2 or 3 but once I was under way, I kept on going and didn’t look back. I was nervous to try decreasing and moving into Magic Loop but I plowed onward.

Somehow, some way, a hat came together. I watched a separate video on Craftsy (a free one for Chemo Caps) on properly binding off the last 8 stitches and sewing the hole shut. Once I did that, I was finished. And then I couldn’t actually believe I was finished.

One final thought is that I found it odd that even though I used a smaller needle for the brim (k2, p2 all the way around for 2.5″), it’s looser and looks bigger than the knitting in the round for the remainder of the hat with a larger needle. That stumps me.

Something else to figure out, I’m sure! (If you’re experienced and can speak to that, please leave a comment!)

For now, I’m reveling in the fact that I accomplished a MAJOR goal of mine with knitting in the first month of the year, so I hope to continue the streak of challenging myself for 2019. Ultimately, I want to do some color work and a fair isle hat someday, but…one thing at a time. I mean, I still haven’t made that wreath I blogged about in 2017, either! (Whoops.)

If you are a hat knitter and can share any favorite patterns, please do!

The K Word, or: Knitting Is Hard

Last year, my mother brought me a bunch of things from her abode that she was ridding herself of; a large bag she gave to me yielded a bunch of knitting needles in all sizes and textures, some magazines from the 70s and 80s, and some really old yarn that I ended up pitching.

I didn’t pay much attention to this horde of items for a while. I loftily thought that maybe, maybe one day, I would “pick up” knitting when I had more time .

Turns out, I don’t have more time. No one does. But I got to a point where, after organizing my things and putting the knitting stuff in its own cubby in my craft room, that I noticed a seed had been planted in my brain. I know a few knitters from a local crafting group I’m in, and I have one or two friends who have dabbled in knitting.

Aside: while there would appear to be a fierce “rivalry” of knitting versus crochet, I prefer to think of the yarn arts as inclusive, and we’re all doing something to express ourselves creatively, no matter what it is.

In any case, after the planted seed had sprouted some teeny tiny roots, I decided to do some research online to see what was available for those wanting to learn to knit.  A couple of women in my group had commented about Continental knitting being easier to learn for crocheters like myself, since you don’t “throw” the yarn, but “pick.” I was intrigued.

During my initial research, I came across this well worn (but very useful) demo of Continental knitting by a woman named Lorilee Beltman:

It’s not a HD video but Lorilee shows how sprightly one can knit and even specifically mentions that when crocheters want to learn to knit, learning the Continental method makes sense for them.

The little seed grew a few more roots, and I personally contributed somewhere between 5-10 views of that video as I continued my research in how I would learn this new craft.

As fortune would have it, Craftsy not only has a Continental knitting course, but it is taught by none other than Lorilee herself. (Right now, it appears to be 50% off at $20, which is a bargain! I heard on a podcast with Lorilee that she had to pitch Craftsy three times on teaching Continental knitting before they finally said yes. I’m glad she persisted, because she’s truly a fabulous teacher.)

I took a deep breath, snatched up the course, grabbed some straight needles from the pile in my craft room, and began to watch and learn. Truth be told,  I had some concerns before starting that I would go down the rabbit hole and abandon crochet for long periods of time as I spent money and time on this new skill. Fortunately (or not?), I found knitting to be HARD, and so I have been forced to slow down, take breaks, and relax my brain with crochet in between bouts of learning how to knit.

When you start learning a skill such as this in your late thirties, it is decidedly not the same as learning something in your teens. I don’t know if it’s the learning curve or some by-product of age, but it just hasn’t come to me the way crochet did. I’d like to just make the blanket statement that crochet is easier than knitting (an opinion I hold) but I don’t think it’s as black and white as all that. I was practicing a knitting swatch with a seasoned knitter a couple of weeks ago, and she told me that for her, crochet is not relaxing, and her hands grip the hook very tightly. The opposite is true for me. Crochet is extremely relaxing and my personal technique does not make my hands hurt, though if I sit for too long with a bigger project, such as a blanket, I can make my arms and shoulders ache a bit with overuse.

All that aside, learning a skill that takes using both my hands at the same time is similar to learning piano. I *did* take piano starting at a young age, and despite having hundreds of hours of practicing scales in my lifetime, it did not prepare me for the knitting experience.

Since I am a firm believer in mind over matter, I expected to come to knitting similarly (but perhaps with a bit more difficulty) as I did with crochet. I didn’t learn to make amigurumi overnight, and it took a few dozen animals before I hit my stride (mostly with the sewing aspect, but still). In the past four weeks, I have hit frustration levels where I thought I won’t be able to do this, and have come close to tossing in the towel. (I mean, casting on and getting through ONE row of knitting took ages!)

