Category Archives: knitting

Being Your Own Designer

As is not unusual in our Northern New England winters, I’ve been knitting a great deal. Being as it’s been a somewhat rougher winter, weather-wise, than usual, I’ve been using more than my usual amount of spare time for knitting.

I’ve got a sock and a sweater on the needles at the moment. Why? Well, socks are a portable project. They’re easy to toss in a purse and perfect to keep one distracted in waiting rooms, on buses and to relax on a lunch break. The sweater I am working on is in the bulky stage. I usually knit in the round, so sweater sleeves might be delightfully portable, but when you attach them to the body, any sweater for an adult becomes really bulky. That’s my writin’ chair project.

I’m taking a break from knitting because my hands hurt. Yes, I know, knitting too much, and I’m not sure typing an article is really the way to relieve the problem, but it’s a different motion, right?

After I finish it, though, I’m going back to review some material in Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac
for my project.

When I picked it up, I really got to thinking. I’m a knitter and a reader, so I do have a pretty good knitting library. Stitch dictionaries, books about techniques, books full of patterns… I enjoy them.

But I keep going back to Mrs. Zimmerman’s books.


She taught me how to knit. No, I don’t mean basic techniques. My mother, though not into knitting to the insanity I am, did know how and taught me casting on and the garter stitch when I was a little kid. It wasn’t until several decades later that I wanted to make sweaters and stuff. I experimented with several methods before reading Knitting Without Tears. It was like the heavens opening.

Zimmerman was indeed a very clever knitting designer, but she did something I found even better. She taught the underlying concept behind the patterns, why the garment worked up the way it did, and strongly encouraged her readers to become their own designers and not worry too much about what a pattern said. I loved that.

“I knit all year, day in, day out. It is my passion, and I rarely knit the same thing twice in the same way.” Elizabeth Zimmerman, Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac.

I’m similar. I’ve knit the same sweater twice exactly once – Roll Your Own Braided Yoke Sweater. That’s mostly because Mom and I have the same basic shape, so when I liked how it looked on me, I had to make one in a different color for Mom.

But for the most part, I’m always tweaking and changing and I like knitting that way better. The problem is, of course, that I can’t follow a pattern worth a damn.

The Fanfic Knitter

In a way, I’m a fanfic* knitter. I take things I like from other people’s work and make something new, concentrating on the design elements that make me happy and expanding on them.

By the way, fanfic means “Fan Fiction.” A fan of a series, or television show or whatever will take settings, characters and worldbuilding from an author’s work and expand on it, creating stories of their own. It’s a not too unusual way for people to learn to write stories. Keep that concept in mind. It’ll be important later.

So, I’m working on finishing a sweater I started back last April. It’s a seamless raglan sweater, and the sleeves are done. I cheated and used the process of making the sleeves as a gauge swatch. It worked quite well and I’m pretty comfortable that the body will fit just fine.

The front panel is going to be this lattice diamond pattern framed by a cable called “Riptide Wave” in my favorite stitch dictionary.

I’m slowly making my peace with the idea that I just never going to knit a sweater directly from a pattern. I feel weird about it, as if I don’t truly knit well if I can’t seem to do this. (Yes, I know. I knit just fine.)

It’s not that I never carefully follow a pattern. I’ve knitted a couple of sweaters from The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns (a wonderful gift from a friend when I was whining that I couldn’t find a sloper kind of pattern like you have for sewing), and learned seaming sweaters ain’t my thang. I still use it for gloves, hats and mittens.    

Then I read Knitting Without Tears and learned that the design canvas I like best for a sweater is one that is knit in the round. One of these days, I’m going to get the courage to steek a sweater to make a cardigan, honest, but that’s scary.

I’ve knit directly from patterns the We Call Them Pirates hats and gloves. That’s where I learned stranded knitting, and where I started to realize I knit like a lot of people write fanfic. Boy, howdy have I done the knitting fanfic on that design with sweaters and stockings. I’m not even done. I have a cardigan mentally planned out using it that is going to be so awesome I bounce up and down in my chair a little whenever I think about doing it.

