Friday, January 11, 2013

So Your Kid Wants to Knit...

Just the other day, an old friend from high school posted on Facebook that her daughter was interested in learning how to knit.  She decided they should learn together, and wondered whether anyone had any suggestions.  I looked at her query and I wasn't sure whether I would respond until I saw that one of her other friends had already responded.  This other person suggested that she had seen beginner knitting scarf kits at Hobby Lobby that were on sale and that would be great.


So, setting aside that Hobby Lobby is in the midst of suing the United States federal government over the idea that birth control should be a part of the health care they provide because, let's be honest, it's none of their godsdamned business what their female employees do with their bodies.  I do not shop at the Hobby Lobby.  I did, a couple times, despite my discomfort over their giant aisle of crosses, until I found out about the fact that they're one of the employers who has gone bat-shit over the idea that they should pay a little more money so that birth control is covered.  Those are my politics.  If you want to shop at Hobby Lobby that is your business.  I would urge you to consider spending your knitting dollars elsewhere, but that's just this liberal's opinion.

Politics aside, here's why I think a beginner's scarf kit is a crappy idea for any beginning knitter.  Not everyone really gets what goes into knitting.  Knitting is fun.  I love it.  Still, when you're new to knitting, it is slow.  Knitting can be tedious and frustrating.  So let's start with a thing that is, by its nature, long and repetitive!

"Okay, smarty-pants, what's your idea?"

Cool it, dude.  I'm not putting down the starting scarf, but here's what I like to suggest to first time knitters.

The Washcloth!!

Seriously.  If you are learning to knit, make a washcloth, and here's why.

Reasons Why First Time Knitters Should Make a Washcloth

  1. It's quick.:  Even if you're new a washcloth is small and easy to finish.  As the newest of new knitters, if you devote one to two hours a day for a week on a dishcloth, I guarantee that you will have it finished by the weekend.  
  2. CO, K, P, BO:  Cast on, knit, purl, and bind off; these are the things  you need to know.  If you start with a scarf I'm going to teach you how to cast on.  Maybe you'll do a garter stitch scarf, so you aren't learning to purl.  You aren't doing a stockinette scarf because it's going to roll up and look like junk.  Regardless, by the time you get around to doing the bind-off, you've been knitting for so long on one piece that you can't even remember how to cast on anymore.  The washcloth is the answer to these problems.  Again, it's small.  You can easily jam those four basic skills into one little project in a short enough period of time that you can actually retain the skills.  
  3. It's useful!:  Who doesn't need a washcloth?  You  may think, I don't need anymore washcloths.  You do.  It doesn't have to be a washcloth.  It can be a dustcloth or a dishcloth or just a cloth that you wipe things up with.  You can use a cotton washcloth for any number of around-the-house cleaning needs.  When you or your child - and maybe even especially when your child - makes a washcloth and you use it, that's a big deal.  They can look at that thing and say "I made that."  "Check me out, I have contributed."  They probably aren't going to say those exact words and maybe they won't even consciously think about it, but I promise they'll feel proud of themselves.  
  4. Wearables don't make good first projects:  In contrast to number three, scarves, and wearables generally, don't usually turn out as pretty as you think they will.  You're new at this!  That's totally fine and to be expected.  Your gauge will probably be a little off.  If you do a pattern you will probably screw it up in spots.  In keeping with our scarf idea, a scarf is long enough already without you having to stop and fix things or, worse yet, realizing twelve inches down the road that you screwed up royally and then have to figure out whether you've got to tear out stitches or can it be fixed.  What do you do?  It's not fun, and I've fixed those issues for many people.  Not everyone has a person that can do that.  On the contrary, if you screw up a little on a washcloth, it's small!  Also, it's a washcloth!  Who cares if it's a little wonky?  It's going to wash things.  
  5. Cotton yarn is cheap.:  This pretty much speaks for itself.  If you knit a scarf, you might feel tempted to buy some pretty yarn and spend serious cash on it.  Cotton yarn is super cheap.  You can make two washcloths out of one skein of super basic cotton yarn and it probably won't run you more than $2, maybe $2.50 at the outside.  

So I've laid out here only 5 reasons why I think that washcloths are the perfect starter project and now I'm going to give you the most basic washcloth pattern that pops into my head...

The Crazy Basic WashclothNeeded: size US7 or US8 straight needles, one skein of basic worsted weight cotton yarn
CO 36 (cast-on 36 stitches)
Row 1 - Knit all
Row 2 - Knit all
Row 3 - Knit all
Row 4 - Knit all
Row 5 - K3 (knit 3), purl to last three sts (stitches), K3
Row 6 - Knit all
Repeat rows 5 and 6 until your washcloth is just a few rows short of square.
Knit all stitches for four rows.
BO (bind off)

This is, as I said, crazy basic.  It's casting on, knitting, purling, and binding off.  You get to learn garter stitch and stockinette at the same time and if you devote just one week to it, you'll be on to your next project.  This is a project that gives you a feel for knitting.  It is also easy to change or customize.  Once you know more about knitting you can play around with it.  Cast on 36 stitches and the sky is the limit.  You can do whatever kind of pattern you want.  And I'll tell you what else, washcloths are perfect for practice all kinds of knitting techniques and at the end you get a useful little thing.  You can practice cabling and yarn overs, increases and decreases, whatever you want.  