Perhaps it’s Lorilee’s teaching style — which is not only thorough and well done, but Lorilee has a warm and personable sense about her — but I stuck with it, and I have learned the knit stitch and the purl stitch, and am on my journey of swatching. And swatching. And swatching.

A heap of swatches

I even joined a couple of knitting-help groups on Facebook to provide assistance where I get stuck along the way. Two examples are: attempting to make a swatch of seed stitch was really messing with my head, since I kept knitting the knit stitches and purling the purls, creating ribbing (or some mashup of stockinette) — I had to learn how to identify the stitches when I turned my work, which is still a work-in-progress; creating a selvedge (selvage) that wasn’t just a knotted mess when I would turn my work and would create a chained look. To be honest, creating the selvedge in Tunisian crochet proves to be much easier. (Tunisian crochet, in general, is easier to learn, in my opinion, but it does have some limitations.) Why learning knitted slip stitches is hard is beyond me, but that was another challenge I’m slowly learning.

The TL;DR version of all of this is that I find learning even basic things difficult with knitting.

Little by little, I’m getting there, and my hands are slowly less achy, and I’m getting a bit quicker. When I get to the point where I’m asking, “Now what?” is when I might try to learn to read a knitting pattern, or follow a simple pattern via YouTube, as I did when I was first learning to crochet and made baby hats. I suspect the first thing I’ll actually make will be a washcloth or a potholder of some kind, but that will also entail investing in a set of circular needles. I have begun to abandon the straight needles, as I find them a bit too long and unwieldy with Continental knitting (a point Lorilee makes in the class, and she’s right). Practicing on my plastic needles with acrylic yarn was a terrific way to have some friction while learning hand placement and getting tension. But I have finally moved on to needing the slippery-ness of steel/aluminum needles, and circular ones at that.

The journey continues, my friends! We’ll see if I become a knitter yet!

Question for readers: Anyone else bi-stitchual?  😀  Anyone else learn knitting first and then crochet, and find crochet more difficult than knitting?

 

Finished! First Joined-Motif Blanket

Last we spoke, I was struggling hardcore to finish a blanket. This thing took over six months of my life, once I had done the research and bought all the yarn, etc. Realistically, we’re talking nine months in total.

I became stuck when I had a stack of squares to finish with weaving in all the ends (I counted–almost 300 of them). Thankfully, I had woven some in as I went along, but the task was still daunting by the time I had to finish those up before moving on to joining.

Joining.

That’s another chapter of the tale that I thought might make the whole blanket go down in flames. I had already started, frogged, and started over a Join-As-You-Go owl, with the extremely popular African flower motif pattern that Heidi Bears uses for her intricate designs.

I think that trying a JAYGO pattern before I had ever successfully done even a simple motif blanket was definitely putting the cart before the horse.

Fortunately, I had been inspired last year to purchase access to a wonderful class on Craftsy, called Joining Crochet Motifs with Edie Eckman, who is a fabulous teacher. If you have ever wanted to learn the intricacies of creating granny squares and want to know more than one way to join (and finish) a blanket, absolutely download that class! They go on sale pretty frequently and you get lifetime access. Just that one class has been a lifesaver for me, and in fact, it’s what helped me finish my blanket.

I had done some of the “homework” from the class last year, but needed a refresher. (The instructions on this particular pattern simply said “join by slip stitch,” which was not helpful at all. It assumes that one has already mastered joining squares together.) I simply went to the Slip Stitch Seam part of the class to get tips on what to do, and the joining up of the squares flew by so much faster than I thought it could. It still took me several hours on and off on a Sunday, but once the joining was finished, I was able to weave in the ends and focus on the border.

When it came time to do the border, I ended up doing the first two rounds as directed by the pattern. Then I did a cluster of two half-double crochet stitches in the chain space of the previous round. Lastly, I did a double-crochet picot stitch all the way around. It was the first time I’d done a picot and it took me a while to get the hang of the technique. I wound up doing two double-crochet stitches, a picot, and two more double-crochets.

I put the blanket in a mesh laundry bag, threw it in the washer on gentle, and after laying it flat while it was damp, I put it in the dryer on low for about 20 minutes. It came out extra soft and cuddly, ready to wrap around some playful kids.

The blanket was sent off to my friends and they sent me some adorable photos of their kids goofing off with the blanket as the backdrop. A couple of them are below.

I couldn’t be happier with the end result, especially knowing my friends will get a lot of use out of this blanket for years to come!

❤ ❤ ❤

Tunisian Color Block Throw

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Wending My Way Through Tunisian Crochet

For the better part of two years, I have largely focused on amigurumi projects, with a few baby garments and the random accessory here and there. Then I received a terrific book with all kinds of different patterns in it, entitled Crochet One-Skein Wonders. Isn’t that cute?


