Learning to Knit

     Learning to Knit

Learning to knit as a child

little girl on beach in knitted swimsuitThe joys of knitted swimsuits!

Learning to knit became a goal of mine as soon as I was old enough to watch what my grandmother was doing.

I was always fascinated by craft activities and just wanted to try anything and everything. Thinking about it, not much has changed since, as I am constantly finding new crafts to learn. Some of these become favourite pastimes whilst others get abandoned as not sufficiently fulfilling.

My grandmother was constantly knitting so, as a small child, i naturally insisted on being taught how to do it as well.

My grandmother used to knit her own clothes. She always wore a knitted skirt and a matching cardigan. She had three different sets. From time to time she would gain or lose weight. This meant that her outfits no longer fitted so she would proceed to unravel them one by one. 

After unravelling she wound the wool into skeins, washed it and dried it. Then she asked me to sit with my arms outstretched so she might rewind it into balls around them. Having prepared her yarn, she then painstakingly re-knitted her outfits at the correct size.

The skirt was knitted on a huge circular needle using some 600 stitches. I was in awe at the number of stitches and the fact that my grandmother could knit that much without getting fed up.

Grandmother holding baby 1940sThe Grandma who taught me to knit in the days before she wore knitted two-pieces.

On my fifth birthday my aim of learning to knit came a step closer when I received a child’s knitting set as a present. It contained six little balls of rainbow wool and some plastic needles. I immediately got my grandmother to show me how to cast on and do plain knit stitches.

I started my first garment, a scarf, with 30 stitches. It was a slow process and somehow I had copied my grandmother in such a way that I was doing it left-handed - despite being right-handed - but I persevered unaware of this.

As weeks passed I knitted my way through the six rainbow balls. I found from time to time that I no longer had 30 stitches on the needles. My solution was to either cast on some more or cast off the extras. This resulted in an unusual wavy edge to the so-called scarf.

When I had used up all the wool and the ‘scarf’ was some 14 inches long I announced it was finished. In truth I was tired of knitting it and wanted to make something else.

I presented my creation to my uncle as a surprise gift the next time he visited. To this day i recall how underwhelmed he was to receive it.

That might’ve ended my love affair with knitting... But no, I set out to do better the next time…

Learning to knit in my teens

girl wearing shapeless bri-nylon jumperMe in my bri-nylon jumper - having lost its shape!

In my teens in the 1960s, I knitted a sweater in pale yellow bri-nylon. This yarn was revolutionary as it could be washed without shrinking and it wasn’t itchy like wool. On the other hand, it didn't breathe very well nor did the yarn have any degree of elasticity so the garment rapidly went out of shape.  What began as a long, slender sweater soon became wide and short and boxy.

A deep pink cardigan in mohair was next but, although great to actually knit, it was rarely worn as I found it itchy. I have never been able to tolerate wearing either mohair or lambswool even over a long-sleeved blouse or T-shirt.

In the early 1970s there was crepe wool. At this time the genetic influence of my grandmother became clear when I knitted myself a skirt and matching cardigan in pink crepe wool with a purple stripe around the edges. 

I only wore it a couple of times because as a garment it felt heavy to wear. I haven’t been tempted to knit anything that large since. 

As I discovered, the road to learning to knit wasn't just about knowing how to cast on, cast off and do the bit in between. There was so much more to understand about how different yarns would react and feel when made up. 

I loved actually doing the knitting and the lure of those wonderfully coloured balls of yarn, but the garments I created were all too often unsuitable for my lifestyle. My past is littered with items that were great to create but a disaster to use or wear!

Nevertheless I persevered and moved on to knitting toys and, finally, to baby wear.

I now focus on making small items - some even knitted on 1mm needles with crochet cotton such as the sweaters I made for my tiny teddy bears and the miniature teacosies.

The sensual side of learning to knit

Recently chatting with a group of women during a break in a meeting at work, we started discussing what sort of shop we’d each open if we had to. One wanted a tearoom, another a hat shop.

For me it was easy - it would have to be a wool shop - all those virgin balls of yarn stacked in blocks of colour.

stacks of different coloured wools on the shelf in a shopNew balls of wool just begging to be used

Where I live there are no wool shops now. I buy yarn online, which is very efficient. Nevertheless, the euphoric sensation achieved by just standing in a shop stacked high with masses of different colours and textures of soft squishy balls of yarn can't be underestimated.

As I conjure up the image now in my mind my fingers are quivering with the sensation of touching them. 

Learning to knit never ends

Knitting has been something of a lifelong compulsion but not a constant one. I go  through phases when I simply have to knit something. Several garments and a few weeks later, having satisfied that urge, I take a break from it and indulge in sewing or art instead until the craving returns. 

I now like to knit classically simple garments for babies in quality yarns. Wool yarns are no longer itchy but, like cotton yarn, are very soft. I usually keep the stitch simple - moss, garter or stocking stitch are my favourites. This then allows me to embellish the garment with subtle decoration.

Even after a lifetime of knitting there is still something new to learn. There are always new ways of doing things, new yarns, new ideas to try out. The recent development of top down knitting and the increased use of circular needles is a case in point. 

Top down knitting allows more precise shaping of a garment during making and also reduces the amount of sewing up required afterwards.

For me, learning to knit never ends. There will always be new adventures to have with new yarns, different techniques and, above all, the challenge of making something just a little bit better in some way than the previous one.

The brand - Teddy Ed - is named after my son whose childhood nickname it was and for whom I knitted my first baby clothes.

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Other pages you might like:

  1. Ooak Gifts
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  3. About Me & Making
  4. >
  5. How I learnt to knit