After I learned stranded knitting, I started to knit from basic templates and add design challenges for fun and to expand my skills. To be very honest, many of my projects have one tiny little element that’s outside my comfort zone, but are mostly things that I’ve done before and feel comfortable with. To me, it seems like a good way to gain skill without driving oneself crazy. But I’m always reading about some design or technique I like, but I almost never knit the pattern. I take the design element I like and use it.

So, essentially, most of my knitting is one form of fanfic or another.

Never Wear Them????

As you know, Bob, I’m a knitter and my favorite things to knit are socks and sweaters. Mostly because then I wear them.

I’m knitting the first thing I’ve knit in a good eight months. A Life-Eating Project seems to have sucked away my mental energy to the point where it was beginning to worry not only me, but my family. I needed to do something at least moderately creative and soothing that would make me feel good without long-term commitment. That meant knitting and it meant a small project.

So, socks…

I’m knitting some basic toe-up socks out of leftover yarn I have around. I have special sock yarn, but this stuff isn’t it. It’s Wool of the Andes Sport that I have left over from various knitting projects. It’s a bit thick, but I live in Northern New England and it’s cold. Thick wool socks are nice.

I took the risk on this yarn when my LYS owner commented that she doesn’t really bother to buy special sock yarn, but knits them out of leftovers from the truly extraordinary Nordic sweaters she knits. They are thick, but about like hiking socks.

Which, after nearly two hundred words, brings me to the main point of this article.

I ran across a sock-knitting block post by a knitter who cannot bring herself to wear socks often. After cost of the materials (she quoted $20 for a pair of socks) and the time put in, she didn’t want to wear them out.

The comments got to talking about how yeah, you can buy a pair of socks at a department store for five bucks, so hand-knit socks are so expensive.

I don’t knit to save money. It’s a hobby, but a not-too-expensive one for me. I spent less than $100 in yarn last year planning to do a mess of knitting for Christmas presents that never panned out, so I still have a larger stash than is usual for me. The socks I’m knitting now are from leftovers from the two sweaters I did knit and used about two balls of yarn, totaling five bucks to buy.

But if I bought those 100% wool socks, I’m still looking at between $8 and $10 for an inexpensive pair of wool socks. L.L. Bean, my preferred winter gear go-to, charges more.

But after I’ve gone to all that trouble, expensive or not, darn right I am going to wear the socks I made. Will they wear out? You bet. Socks do. It’s the nature of the garment. I’m easy on my socks – wearing slippers in the house rather than just the bare socks, and hand-washing the hand-knit ones. But, I’ve been knitting socks for eight years. Of course I’ve had a pair or two wear out.

I wonder why someone would go to the trouble to make them then not use them. What’s more of a waste, keeping them in the sock drawer, or enjoying them after you make them?

The Evolution of Socks

I have been utterly obsessed with knitting knee socks lately. I like to wear skirts, I live where it’s cold, but between long johns and knee socks, I can wear a broomstick skirt and still be plenty warm.

But! I have a problem. Slender, I am not. Shoot. Let’s not put too fine a point on it – I’m plus sized and carry my weight a lot in my legs. Yes, this means that regular knee socks aren’t going to fit my calves all that well.

But! I can knit. Not only can I knit, I am very good at adapting patterns and experimenting. I decided I was going to see what kind of increases worked well to get a sock that fit my calves as well as my itty-bitty feet.

These socks (more properly stockings) were the experiment. I made them from left-over worsted weight yarn I had lying around.


They didn’t stay up. That’s okay. I made sock garters. But even so… I prefer socks that stay up, and maybe aren’t quite as thick.

Deciding I had the general idea down, I used some more expensive fingering weight wool to make the next pair of socks. I like these a lot. They fit great.


They also don’t stay up too well. Again, sock garters. Hey, I did it when I was a Brownie, I can do it now.

For my next attempt, I made some knee socks with sewn-in elastic. These socks aren’t wool, but microfiber.


Sorry. For all that synthetic materials have their place, it isn’t the place for keeping the feet properly and comfortably toasty. Wool is better.


The sewn-in elastic is okay, but not my best preference.

These socks… Now these make me happy on a bunch of different levels.


They stay up, for one thing! I did a serious decrease the top before I started the ribbing, and that worked out really well.


