I wish I could knit

Part One

You’re proudly displaying your beautiful finished object to the world when a friend, swooning over your latest make, laments – “oh this is stunning, I wish I could knit”. 

How often do you hear that refrain? We hear this many times a week, and not just online.

Here on the blog we’ll document the progress of one such I wish I could knitter – our very own, Jane Hunter.

We follow Jane’s thoughts on acquiring the tools, yarns and notions, which resources she uses, learning the basics and developing her skills as a knitter.

As Kate is currently unwell you will hear more from other members of KDD & Co. over the coming months. 

Let’s all welcome Jane to the knitting community!

Hi everyone, Jane here.

It was inevitable!

Having known Kate for a few years, working with her and Tom on the book Inspired by Islay, joining the KDD team last year, and as a textile artist, the lure of creating my own fabric was difficult to resist.

Following a busy few years professionally, I have decided to pick up a different type of needle to begin learning to knit.

I’m making regular entries in my journal to document the things I learn along the way.

Like so many, I was introduced to knitting as a child. Aged around seven or eight years old, my great grandmother and great aunt Betty would sit with me, help me cast on and make my first few rows of stitches. I don’t remember ever having a finished object and I haven’t knitted since, but I do think back on that memory with fondness. That was thirty years ago. 

So, how do I get started after all this time? What do I need?

Kate has kindly given me: 

  • a set of circular needles,
  • a copy of PomPom KNITHOW book,
  • some yarn.
Image of journal, knitting needles, Haar (grey) Buachaille wool yarn and Pomp Pom Knithow Book.

This is all I need to begin with. As I open the book for the first time I get the impression that it seems quite clear for a beginner. It covers the real basics with clear illustrations, small steps, and no jargon. It explains knitting terminology and abbreviations.

I take my skein of yarn and wind it into a ball, ready to begin knitting. 

Yellow and Grey Buachaille Wool Yarn made in Britain

The book guides me through the knitted cast on and I realised once I started that this is filed in my memory somewhere. Like a muscle memory. 

I cast on 20 stitches fairly easily, but as I begin to knit I feel the wire of the circular needle is flicking around and getting in the way. It’s making it difficult to get into a rhythm. After a few rows I stop and frog the work!

New term – frogging: ripping the stitches out.

Aargh! That’s it. Internet, save me. As KNITHOW recommends – I’ve ordered two sets of bamboo  needles at 5mm and 6mm. Kate had assured me that circular needles would be all I need – she knits almost everything on circular needles. 

(I’ll come back to circular needles in a later post)

Bamboo Knitting Needles with sample knitting and yellow wool yarn

With my new bamboo needles, I cast on 30 stitches on the 5mm, and found my stitches felt a bit tight. After several rows of knitting I tried to adjust the tightness (tension). I think I’m holding the yarn too tight. Loosening up a bit has helped. I switch to purling a few rows. The transition felt a wee bit confusing to start with and I think I dropped a few stitches as some holes appear in the fabric. However, I have fabric!

Switching back to knit stitch, it feels more intuitive now. I’m developing a rhythm and not having to think too much about it. I’m even watching/glancing at the TV in the corner as I knit.

I tried “picking” instead of “throwing” for a bit. It feels weird, but I felt it important to try at the outset. Trying to figure out whether it is more natural/easier to knit in the Continental style as opposed to English style. (These terms are explained in the book). I’ll stick with English style, my working yarn coming from the right. 

Over the course of the next week I continue to practise the knit stitch and the purl stitch. I’m excited to learn that these two simple stitches used in different combinations can create a whole range of fabrics. 

Garter stitch – using knit stitch row after row, or purling row after row – makes a soft, spongy fabric.

Ribbing – knitting one stitch, purling one stitch, knitting one stitch. makes a stretchy fabric like you see on the neck and cuffs of many sweaters.

Stocking stitch – one row of knit, followed by one row of purl, followed by one row of knit – is a revelation! This makes a flatter fabric which most of my knitted sweaters are made from.

Jane Hunter sits on the couch knitting with bamboo needles, yellow wool yarn and a learn to knit book.

I’ve now taken to inspecting all the knitted garments I, or my family, have to see how they are constructed.

This is how my first week of knitting panned out:

There were dropped stitches, loose stitches, tight cast on and a few naughty words. At one point I discovered an extra four stitches on the needle. I don’t even know how that happened. I felt that learning ribbing with an even number of stitches on the needles wasn’t going to work, but I’ve since learned that this is nonsense, because I hadn’t learned to “read” my knitting yet.

After a few days working on a commission in my studio, I came back to the knitting and had to look at the book again to refresh my memory of the basic knit and purl movements. The first few rows were a mess. I was beginning to wonder what I was doing wrong. Why is my knitting so baggy and weird? Have I forgotten everything in just a couple of days? After a while of considering whether this knitting lark is for me, I realised that the empty needle I had picked up was the 6mm and not the 5mm I had started on. I’m now knitting on two different sized needles!

Stocking stitch sampler knitted in yellow 100% wool yarn. My very first piece of knitting.

Eventually, I get back on track and have a decent chunk of stockinette which I’m quite pleased with. Now for the cast off. For some reason I was a bit daunted about casting off. As it happens, it was so easy. And satisfying.

The last step was to block the work. Leaving it in a bowl of wool wash for fifteen minutes, gently squeezing, and drying overnight on a towel to allow me to check my gauge with the 5mm needles and Buachaille yarn.

I’m remembering Kate’s previous post about swatching and gauge and how needle size is immaterial, so I want to record in my journal, for future reference that:

5mm bamboo needles + Buachaille 2 ply, worsted spun, wool yarn = 18 stitches over 4 inches.

My first knitted sample. Jane holds up a yellow and grey wool sample she has just knitted.

In my next post I’ll begin my first project, swatching, trying another set of needles, learning to troubleshoot and what I think of my first finished object.

In the meantime, if you are considering learning to knit, or would like to encourage someone to do so – we have copies of PomPom’s KNITHOW available in the shop