K is for Knitting (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Thu, 21 May 2020

K is for Knitting

[knitted water bottle cozy] Seems like during the lockdown, everyone's taking up new crafts -- sewing, bread baking, or whatever. I was a little ahead of the game. Last winter I learned to knit. I'd crocheted a little when I was a teenager, but I'd always seen knitting as much more complicated.

It started because I couldn't find a decent headband. I'm not a big fan of hats, because migraines, but sometimes my ears get cold on hikes. I was dissatisfied with the headbands I found in outdoor apparel stores: they tend to be too narrow to cover my ears, too tight, overpriced, and don't come in many colors either. I bought one but wasn't happy with it. I decided I could probably learn to knit my own headband before I found one I liked.

Los Alamos has a great knitting community, as it turns out. (I suspect most communities do). Doris, a friend from Toastmasters, is an avid lifelong knitter (I knew that from her Toastmasters talks, of course), and she steered me to some good beginner books and gave me hints on which size starter needles to buy, including a set of circular needles since everything I was interested in making lent itself to knitting "in the round". But Doris also gave me a list of four different times the local knitters met in person, including one very convenient weekly meeting at the White Rock Library just a few miles from home.

[Showing off my knitted headband] Once I had the needles and yarn, I spent a few hours with the books figuring out the basic knit stitch. I made a few practice pieces and was into my first headband by the time of the next White Rock meeting. It was a bit of a mess, of course, but the friendly knitters at the meeting gave me lots of good advice, and I ended up with a headband which was more functional than the overpriced fleece job I'd bought at Big 5.

Beginning knitters: if you haven't sought out your local knitting meetings, do! You'll learn so much from getting expert help, and seeing everybody's projects (even if they all seem impossibly advanced), and hearing people chat about different techniques. Plus, knitters are just nice people.

The second headband came out much better. It was more comfortable than the commercial ones, covered my ears, and the color-changing yarn made for pretty colors without my needing to learn advanced skills like yarn-swapping.

[Knit earmuff] Now that I had a headband, what else could I make that I couldn't easily buy? Well, a friend in the hiking group has some neat fleece standalone earmuffs: you snap them over your ears and they just stay on, no need for a head-squeezing connecting bar or anything like that. I've always envied those, but when I tried to find them online, they were astoundingly expensive. Couldn't I just knit some little bags to go over my ears?

This needed a much smaller circle than my circular needles could manage. So I got some double-pointed needles and learned how to use those. I was pretty fumbly with them at first, but the nice folks in the knitting group gave me some great tips that got me going, and only a few days later, I had two perfectly servicable standalone earmuffs. I wore them on the next week's hike, and they stayed on just fine for the first hour or so before it got warm enough that I didn't want them any more. Hurrah! And in making the earmuffs, I learned a lot about increasing and decreasing as well as double-pointed needles.

I tried some other projects, experimenting with different sizes of needles: a warmer headband with built-in ear flaps, a hat, and a super-warm hat out of monstrous fuzzy yarn, which will be good for long cold star parties.

[First, messy knit water bottle cozy] [Knit water bottle/hand lotion cozy] [knitted water bottle cozy with cables]

The only problem is that now that spring has sprung, I'm not very interested in warm things like hats and earmuffs any more. But there's one thing I can still use year-round: bottle cozies. I have a water bottle that works well and doesn't leak, but it sweats. I'd been using a fuzzy sock to keep the drink cool and keep the bottle from sweating, but bottle cozies make a great circular knitting project.

My first cozy (left) was pretty rough, with holes from dropped stitches all over. I never see when I make those mistakes, even several rows later; I usually don't notice until the project is done and I look it over and realize how many mistakes I've made.

But I'm getting better. For my second cozy, I experimented with alternating between knit and perl rows. It still has a bunch of holes where I made mistakes, especially switching between knit and perl, but it's better. I'm using it in the bathroom for the hand lotion bottle.

For my third cozy, I decided to try a cable, which Doris showed me the first time I came to the knitting group but it seemed unimaginably advanced at the time. I was pretty happy with the results (right). After seeing it, Doris gave me tips on how to make the cable stand out more, so I'm looking forward to trying that.

Now I'm trying to learn to crochet flat circles that I can use as bottoms for these bottle cozies, and maybe also as coasters. Of course, the knitting group isn't meeting during the COVID lockdown. I think they're having Zoom meetings, but I'm Zoomed out with the meetings I have to attend for other groups so I haven't investigated that. But I'm looking forward to when the lockdown is over and we can get back together again, and I can see all the amazing advanced projects people are working on.

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