The only thing I don’t like about them is that the heels and the toes are a little loose. They’re knit at a slightly looser gauge than the stranded colorwork pattern. I’ve created a pattern for another pair very similar in design to these using a spider motif (I’m calling them my Anansi Socks. I just need to figure out how to incorporate a web design in the calf increases) and when I do the toes and the heels, I’ll just go down a size on the needles for a tighter toe and heel.


I suppose iterative development has its place even in knitting, huh?

Stocking Test Drive

Okay, so I make these knee socks – mostly as an experiment, and to use up some extra yarn I had. I was just being silly and all and figured I’d be wearing them around the house. They’re made of worsted weight yarn, and are a lot thicker than you usually make socks.

So, I needed to go to the fabric store to get some elastic to make some sock garters. I went wearing these under a skirt.

Holy-moley. These suckers are warm! So much so that I’m going to make another pair out of some more leftover yarn I have. They’re awesome. I mean, we’re talking New England winter here, but a skirt was perfectly comfortable outside.

Now, the question is, do I make goofy stripes, or try for a more serious look?

Knee Socks and Garters

I like to wear skirts, especially broomstick skirt. Yes, I know that it means I’m not fashionable. I don’t owe the world fashionable, but I think I owe me what I like. So, yeah, broomstick skirts.

I also like to wear them in the winter. I live in Northern New England. So, you can start to see a bit of a problem, right?

Now, you can wear long johns under a skirt, and certainly you’re warm. But white long johns peeking out underneath my skirt hem offends my limited fashion sense, and I’m not hipster enough to want to wear colorful leggings under a skirt. Sure, it can look cute. It just doesn’t happen to be my thing.

My solution is knee socks. I knit, so why not, right? They fit over the long johns, and add some extra warmth (ahhh, wool socks).

What they don’t do all that great on the rounded limb is bloody well stay up.

Now, when I was a Brownie and Girl Scout back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the official uniform included a knee-length jumper option with knee socks and these little sock garters with a flappy thing that I’m too lazy to look up the appropriate term for. Scottish men in formal kilts wear them. I’m sure some of my costumer readers know this term off the tops of their heads.*

I could also sew the elastic into the sock. I know some knitters knit elastic the last few inches at the top, but didn’t have any thin elastic on hand or a way to get it, so I didn’t try that method.

So now, I am wondering whether to make sock garters or sew an elastic band into the sock. If I sew it into the sock, the sock would have to get lost to lose the garters, but it’s only good for that one sock. If I make garters, I only have to have a pair or two.

I’m probably going to go with garters, just for fun. Maybe even a Maureen Johnson version, but they’d have to be blue instead of green. ;)


* Yes, it would have been quicker to look it up than write what I did. I like to indulge Geek Answer Syndrome when I can. Call it a public service. Ever kind, considerate and thoughtful, that’s me!

The Knit Kit

I indulged in a gadget fetish. I probably shouldn’t, but I did.

This is a Knit Kit – a compact device about the size of my hand that I keep in my back pack (which serves as my office, knitting bag and overnight bag) and holds various little items that you might need for a project, but are easy to lose.

This is the front of the kit, where you can see a stitch counter at the top. To the side is a small, swivel-out thread cutter. It cuts yarn pretty well. On the right is a curved crochet hook with a hook at each end, small or larger, depending on what you need.

There is also a very useful retractable tape measure – always needed when working on any sort of garment. It pulls out to an ample 60″ and retracts with ease.

When you flip the kit over the first thing you see is a needle gauge. I love this, as I am always wearing the markings off of any needles I’m using, so having this most useful of knitting accoutrements takes some guesswork out of my projects.

Opening up the back you’ll find a foldable pair of scissors that are billed as being TSA compliant, two tip protectors, a darning needle and several stitch markers. I love this thing. Truly it is the Swiss Army knife of knitting gadgets and has a welcome home in my bag.

Oh, and for all that it’s totally cliché? I like the pink, too.


No, I wasn’t paid to write this, nor was I given a free one. I just like the gadget.

Blocking Makes a Difference

Blocking a piece of knitting is when you use steam or water to set the stitches of the knitted piece. It is considered the final step in most knitting projects, especially projects knit with wool.

