Sooo, apparently knitting has “rules”. Not in sense of an enormous, and growing, collection of techniques, but in sense of “knitting right”. I was just enlightened via social media, at the ripe age of thirty (ekhem, and a bit, good bit) and after years of knitting. Funnily enough the virtual crochet crowd seems to be more embracing of total anarchy and crochet up and down, left and right, patternless, freeform and in all possible ways a creative mind can imagine.
So I went to investigate what these “rules” might be. Because as far as I’m concerned knitting means pulling some string through loops of string with help of two sharpish sticks and making a piece of jersey fabric out of the said string. How exactly it’s done, which tools and materials – that’s down to individuals and inventiveness, knowledge of loads of different ways of doing so as well as uniqueness are to be admired. At least in my book.
My investigation was not fun. I decided I don’t like so called knitting rules, not at all. Of course everyone has stuff they do because they like it, know how to do it or it’s at their level of craft. But there is a huge difference between practicing the craft in the way we like to, or know to, and transporting what is personal experience into an expectation that everyone is doing the same thing. And telling them off if they don’t. There is a bottomless chasm of difference between: “this is the way I do it” and “this is the right way of doing it and you are doing it wrong (even if it works fine)”.
I also think we learn arbitrary rules someone somewhere decided to select for the ease of teaching, or communication, but these crafting rules are to be questioned, stretched, pushed, ignored and broken when it makes sense. And really, very few things we learn in knitting are always true, regardless of circumstances. We learn starting with several basic techniques, but if we got told that this particular technique or method is the only right way, it affects the learner’s knitting path, sometimes for years. I wouldn’t be happy about it, not at all.
So here are some of these rules and myths floating somewhere in the Internet, on Youtube, Facebook groups and what’s most worrying – in knitting classes and tutorials.
You are supposed to knit right to left It is true this is how most people learn how to knit. This is how most knitting traditions developed, however there are countless knitters, mostly left handed, but also some right handed ones, who knit left to right. Sometimes the reversed direction of knitting is called “mirror knitting” and guess what – there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Yes, taking into consideration the convention, and I’m using the word convention absolutely deliberately, in pattern writing, these knitters need to do some term reversals (a good example would be swapping ssk and k2tog) and considering direction of the cables when following written out patterns, but it’s the result of English pattern terminology, not anything inherent in knitting that would prevent knitting in the opposite direction.
NEVER work a knot in your knitting. Really? There are loads of ways of joining yarn. Loads and loads of ways. They all have their applications and what may not be suitable for a lace shawl would be perfect for a sturdy seamed sweater. What’s so wrong with putting a neat secure knot in a knit which is likely to get heavy wear, for instance a child’s jumper, and hiding it in the seam? And what about yarns so smooth that no matter how much twisting and twining you do, they are likely to come undone? I don’t like holes in my knitting, thank you very much, so in situations when alternative joins are not secure enough, I tie a knot and conceal it. Shoot me for not being a purist.
Always wrap the yarn in the “correct” way. Wrapping yarn in the “wrong” direction causes the knitting to curl. This is a total myth. Curling of the work is connected with a particular stitch and the fact that the vast majority of yarns are spun, meaning that they have a natural twist to them, and when worked this twist affects how stitches lie. Apart from that, there is no wrong direction of wrapping the yarn when knitting. Depending how they were taught, people wrap or pick yarn clockwise or counterclockwise and both of these directions are equally good, effective and useful in knitting. In fact I always encourage knitters I teach or mentor to try wrapping in both directions using several different motions to see what feels best. People have natural preferences and their work will look best if they work with these preferences, but stockinette swatch will always curl for reasons entirely different than the knitting motions they choose to use.
Always knit in front of the stitch for straight, untwisted stitches. This is an interesting one. It’s more related to how most of us understand and read knitting, not the statement itself. Most people understand the “front of the stitch” as the part of the stitch which is sitting in front of the needle, like illustrated on the first photo. This is how most native English speaking knitters tend to put their stitches on the needle most of the time so for them front of the stitch equals front of the needle. Technically, however, the front of the stitch can be either in front of the needle or behind the needle, like on the second illustration. Knitting into front or leading LEG of the stitch, whether it is in front or back of the needle, does indeed always produce a straight, untwisted stitch. However, knitting into the part of the stitch sitting in front of the needle, may produce a twisted stitch. It is not an error, it results from not fully understanding what front, or leading leg, of the stitch, actually is and how it behaves in knitting.
