Works in Progress: A Cowl and a Beret

For the first time I ever I have two knitting projects on the go. With good reason. For the first time ever, I understand the need for at least two projects on my needles.

I finished my latest scarf (which I will photograph and share here… eventually. Don’t let me forget!) on Thursday and had a whole Friday evening and Saturday morning stretched out in front of me before my knitting date with a good friend. We were headed to the Knit Cafe for the afternoon, and I was determined to pick up my very first non-acrylic, non-craft store yarn*. But. That was a whole 20 hours away.

So, I pulled out a ball of super soft yarn, a colour I decided not to work into my last baby blanket, found a pattern, and cast on. By the time I arrived at the Knit Cafe, I had frogged (knitting lingo for ripping all the stitches out) and re-cast.

And then, of course, the skeins of yarn, the multitude of options, caught my eye and drew me in. With a little help, I chose a fingering that wouldn’t break the bank, bought a set of needles that were way more expensive than I expected**, and set to work casting on a lacy beret in a grey merino wool fingering.

When I bought the merino, I figured my pretty blue cowl would go into hibernation for a few weeks while I knit feverishly away with that beautiful grey, fine yarn. I surprised myself: despite being delighted with my new purchase, I found myself gravitating toward the little cowl a couple times throughout the weekend: on the two hour drive to visit the Husband’s mom for her birthday; sitting on the couch, watching the last episode of Orange Is The New Black (amazing show, if a bit a harsh).

This is why: working with fingering for the first time and working with such small needles (3.25mm), especially with such a complicated pattern is a few steps above my skill level. I like working a few steps above my skill level. It forces me to learn new techniques, to not get too comfortable with my knits and purls. It’s a thrill, I suppose, working through a piece of the pattern I don’t quite understand to arrive at the final product with a proud ‘Aha!’ The cowl, on the other hand, is comfortably within my skill level. It’s got a beautiful lace pattern, but it’s not a complicated lace pattern. It’s easy to follow. And, easy to modify for my own knitting preferences. It’s perfect for moments I don’t need to concentrate on my knitting too hard.

This has got me thinking a little bit about knitting, and learning, and the steps from beginner to master. Where must we start? What are the steps from those first few stitches to being able to knit anything that comes my way? For me, it’s been this:

Step One: Knit. Just straight knit. Probably using straight needles. But not too many stitches on those needles. After all, I remember progress being very slow and awkward with those first stitches. This is all that is needed to make a very simple scarf.

Step Two: Purl. I probably learned to knit one row, purl the next. Garter stitch, this is called. I made very simple slippers using this stitch when I was a child. They were just squares of knitted fabric, folded up around the foot and stitched to make a slipper. My sister was making properly formed slippers, if my memory serves me correctly, but I never really got to the point of figuring out decreases to make the toe.

Step Three: K1 P1. By the time I really learned that combinations of knit and purl stitches could make patterns, I was learning on my own. My mom taught me the basic knit and purls, but I lost interest pretty quickly as a kid and didn’t pick it up again until university. I made one or two simple scarves with tassles using a knit 2, purl 2 pattern (called ribbing), then tucked away my needles for another few years.

Step Four: Super simple lace. Mixing in yarn-overs (bringing the yarn around the needle to create an extra ‘stitch’ before knitting or purling) and k2tog (knit 2 together) decreases creates little purposeful holes in knitting, which, when done in a repetitive pattern creates lace. I love lace. I discovered how simple it was to do just a couple years ago with – you guessed it – yet another scarf.

Step Five: More complicated lace! Because, in reality, there are infinite combinations of increases and decreases that create beautiful patterns in fabrics. I feel like this is the stage I`m at, trying out all sorts of different patterns, and learning to read lace charts.

Step Six: Cabling. Admittedly, while I think I’m at Step Five, I know I can cable. I made a tiny little scarf for Mocha one year that had a cable in it, just to see if I can do it. Cabling is a technique that involves moving stitches in order to twist them and create a really cool braided affect on your knitting. One day, I will return to this technique so I can master it with confidence.

Step Seven: Colourwork. Mixing in different coloured yarns to create patterns and stripes. I have never done this! One day, I will.

These are just ‘straight’ techniques, meaning you could learn them simply by making scarf after scarf after scarf. I started trying to continue this list with techniques used to create other things, like hats, socks, sweaters. Except that knitting doesn’t work like that. Making scarves is not a requirement for learning these techniques. I could have learned to knit and purl, and then jumped right to making socks. I didn’t. I feel like I’m still comfortable in that scarf stage, even if my scarves have gotten a little more complicated. Who knows what the next steps of learning are going to look like for me. I’m pushing past it, into the realm of hats.

I have known how to knit for years – ever since I could hold a set of knitting needles probably. I am still amazed how much there is to learn, how much is still out of my reach.

* There is nothing wrong with ‘craft-store yarn’. In fact, I’m headed to the ginormous tent sale in Listowel at the Spinrite outlet in order to stock up on Bernat, Caron, and Patons yarns for my stash! I love the stuff. But, I also love supporting local small businesses, and there are such a plethora of local yarn stores here in Toronto, it seems a shame not to treat myself and pick up a beautifully spun skein of wool every so often.

** AddiTurbo 3.25mm, 40cm circulars. I’m hoping to buy a set of interchangeable circular needles soon, and I’m trying to decide between bamboo – like my ChaiGoo circulars that I’m using for the cowl – or metal tips before I spent the $100 or so on of full set.

Please follow!