The second anniversary of my learning to knit is approaching, so I thought I’d share the top 10 list of useful tips I’ve assembled over the past two years. The ideas are all mine, but some of them are very simple – bordering on common sense – so I wouldn’t be surprised if they existed elsewhere.
1.Before you knit, WASH YOUR HANDS. Particularly if you are working with light-colored yarn. No, that chocolate stain is not coming out of your cashmere. Sorry.
2.Don’t get hat hole.
3. If you want to make a striped scarf, it may seem like the only choices are (a) weaving in lots of ends, and (b) carrying the colors up one side, which makes the two edges of the scarf different. However, you can use an ODD number of colors, and make the number of rows in each stripe ODD, and colors will be carried up both sides and the edges will look the same. You can also use an even number of colors (but more than just 2) and a combination of odd and even stripe lengths, but this requires some math to make sure that the color you want next is always available and not parked on the other side.
4. My favorite stitch pattern for scarves is still Cartridge Belt Rib (as defined by Barbara Walker, not the Vogue Knitting Stitchionary). It's worked over a multiple of 4 stitches + 1. Every row is the same: Slip the first stitch pwise, then (k2, sl 1 pwise wyif, k1) over the rest of the row. It looks similar to Mistake Rib, but better (in my opinion) since the columns of knit stitches are elongated and stand out more. It's easy to knit, easy to memorize, and unisex. The edges are especially nice due to the double slip stitch selvedge. It's also visually interesting without being (a), a yarn hog, or (b) too interesting for variegated yarns. What more can you ask for? You can also do a two-color version (using the same method as for two-color Brioche stitch - see the Shadow Dance capelet from Wrap Style) where the columns of knit stitches are all MC on one side of the scarf and all CC on the other side.
5. Any all-over cable pattern can be made reversible by doing the cables in a reversible stitch like garter, seed or rib. With 1x1 rib, you usually have to double the size (meaning, for example, a 4x4 cable instead of a 2x2 cable) to make it look good. For instance, the stitch pattern for the Glaistig hat is the same as the one for the Wavelet hat (which I got from one of the Barbara Walker books - I think she calls it Little Cable Fabric), but doubled in size and done in 1x1 rib. Another way to make cable patterns reversible is to have the number of rows in the pattern repeat be odd.
6. Alpaca is insane. I only use it for scarves, because nothing I make from it will stay the same freaking size. I have one scarf that was 65" long after I knitted it, and is now more than 7' long. I also made an alpaca hat for The Wibbles, which fit him for about two days, after which it fit me for a while, before becoming even bigger. Two other hat-unfriendly fabrics are cotton and silk - neither one is elastic enough. The best hat fiber is by far merino wool.
7. The recommended gauge on the ball band is not gospel. It's usually pretty reliable if you want to make a sweater/top, but I would go down 1 or 2 needle sizes for hats and socks, and up a needle size for scarves.
8. Don't expect to do much knitting around a child between 9 months and 2 years of age, unless said child is asleep. Although perhaps I am just lacking some mysterious skillz, since lots of knitters have cats and still seem to manage not to get their projects destroyed.
9. Don't try to be fancy all the time. Some yarns show texture well, some don't. Some yarns are so interesting (*coughNorocough*) that anything but the plainest stitch pattern detracts from them. Your project will look a lot better if you let the yarn dictate what you do with it, rather than trying to force your fancy idea on the yarn.
10. My favourite yarn for scarves is Manos. Unless there is cabling, two skeins makes a perfectly acceptable-size scarf (5" x 5.5'), and three skeins makes a very generous scarf. I have three staple scarf patterns that I use over and over with this yarn, and I'll share them here.
3-Skein Cartridge Belt Rib Scarf
Materials: 3 skeins Manos (I like to use 3 subtly different shades of the same color), size 10.5 needles. (Scarf will be 7-8" wide, depending on your gauge, and probably over 6' long.)
Scarf: Cast on 33 stitches with Color A. *Work 1 row Cartridge Belt Rib with Color B. Work 1 row Cartridge Belt Rib with Color C. Work 1 row Cartridge Belt Rib with Color A. Carry unused colors up the sides. Repeat from * until you run out of yarn (save some for fringe, if desired) or reach desired scarf length, ending with color C. Bind off with Color A. Attach fringe if desired.
Giant Cable Scarf
Materials: 4 skeins Manos in the same color. Size 10.5 needles. Spare 16" circular needle in size 10.5 to use as a cable needle (trust me, there is no other way to do a cable this huge).
Giant Cable Pattern (over 40 stitches):
Rows 1-22: (K1, p1) across.
Row 23: (K1, p1) twice, slip 16 sts onto "cable" needle, (k1, p1) 8 times from left needle, (k1, p1) 8 times from "cable" needle, (k1, p1) twice.
Repeat rows 1-23 for pattern.
Cast on 42 stitches (I prefer the alternate cable cast-on). Keep the first and last stitch of each row as a selvedge stitch (slip 1st st pwise, k last st), and work center 40 sts in Giant Cable pattern. Work until you run out of yarn or achieve desired length (save some yarn for fringe - this scarf looks funny without it), ending on row 19. BO all sts in pattern. Attach fringe.
Fibonacci Stripe Dr. Who Scarf
Materials: 4 skeins Manos in coordinating colors, size 10.5 needles.
Scarf: Use alternate cable cast-on (25 to 35 stitches, depending on desired width) and work in 1x1 rib throughout. Alternate colors in order A, B, C, D throughout. Alternate #rows in each stripe in order 3, 5, 8, 3, 13, 8, 21, 1, 2, 13, 1, 34, 21, 5, 2 throughout. Carry unused colors up the sides. Work until you run out of yarn (save some for fringe, if desired) or reach desired scarf length. Attach fringe if desired.
A note on fringe: I have always liked Julia's idea for fringe (just about the middle of the way down the page) the best.