Knitwise: What almost 5 years and 160 projects taught me about knitting

I remember first discovering Ravelry in 2009 when I decided to take up knitting (again — if you count that very short, green scarf with several holes in it I knit when I was about 10), and marveling at the complex projects other Ravelers had seemingly whipped up effortlessly. I admired the complex lace work, colour work, and the way some knitters had taken a pattern and modified it into their own personalized work of art. I could hardly imagine being able to modify a pattern in any significant way without creating one hot mess — I was still trying to figure out the secret codes of ssks, p2togs, and what have you. Mainly I think my gut was telling me there was no way I’d have the patience and the stamina to build my knitting skills to that point anytime sooner than hell would freeze over. But here I am, almost 5 years and 160 knitting projects later…and it’s quite possible hell is, in fact, freezing over as I write this, as it’s currently -32 degrees Celsius with the wind chill factored in, and it seems most of North America is in quite a deep freeze.

In any case, here are some random musings and ‘notes to self’ I have made during that time.

1. Yarn that is amazing in the ball or skein and feels great to knit with isn’t usually the best yarn for an actual garment.
I couldn’t get enough of Malabrigo Worsted, which is a wonderful, smooshy, singly-ply yarn that is an absolute joy to knit. But everything I’ve ever knit with it has pilled like crazy. Whenever I wear one of these sweaters or hats I compulsively pick little puffs of yarn off of them constantly, which drives my poor husband crazy as I tend to drop them all over the house. Yesterday I spent 20 minutes with a pumice stone on my Pole sweater, removing so many yarn pills they wadded up to the size of a softball. And the sweater still looks like a hobo’s been wearing it the last 3 months in a row. Multi-ply yarns, while less smooshy and soft, create garments that resist pilling and wear much better.

2. Those hand-dyed, multi-coloured yarns that are so appealing looking in the skein only wind up looking like clown barf when knitted.
Proof: here’s what this lovely colourway of Malabrigo Worsted called ‘Nostalgia’ looks like in the skein, and here’s how it looks knitted:

Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret in Malabrigo Worsted yarn "Nostalgia"
Yes, the stink-eye says it all…this hat was barfed up by a drunk clown.

3. Silk. Don’t get sucked in.
It’s gorgeous. It’s glamourous. It’s luxurious….it’s irritating as fuck. I knitted at least 6 inches of a tank top in-the-round and then realized I needed to rip back a few rows to correct something. Once my needles had come out, there was no getting those damn stitches back on the needles for love or money — that silk yarn was way too slippery to behave. I ended up starting again, but it was worth it, as the tank top was lovely and fit me perfectly! That is, until I started wearing it. It was a size bigger by the end of the day. And after handwashing it? Two more sizes bigger. I think I’ll give silk a pass for anything other than accessories that don’t need to fit exactly.

[3A. I really should wash my gauge swatch. Pffft.]

4. Angora: just, no.
As if I don’t have enough tiny bits of cat fur up my nose and in my eyes every day of my life that I have to go add a shitload of bunny fur falling off the yarn with every stitch. I wore the angora-blend sweater pictured below on my last trip to the vet, and while she was examining the cat I noticed how much extra fluff was hanging off my sweater. My sweater-pill-OCD kicked in, and, as soon as the vet was out of the room, I madly scraped loads of bunny fur off and dropped it to the floor. (In my defense, if one has to do that in a public place I think a vet’s examination room is about the best place for all that fur lying around not to be noticed.)

Cowl Cover-Up pattern by Jane Ellison
The angora sweater in question. What, me? No, I didn’t leave all those piles of bunny fur on the floor. (Cowl Cover-Up pattern by Jane Ellison. Click for pattern details.)

5. Don’t ever knit anything for someone who doesn’t understand how much fucking work it is to knit. ‘Nuff said.

And the inverse of Rule #5 is…

6. Always knit for your mother, who loves anything and everything you make for her, no matter what.
😀 Yay, mummy!

"Not-a-Poncho City Cape" pattern by Wendy Barnard
Yes, she even told me she liked this one. What a trooper! This is the “Not-a-Poncho City Cape” pattern by Wendy Barnard. Click for pattern details.
Voluta sweater designed by Rachel Erin
Christmas gift for mom last year. She didn’t even mind it wasn’t ready until New Year’s! This is the Voluta sweater designed by Rachel Erin. Click to view pattern details.
Cedar Leaf Shawlette by Alana Dakos
Cedar Leaf Shawlette by Alana Dakos. Mother’s Day gift. Click for pattern details.
Cabled Tunic by Suvi Simola
I didn’t intentionally knit this for mom; it just came out too big and she liked it so it’s hers now. This is the Cabled Tunic by Suvi Simola. Click for pattern details.
My mom and I, dressed like twins.
My mom and I, dressed like twins. 😀

6A. Thank your mother for teaching you to knit and sew and bake and all those creative things that bring you joy today.
Thanks, mummy!

7. Taking a hot-pink monstrosity of a sweater and dying it purple will not make it any less of a monstrosity. Proof:

Pink Monstrosity -- oouf
Pink Monstrosity — oouf
Purple Monstrosity -- still oouf.
Purple Monstrosity — still oouf.


I think the most important thing I learned from knitting (as opposed to about knitting) is patience. I am an instant gratification kinda gal. But what I know for sure is:

8. There is no instant gratification in knitting. So far the quickest possible projects I’ve done (hats, neckwarmers) still require a good two evenings’ worth of knitting. The gratification comes after putting several weeks’ work into, say, a sweater, and enjoying the fact that you made yourself, that no one else has the same one, and that its colours are exactly your taste.  I would add “the fact that it fits perfectly”, but I would be lying, because…

9. If it fits perfectly, consider yourself lucky. Yes, I know all the knitting books & instructors say if you knit a proper gauge swatch, wash & block it, measure carefully, blah blah blah, it should come out exactly as planned. It never has for me. I have learned to knit a smaller size than I think I need, because more often than not, the garment will stretch with wearing and washing, and if it doesn’t, it can be blocked out to fit better. I have also learned that trying to shrink a garment in the dryer doesn’t work, as it will usually shrink in length and not width. Luckily I discovered that my serger (or even sewing machine) can come in handy to nip in a too-wide garment at the seams.

Anyway, I feel like I could go on and on, but I’ll wrap it up here, for now…perhaps a ‘what I learned from knitting part 2’ will follow.

What have you discovered through knitting or another creative hobby?

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