As you may have guessed, I’m into providing information for crafting and sewing – especially in Canada – so let’s explore beginner knitting here too!
What is a Knitter?
Is a knitter a person who knits regularly, or just one that knows how to form knit and purl stitches?I wonder
As a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I’ve always been around regular knitters in the family. If I think about it, I realize that my mother knitted with lightening speed and seemed not to even look at the stitches as she worked. There was often a soothing soft clicking noise and characteristic hand motions in the background. I realize that my mother must have tried to show me how to knit at some point. I mistily recall that my left-handed sister got frustrated at not being able to learn the right-handed motions. It barely flitted through my consciousness.
In the early 1980’s, I was living and working in the UK and got a job at a Trewin’s department store – where I was horrified to learn I was assigned to the haberdashery section of all places! A co-worker loved knitting and was determined to show me how. That is when I actually learned the knit and purl stitches as she instructed me at lunch and tea breaks. That job lasted a very short time, but it was memorable if just for that reason alone.
The Stories we Tell Ourselves
Anyway, a few years later when I returned to Canada, I believed I could knit. I just never really put it to the test.
I may even have started a few knitting projects in the intervening years, but don’t recall actually completing any project. My Mum “cast on” and knit a few stitches to get me started. I vaguely recall knitting a largish swath of fabric in stocking stitch that I then passed to Mum to “finish”. So, I can knit, in a purely mechanical sense, but I’m not a knitter in a completed item sense. If that makes sense? Definitely beginner knitting then. I also now know that being a knitter is much more than knit and purl! Read on..
Because this is about what I actually DID make.
Now that my beginner knitting (non) credentials are explained along with my unverified assumptions, I totally decided to knit something with a design on it for my grand daughter for Christmas this year. I had already crocheted a mermaid tail blanket with barely any experience. How hard could it be, right? So, in early August, 2023, I purchased a pattern from the Canadian Mary Maxim site called the Sunshine Umbrella jacket. My Mum made my siblings and I jackets in this style as children. She also had made one with a golfer for my Dad as I recall. It was all stocking stitch and I knew how to do that. I just needed to decipher the pattern.
Beginner knitting with YouTube + Amazon
Obviously I needed needles, yarn and expert advice. I ordered a basic knitting needle set from amazon for under $20. The set included a tapestry needle for weaving in the ends so I was all set there. After reading the pattern, I ordered the Mary Maxim yarn as recommended in the pattern. The pattern explanations required quite a bit of focus and re-reading. There seemed to be a lot of missing or assumed information. I could understand the concept of the design chart, but really was each box a stitch? How tedious and really tiny!
To learn a little more, I headed over to YouTube.
After watching several YouTube tutorials (there are 100’s!), I learned that the lines on the chart varied in thickness and were grouped into sets of 10 stiches. Changing colours seemed to be easy enough as well as the cast on, increase and decrease and cast off stitches. These are all pretty basic and I had YouTube to the rescue. Time to proceed.
Intarsia or Fair Isle
I learned that colour changes for a knitted design can use two different methods: Intarsia or Fair Isle. I had never heard of Intarsia, but I certainly knew what Fair Isle was if not how to knit it. For me, the difference didn’t really make sense until I started knitting. I just assumed I would be pulling the different coloured yarn along the back, but after trying that I realized it just didn’t work. It was getting all pulled tight at the back and the knitting puckered on the front and wouldn’t lie flat. This knitting technique is Fair Isle. It is used for colour changes that are very small (like 1-3 stitches). Time to “frog” it. [a term new to me, which means rip it out and start over as in “ribbit, ribbit”. Aren’t knitters hilarious?] and start over.
I went with Intarsia
This time I had to carefully estimate where to begin a new ball of each colour before starting. Whenever there was a change to a different (not necessarily new) colour, I attached a new length or ball of yarn. I had to read ahead to estimate how many stitches there were for each colour. This helped me determine how much yarn to put in each new ball.
Intarsia Knitting Requires Planning Ahead
Seriously though, you really need to attach a new ball or bobbin of colour for EVERY single colour block change (even if it is going back to a previous colour). That meant that the background colour (purple in my case) required several balls of yarn attached even if it continued on the other side of a different colour block.