In it, there are several patterns which refer to Tunisian crochet. I had no idea what an afghan hook was or how this differed from what I had been doing, but I was certainly intrigued, especially by the pictures of the thicker, woven texture of the end products.

My book notes: this book contains projects that are largely for advanced beginners and advanced intermediate crocheters, so they do presume you have a baseline skill set. They give both written and chart instructions where they can, which is also helpful. Lastly, they organize the book by yarn weight, going from lightest to densest, which spoke to my little organized soul. It boasts a nice index.

I began heavily researching Tunisian crochet to see if I wanted to invest more time and money into new hooks and new techniques. Short answer: yes. From what I could tell, this was a distinct twist on my crochet skills that I felt I must have in my repertoire. My basic desire was to be able to create more densely made items that weren’t as “loopy” as standard crochet. For whatever the reason, knitting just does not call to me. So being able to create “knitted” things with a twist on a crochet hook held a strong appeal.

Once I acquired some hooks, books, and even more different types of yarn (mainly cotton blends so I could make All the Washcloths and Pot Holders), I also sunk a little spending money into two Tunisian crochet classes on Craftsy when they were having one of their big sales on classes. If you haven’t checked out Craftsy yet, I strongly recommend it. They are a go-to for any kind of major creative craft medium out there and feature tons of classes, shops, patterns, etc.

After practicing a lot of the stitches on a swatch (some quite unsuccessfully), reading through stitches and patterns, watching YouTube videos, and following along with a number of lessons in one of my Craftsy classes, I finally began to grasp the concepts without flailing about awkwardly with these stranger crochet hooks and different stitch techniques. Because Tunisian crochet is a blend between crocheting and knitting, it takes a bit of practice to get to a baseline comfort level. Once I got the hang of it, though, I started wanting to make more and more items. I’m excited to go to the next level in my class, which creates a colorful shawl/tunic.

Let’s get to the fun stuff; time for some show and tell! These are all beginner projects, mind.

The first two things are washcloths that were part of my online class. They’re the same pattern but in different colors. They utilize three different kinds of stitches to form a lovely embedded square pattern. Here are those stitches up close:

Stitches

Simple Stitch is as easy as it gets. Honestly what is difficult with Tunisian crochet is getting the hang of your tension and making sure the sides even out. Another aspect of Tunisian crochet that I like is, generally speaking, the stitches are universally named. One doesn’t have to convert from UK terms to US terms, for example.

Tunisian Knit Stitch is probably one of the more popular stitches to use, at least from a beginner’s standpoint. It looks exactly like knitting and gives a nice tight weave and beautiful look to the project.

Here is a full shot of the white washcloth after it was steam blocked and left to dry. It still looks a little wavy and uneven but that’s just due to my novice hand. I made this with KnitPicks Shine Sport. It is super soft and I have used it on my own very sensitive skin. I will be making more with this yarn blend of pima cotton and bamboo, but I’ll try out other colors.

First spa washcloth
Next up is the tri-color washcloth. I made this with CotLin, a blend of cotton and linen, also from KnitPicks.

The challenge here was changing colors at the end of each forward pass, each reverse pass, and keeping the sides even.

IMG_7223_webFinished and steam blocked (no pins necessary, thankfully):

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Once I conquered this thing, I wanted to go back to the book I mentioned before and try out the pot holder pattern I initially saw. Because it was entirely in Tunisian Simple Stitch and I wanted to create a slightly different look, I decided to wing it and make my own pot holder without any assistance from a pattern. I know, crazy talk! I have never just begun crocheting without a pattern. But I forged ahead.

I made two squares, same height and width, two different colors, with a third color for an accent color on the border when I crocheted the two sides together. Not too shabby!

PH side 1 PH side 2PH side by side
Because I was using up the CotLin yarn, this is definitely more of a lightweight potholder, but I still think it will do the trick. I’ll have to experiment with bulkier yarns for heavy duty pot holders in the future.

I feel like I’m on my way and I’m looking forward to tackling more complex stitches and patterns that aren’t in simple shapes. I have heard tell that you can do Tunisian crochet in the round, something that intrigues me as an amigurumi maker (since I can now crochet in the round in my sleep). In the second class I purchased from Craftsy, the end project is a fitted sweater vest, which involves shaping, increasing, decreasing, and other scary sounding verbs. I’ll get there.

I absolutely recommend learning this form of crochet for anyone out there who is on the fence, doesn’t know what the heck it is, or has the same desire I did, which was to create less holey items and learn new kinds of stitches. It is seriously fun and interesting, if you geek out over this kind of thing as I do. And I do.

Until next time, friends.