Save scarves for once you've gotten more comfortable with knitting.  In meantime, pick out a ridiculous color of cotton yarn and make something that you're going to use for decades.  A washcloth hangs around and stays useful forever.  Enjoy that.  

I hope that I've made the case for new knitters and washcloth and I hope that if you're a new knitter you go out a start a washcloth today.  If you're a veteran knitter, I hope you start recommending washcloths to every knitting newbie you meet!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Doll Clothes and Flat Lace

Can I just whine a minute about home much I dislike every-row lacework on flat-knitted items?  Is this just me?  Am I just lazy?  I am irritated by it.  Really, does anyone like purling two stitches together through the back loop (p2tog tbl)?

I get it, though, I guess.  The piece in question is a cardigan for an American Girl Doll and so I suppose to the extent that you want to squeeze more lace into a smaller area maybe?  I don't know.  What I'm beginning to think about is how this pattern would look if you stretched it out by adding "purl across" rows between the actual lacework.  Would that alteration make it look so different from the original or might it make sizing it up for an actual-sized little girl more simple?  It wouldn't be strictly "purl across" though it would be more of a knit the knits and purl the purls, a knit as you find it.  I think I need to give it a shot, do a swatch and see how it looks.

At this moment I'm so close to finishing the first doll cardigan it's absolute laziness that's keeping it from being done.  I'm having a temper tantrum about it.  Is it the cardigan or is it my new knitting bag?

What!  A new knitting bag!  Yeah...  My mother-in-law (who is delightful and one of the top ten mother-in-laws on earth, I'm reasonably sure) got me a new knitting bag for Christmas.  I love bags.  I crave and hoard them.  My collection of reusable grocery bags is prodigious.  I have tote bags by the billion and several knitting bags.  Now, personally, my preference is to be project-monogamous when possible.  At this moment I have a long-term when-I'm-not-doing-anything-else sock yarn blanket and the altar cloth, as well as whatever else I'm doing.  Those two projects aren't in bags, though, they're in my plaster drawer tower/personal side table.  Let me tell you about this bag she got me.  I don't know where she got it from or what brand it is or anything.  It's probably from LTD or something (not that there's anything wrong with that).  It's six holes in the top, through which you can have active yarn.  Do you know what I mean?  Let me show you a picture.

See?  Okay.  So...alright.  I don't really like those holes because I switch bags often and these holes sort of tie your project to the bag for the duration of its knitting.  Still, at first I thought  maybe it was really clever because those holes are over top of what looks like three separate zippers pockets that are distinct from the larger inside of the bag.  I'll show you a picture.

Cool?  No.  You see, these aren't pockets really.  They're sort of hammocks.  They're open at the top and bottom end to the rest of the bag so it's not like your ball of yarn stays in there nice and tidy.  You ball of yarn is inevitably going to fall into the chasm that is the rest of your bag.  The...I suppose you might call it the main entrance to the bag is on the opposite side from the three zippered hammocks.  It runs the width of the bag rather than the height like the three zippered sections.  Honestly, I don't know whether I'm attempting to use the bag incorrectly or what.  At first I thought it might be useful because I was doing both doll sleeves simultaneously and so I was trying to use the zippered pockets to keep the two balls of yarn apart, but then I discovered that my balls (hehehe...balls) had fallen into the bigger part of the bag, which is when I discovered the more hammock-like properties of what had previously seemed to be pockets.

What this all amounts to, it would seem, is that I just can't use this bag.  It confuses and saddens me.  Happily, my MIL also gave me a $20 gift code to Knit Picks.  It's the perfect gift for a knitter.  I don't like to sound ungrateful or rude, but unless a knitter gives you a specific request or you've overhead one of us say "oh man, I'd love to have this specific thing!", please don't attempt to buy us tools.  I'll amend that.  Don't attempt to buy me tools.  I'm super specific and really picky.  Maybe I'm the only knitter on earth who feels this way.  I'd like to think that I'm not.

I'll probably find a use for this bag.  Maybe I can tack the bottom of the hammock closed so that it's an actual pocket and the yarn won't get lost in the bag and tangled around a pen.  Yes, that happened.

In the meantime, I'll have to switch things out of this bag.  I need to block out the parts of the cardigan that are done so that I can finish off the collar and sew it all together.  While that's on, I want to swatch out my lace idea and see how it works and get started figuring out how to upsize this bad girl.  Looks like I've got my plate full!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The New Diagnosis Knitter!

Hi everyone!  Man, I hope there's going to be an everyone.  Hopefully, if you followed me at the old Diagnosis Knitter (on WordPress) then you will continue to follow me here at my new home on Blogger!  You may be aware, my having mentioned it before, that I have another blog on Blogger called Blogamashmorgblorg, and so in an effort to make my life easier I have moved my knitting thoughts to Blogger as well.  In any case, I will be leaving a link to my new blog at the old one and if you know me from Ravelry, the RSS feed on my profile page will be changing.  All the old stuff will remain where it is.  My new home will have the same access to my patterns (both free and for sale) and I will provide you with all the same knitting insanity as previously...just here instead of there.

Later on in the week look forward to me fussing over some American Girl doll cardigans and pondering a really fantastic LotR scarf as well as possibly making Christmas stockings for cash money!

Happy New Year!