Further, although I focused in on reading the colours across each row, I also had to look up the column to see how far up the colour continued. If it was touching another stitch of the same colour (above and below as well as side to side), I used the information to determine how big a yarn strand (or ball) I’d need. I also needed a way to remember where I was (this project took me weeks). I bought some highlighter strips to help keep me on the right row.
As it turns out, the umbrella was actually a good one to start with because the colour blocks were quite large and not intertwined too much with many other colours along the way.
So I had the intarsia blocking down, I just had to follow the decreases as I neared the top for where the raglan sleeves would attach. I cast off, and the back was done! Phew! I was horrified at the strands dangling on the back that needed to be weaved in, but that was a problem for another day (week?).
Knitting the Sweater Pieces Together
There are 6 separate pieces to knit for this sweater: 1 Back, 1 Left Front, 1 Right Front, 2 sleeves and 1 Collar. After completing the back, they all went off without much of a hitch. My finished pile grew and it was time for assembling.
I had gotten into new territory. Again with YouTube, I discovered the mattress stitch. It is amazing how the stitches just sunk in and disappeared. I attached a sleeves to the back and then the front on each side first. There was a little difficulty finding where the armpit connected, but the left side looked not too bad. One side of the umbrella was so close to the edge, that some of it was caught in the seam, but I could live with that. I was actually doing this! eeek.
On to the next side. It looked terrible! I unpicked the mattress stitching 3 times and then gave up. It was the best I could get it. (I have since discovered that there are right and left leaning decreases. As this was definitely a beginner knitting project, I moved on.)
The collar gave me the most frustration. In fact, part of the reason I wanted to make this sweater was because the high collar looked so cozy and warm. I blindly followed the knitting instructions for the collar, but couldn’t quite envision how the finished collar would be shaped. What side/edge of the collar was the top or bottom? No help online, but hard to know what to search for. I actually knitted two to figure out what it looked like. I knitted it a second time to verify the finished shape. Anyway, I attached it with a mattress stitch, but it still looked wonky. This is obviously my pancake attempt. I have since discovered that I had to stretch the collar out a bit and attach right down to where the zipper stops. I kept going…
Fixing & Finishing
I missed a few stitches of the sun’s rays, but learned I could add them in later with double-knitting. They looked a little different from the rest of the sun, but I loved the process.
I’ll not sugar coat this. Weaving in the ends was not just finishing touches. It was a mammoth undertaking and took hours. As this is beginner knitting, I thought the knitting would get me hung up, but no, it is the bloody weaving in! But as you imagine, there was no stopping me now, but seriously!!!! Wish I had taken a picture of all those dangling threads, but trust me it was not for the faint of heart.
Second, as I was switching between colours in a row, I had to carefully twist the new colour with the previous to ensure there were no holes. I thought I had done that but I guess I missed a few spots and gaps were evident. As I weaved in the ends, I was also able to close these holes. Finally something was cool! At this point, I was getting worried that the back was becoming quite thick and stiff with so many threads being woven in. At the end, I realized this effect is a feature not a bug, because it firmed up the design and made it even better. Yay me!
The final thing was to put in a zipper. I used my double-sided tape from my sewing supplies and then sewed it on with the sewing machine. Went well. Looks good.
The Final Ruinous Step
In my YouTube travels, I learned about blocking. This is essentially a controlled washing, shaping and drying. I watched a few too many tutorials though and seemingly mixed up the suggestions. The yarn I used was 100% acrylic (so it is washable), and I understood that blocking is not as effective for this material. I THOUGHT I was to press a hot steam iron (through a damp cotton tea towel) onto the knitted fabric and press vigorously. Which I did. A lot. Don’t do that. I flattened the whole thing and it looks awful which is likely apparent in the photos. I can’t stop laughing at myself!
So, it is all sewn together, flattened beyond recognition and wonky as fudge. I love it! Nobody will ever see it (except you guys of course) or wear it, but I completed it all from beginning to end. Not bad for beginner knitting eh? Oh, but don’t worry for me, I went on to make another one and another one and its all good. Will post about those projects shortly!
Please don’t hesitate to offer me comments below to share your miscalculations or just to commiserate with me. Maybe I should have stayed at Trewin’s longer?