I am a convert to the idea that blocking a finished project has any real value at all. I first noticed it when I washed a sweater I’d made recently. I was unhappy with the sweater. It has some bunchiness in places, and the braid at the hem and sleeves didn’t quite sit right. Well, after I washed the sweater, I laid it out to dry and decided to smooth out some stitches and generally see if I could set the knitting right.

By gum, it worked! In fact, it turned it from a sweater I wasn’t entirely happy with to a lovely creation that I am happy I made.

I know blocking will not solve every problem you encounter in knitting, but it does cure that “slightly sloppy and homemade”1 look you sometimes get when you bind off a project and weave in the ends.

I am making a pair of mittens for my son to match a hat he’s fond of. I just finished the first mitten, and since it is stranded colorwork, I decided to try out this new world of blocking.

On the left is my pre-baptismal knitting. Notice the stitches are a bit bunchy and don’t lie neatly. I gave it a good dunk in water, and being raised Southern Baptist, I did hold it under until it bubbled.2 Then I gently squeezed out some of the water, rolled it in a towel and got some more water out. With the piece damp, it is fairly easy to coax the stitches into proper shape. You can see on the right how the pattern is much cleaner and clearer, the stitches neater. When they dry, they’ll dry in place giving a nicer-looking mitten.


1 As opposed to hand-made. My grandmother used to differentiate between the two. Quality custom was hand-made. Half-assed, sloppy work was home-made.

2 One of the advantages of wool is that it doesn’t saturate quickly and retains insulation holding up to 30% of its weight in water. It takes some time to get it properly wet for blocking. Cotton wicks quickly, which is why you wear it when you desire cooling by evaporation, and why you hear the expression “Cotton kills” among people for whom hypothermia is a concern.

I Hate Stitching and Seaming

I’ve mentioned before that I knit in the round because I hate stitching and seaming sweaters. But even a sweater knit in the round will need some finishing. You have some “live” stitches at least under each arm when you attach your sweater to the body, and those stitches need to be taken care of.

There are several options. You could knit and graft a gusset. I’ve never done this, but if you needed greater range of motion than a knit fabric will usually give you (I’m presuming you’ll be doing yoga in it or something, as knitted fabrics generally don’t bind much), or if you have very very large upper arm, attaching a gusset might not be a bad idea. (I sometimes do that in the crotch of pants because I do have heavy thighs).

Otherwise, you’ll just be grafting together your knitted pieces.


The first picture shows the live stitches. They’re not attached to anything. The second picture shows those live stitches attached by the Kitchener stitch. I mostly hate the stich because I’m not very good at it. I actually have to knit a couple of swatches and practice before I try it on a sweater I am making. That may sound a bit retentive, but I’ve put a long time into making a sweater, so I don’t mind a little refresher to try to make a structural seam work properly.

Knitting Help has a great video on how to do the Kitchener stitch.

And yes, I have to chant to myself, “Knit, slip, purl, purl, slip, knit,” as I am doing it. Stop laughing at me. I can’t help it.

Not a Real Knitter

I’ve been reading Knitting Rules: The Yarn Harlot’s Bag of Tricks, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not a real knitter. I have a yarn stash, yes. It’s contained in one, one bin in the bottom of my closet and is mostly made of leftover yarn from former projects. If I go to a yarn store, I know exactly what I need for my current project, and I buy exactly that. I do not fondle yarn. I’m not in love with yarn. While I do prefer 100% wool for my knitting, friends, Wool of the Andes is my go-to yarn.1 I don’t fondle the skeins and think about what the yarn “wants” to be. I think about what I want to make, then select the appropriate yarn. It’s not that I don’t love good construction materials. I live in Northern New England and there is a reason I love wool!

But apparently the real knitter has a stash that’s big enough to be embarrassing, but not so embarrassing that there isn’t a bit of brag going on. The real knitter hides how much one spends on yarn from partners. The real knitter could happily use the stash as a mattress. The real knitter is obsessed in yarn stores, fondles the different yarns and consults with it so that it is possible to discover what that yarn wants to be.

I admit it. I’m not a real knitter. I just make sweaters and socks and hats with sticks and string.


1 It’s about as inexpensive as you can get and still be knitting in 100% wool.