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How to Become an "Expert Knitter"   *Buy this book on CD for offline reading!

table of contents » chapter 1 (of 29)

1: Choosing Patterns, Yarns & Size (cont.)

Some patterns are rated from “beginner” to “experienced” knitter, or “easy” to “difficult”. Occasionally, a system of stars might be used. This can be a help, but your ability to concentrate is more of an indication of the standard of knitting that you should attempt. Patterns suggested for “experienced” knitters are not difficult, they just require a lot of counting, care and dedication. Even a first-time knitter can knit any well explained pattern. Maybe we should grade pattern writers instead of the knitters. However, if your mind is occupied with other things or you are knitting to relax, knit a scarf!


The prickle test

Handle a ball of yarn to see if you like the way it feels. Hold it against your neck or the inside of your wrist to judge whether it feels comfortable and doesn’t prickle or irritate. I often wonder if yarn manufacturers remember that eventually their product will be used to make something that a person will wear. Some yarns are so rough that they feel and act like sandpaper or barbed wire. Doesn’t anyone test them before they are offered for sale? If I am doubtful, I test the yarn by wearing a little sample against my skin for a few hours. Don’t rely on the idea that washing the finished garment or pressing it, or having it professionally cleaned will fix the problem. Try another yarn.

There is no problem in substituting a different yarn to the one suggested in a pattern, as long as the tension specified can be achieved with the yarn you choose (see here).


The sniff test

Some yarns have an unpleasant odour. This can often be impossible to remove, and in fact, can even intensify as the garment warms up when being worn. If you really want to use that particular yarn, buy a ball, knit a large square, and then wash it in cold water with your favourite detergent to judge whether you can get rid of the smell.


Should I use this yarn?

Shaggy yarns with loops and bumps and lots of hair can be a problem to knit. The stitches can be difficult to see, and counting rows is often confusing.

Knitting has become so popular that new knitters have popped up everywhere. The first attempt is usually a scarf knitted in a fantasy yarn. The idea is simple: just cast on so many stitches and work the required length. The problem that shows up, however, is when the scarf becomes a triangle as stitches are dropped and the knitter is too inexperienced to find them and fix the problem. I was at a child’s birthday party recently and a friend produced her first knitting project from her handbag. It was a scarf, started with forty stitches and, after a few inches, now twenty nine stitches. I unpicked most of the scarf surrounded by other friends clutching their triangles. I suggested counting the stitches as you knit, at least on every fourth row, but I don’t think any of them will remember to do that. I left early.

Compounding the problem is the fact that these wonderful fantasy yarns are usually knitted on huge needles. Especially for a beginner, this is tantamount to learning to knit with two telegraph poles! But maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. If they haven’t lost their enthusiasm after coping with all that, they will be able to knit with anything!

The difficulty with elaborately textured yarns is that the needle can catch in the loops and knitting with them will require a lot of patience. You eventually develop a way of coping with this problem by twisting the needle or holding the yarn at a different angle. Sometimes, the yarn can snag on rough skin on your hands, rings, bracelets and buttons, but just persevere. Complicated yarns are wonderfully interesting, the colours are so beautiful and textures are fascinating. At the worst, the knitting will just take more time.

One thing to check is that the lumps and bumps that make the texture are firmly anchored into the yarn and won’t float off as you knit or when the garment is worn. I recently bought a spectacular yarn, large lumps of red, fuchsia, shocking pink and magenta wound in to a thin black thread at even distances. I made a scarf on huge needles, the coloured balls falling into place on every stitch. I only found out by wearing this scarf that the coloured balls shed masses of fibres all over my clothes.

Beautiful but trouble!

I brushed it savagely, I still brush it savagely, and it sheds and sheds and sheds. I’m sure I will eventually have a black mesh scarf with no colours at all. Now I avoid wearing it over a contrasting colour and take a brush with me whenever I wear it.

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