Very Secret Mysteries, no. 1: Knitting

Ball of wool with needles stuck in it

First of all, I want to say a big huge HELLO and WELCOME to all the new readers who’ve joined us since I got it together to start actually telling people about this blog. It’s genuinely exciting to get comments and e-mails from you in response to a post I’ve written. It’s what this is all about.

A couple of you talked about how you are wanting to take up various crafts, either for the first time ever or for the first time in years. So I thought I might do a little series introducing the various crafts I do. (We bloggers, she said self-consciously, love our series.) Not a comprehensive primer, or anything – I’m thinking more of a personal take. Let’s make it a Wednesday thing for a while, shall we?

(OK, it’s technically no longer Wednesday. But it was when most of this post was written. I’m declaring it Wednesday, so there.)

Knitting, then: essentially, it’s a method of turning string into fabric. (Other methods include weaving, crochet, tatting, and knotting of various kinds.) This is done by looping the string systematically around two sticks. The thickness of the sticks and string together determine the texture of the fabric. (Yes, I’m deliberately making it sound strange. But that’s really all there is to it.)

With very few exceptions, you knit pieces to the size and shape you need, then join them together if necessary – and it isn’t always. Knitted fabric is very stretchy, which influences the ways in which it’s used. Pieces are usually joined by sewing them together, but there are other ways (e.g. crocheting through both edges).

Rectangles are the easiest shapes to knit. You cast on some stitches; you knit some rows, back and forth, in plain or purl or a combination of the two; you cast off. Bingo. If you go on for long enough before casting off, you have a scarf. Four rectangles make the simplest kind of jumper (front, back, two sleeves). Knit two fronts instead, each half the width of the back, for a cardigan.

You can get quite far with just these skills, but of course they are nowhere near the whole story. Increasing or decreasing the number of stitches in your row helps to shape the piece of knitting so that it conforms more pleasingly to the human form. A knitted edging finishes off the garment nicely. A decrease paired with a yarn-over makes a simple buttonhole.

Patterns of yarn-overs and decreases make lace, which can be as simple or as complex as you can handle. Knitting some stitches out of their normal order – again, systematically – makes a cable pattern. Knitting in the round makes a tube – you abandon the row in favour of a spiral. Short rows (where you don’t knit all the way to the end before turning) shape a piece in three dimensions. Entrelac allows multi-directional knitting.

Following a pattern is simply a matter of learning what the abbreviations and symbols mean. Well, and counting. You can count, yes?

I need hardly add that if you want to learn any of the abovementioned skills, there are plenty of online resources to help you – try the extensive archive of free articles at, for a start, or search You Tube for tutorial videos. Better still, find someone who can show you in person. If you’re keen, look for a local group – or start one. And join Ravelry, for goodness sake.

(If you like learning from books, I’ve mentioned some of my favourites in this post over here.)

Different crafts have different rates of production. With some, like plain sewing, you can cover a huge amount of ground in relatively little time. With others, like crochet lace, you labour for millennia over every cm2. Knitting is somewhere in the middle, at least among the crafts I’m familiar with.

When I go back to knitting after sewing for a while, my progress seems glacial. It’s actually kind of dizzying to contemplate the sheer number of stitches in a knitted garment, each of which had my attention for a tiny period of time. Perhaps if I were to spin my own thread and weave my own cloth, I’d have the same feeling about a sewn garment. The specialisation of labour insulates us from a full appreciation of the work that goes into such things.

(There’s a parallel with construction here, actually: we’re just finishing up an extension project in our house, and watching the builders at work has made me look at brick walls with an entirely new respect.)

But I love the portability of knitting, the way you can just slip it into your daily life. No big equipment, very easy to put down and pick up again if you’re interrupted, minimally perilous to small children – really, what’s not to like?

The photo above is of the Oyster’s knitting needles and wool. He hasn’t really tried to knit (other than “his way”, which bears only a frail resemblance to the real thing), but I have hopes that he’ll learn in the next couple of years. That would give me so much glee, you’ve no idea.

4 thoughts on “Very Secret Mysteries, no. 1: Knitting

  1. We didn’t get to see anyone actually laying blocks, unfortunately. But I did like seeing the partially built walls.

    Have you tried the Oyster on finger knitting?

  2. I loved the Oyster’s needles. They are so cute! If he’s already being creative with them, I´m sure he will be a great knitter! A free-styler! Thanks for all the links in this post, they are really interesting. And I discovered the name of the cast-on method my grandmother taught me: the longtail cast. She didn´t use a slipknot, though. She started with the yarn just held over the needle, but after casting the first stitch you end up with two stitches on the needle anyway, maybe the first stitch is neater if you do use the slipknot?
    Well, I have a skein of handspun and handyed orange yarn, haven’t decided what to do yet, have been wearing it though, as a scarf. I just find the skein so pretty as it is, and it’s long enough to wear as a double strand necklace. People have actually complimented me on it, so now it’s a bit more scary to undo it and start knitting!

  3. @Mollydot: Finger knitting! I’d forgotten about that. I’ll see if he’s keen.

    @Longtime: I haven’t ever tried the long-tail cast-on. Perhaps next project. Meanwhile, I love the idea of wearing your handspun skein just as it is! They are such beautiful things in their own right.

  4. I’ve just discovered machine sewing; knitting is still a mystery to me, so this post was just perfect. Love reading your perspective!

Comments are closed.