What I learned from failing with my first knitting project

It is painful to write this post but I feel I must.  Part confessional; part advisory, this is what I got horribly wrong in my first knitting project. I bare all and there are pictures too.  Health warning over, here’s the deal.

My first project was a cowl: 55 stitches wide and 60cm long.  It called for alternate rows of knitted and purled stitches. Simple stuff but for the beginner, wrought with hazard. I produced a monster that is over a metre long and varies in width from 55 to 104 stitches, including holes and lumps at variable points.  It is horrible but it taught me a lot so this is why I swallow my pride and share this horror.

Here are the pitfalls that I tumbled into, some of them technical and some of them emotional or circumstantial.  At any rate, I hope they prove useful to other beginners.

1.  Twisting the yarn – I did this again and again: you forget whether you are knitting or purling and you twist the yarn the wrong way over the needle.  It results in a tight twisted knot of a stitch that you don’t always notice until you come back to it a row later.  Solution: concentrate and think about what you are doing and which stitch you are on. If you think you’ve gone wrong unravel the stitch and do it again.

2.  Yarn over – classic newbie problem – so angst-ridden about dropping a stitch, if you forget where you are mid-row you might try to knit an extra stitch between two by looping the yarn back and knitting through it.  I did this many times and it resulted in holes and extra stitches that inadvertently ‘increased’ the piece.  In fact I managed to double the width of my cowl by doing this.  Solution: focus on each stitch, notice how it completes and relax about dropping stitches.  If you find a loop that is not a stitch in a subsequent row, don’t try to make it into a stitch, just loop it onto the right needle and carry on.

3. Dropped stitch – horror of horrors: you DID IT. Breathe. Solution: Can you get the loop back onto the needle? If not, use a crochet hook or a stitch fixer to pull it back up in the next row. Correct this one as soon as you can because the more rows that you knit before fixing it, the harder it gets.

4. Knotting – only one vowel’s difference but a world away in concept.  Do not be tempted to tie up holes or use knots to fix things: THEY WILL COME UNDONE.  Solution: for dropped stitches see above; for finishing things off, leave a long tail of yarn and weave it back through the previous stitches.  That will be much more secure and (almost) invisible.

5. Casting off with blithe abandon – I failed to cast off the first time I tried so I had to add another row to try again, meaning less yarn for the final sewing together. Solution: allow more left over yarn than you think you need.

6. Leaving your brain somewhere else – knitting can be relaxing but sometimes it needs concentration and if it does, your brain needs to be present.  My worst mistakes happened when I was preoccupied with other things, too stressed, had had a glass (or two) of wine or was simply in the wrong frame of mind.  Solution: approach your project ready to focus and think about what you are doing so you get the best out of it, both for the project and your own mental and emotional benefit.

7. Complacency – early on (at least after 30cm or so) I realised things were not going well: I’d increased width from 55 to 104 stitches, incorporated holes, lumps and at least one knot.  I should have called time and unravelled the lot and started again but I carried on.  Mistake: it won’t get any better.  Solution: Just step away from the disaster zone and start again.  Good yarn deserves better. 

There, I’ve done it and shared my shame.  Cowl Mk I bites the dust but cowl Mk II will be better and it will deserve that anonymous alpaca’s turquoise locks if its the last thing I do.

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