Stitches with the leading (right) leg of the stitch behind the needle are twisted. No, they aren’t. I wrote about it here and here. Putting the stitch with the leading leg behind the needle is perfectly ok and the feeling that somehow it’s wrong comes from lack of exposure, not a technical knitting fact. English speakers, even those very experienced ones, may not have seen this mount in practice since these knitters speak Russian, or Polish, or Bulgarian, or Spanish (and many others!) and exist in parallel knitting world, both geographically and virtually. Dominance of English language and American knitters in knitting social media circles created perception that one way is better than the other or that only one way is actually correct. In reality both mounts have been made equal and no knitting tradition is more correct than the other. Knitters can knit in any manner they are comfortable, regardless where they live and who taught them. If they want to knit a plan stocking (stockinette) stitch and do get there happily than however they mount the stitch, hold the needle, hold the yarn, do it fast, do it slowly – it’s all good.
Always slip the first stitch without working it. Well, yes, sometimes. Depending what edge you want to achieve, slipping the first stitch is one of a very useful techniques. But there is nothing wrong in working the first stitch either, especially if you are trying to create an edge which then can be invisibly seamed to another piece of work. Slipping the first stitch may then be the wrong choice, creating visible holes.
Always block your knits. I’m a huge fan of blocking. I love the moment when I pin my knit and admire its finished glory, feeling the warm glow of satisfaction and pride, especially if I just finished my own design. But there are items which really don’t benefit from blocking. Like stuffed toys, for instance. Kids scrunchies. Furry and fuzzy collars, which are best left alone, just lightly patted and laid out after the first wash.
Never block acrylic. There seems to be a huge controversy about acrylic. The fact is that wet blocked acrylic may not block, so the immediate conclusion is that blocking doesn’t work with synthetics. However, gentle steam blocking does wonders for acrylic knits and most definitely does work. There is a detailed description what to do in this blog post from BeadKnitter Gallery.
Always rewind the yarn into a ball before using it. There are many advantages of winding your yarn, especially if you are working with expensive yarns, are concerned about colours or knots. I wrote about it here. But there are plenty of yarns which are just fine to work from the ball, aren’t knotted, feed your work with perfect tension, don’t fall apart or tangle, or even have arrived already wound up for you by the seller. You do have to rewind yarns which come in large loose shapes reminding me of a pretzel stick or you’ll end up with a huge tangle of yarn, but that’s about it. Winding is a personal choice, like so many things in knitting.
For a stretchy cast-on, use two needles held together. That’s one of very few things I tell people not to do. Using two needles together when casting on makes very few cast on techniques looser, but it also makes them uneven and sloppy. The examples would be chain cast on and thumb cast on. For all cast ons which use two strands, using two needles just creates a big, loose, unattractive first row and does little to help with elasticity of the edge. There are a number of very elastic cast ons, among others the Latvian cast on, the provisional cast on, the provisional crochet cast on, Jeny’s surprisingly stretchy slipknot cast on and many others, designed specifically to avoid the single strand strangling the knit at the edge. All such cast ons are a better choice for a knit which requires cast on elasticity.
Always swatch before knitting. I have confession to make. Sometimes I don’t swatch. (Hangs the head in shame, awaiting expulsion from the Serious Knitters’ Club). For knits where exact finished size doesn’t matter that much, like baby blankets, shawls and scarves, I just don’t swatch and if I’m unhappy with the needle and yarn match after 2 or 3 cm of knitting I go back and cast on again in adjusted needle size. For yarns I’m using a lot I just know which needle size to use to the best effect. I do swatch when I’m designing shaped garments and need exact measurements in each stitch after blocking, but equally often I use another knit, like a blanket or scarf, as a swatch. It’s a great, useful tool for figuring out how the yarn will work in your finished item but, as with almost everything in knitting, there are situations when it’s required, situations when it’s useful and situations when it’s an optional nice to have.
Never use hot water on wool. The dyers know that this isn’t correct. The dyeing process uses heat to infuse the wool with dye and the process itself doesn’t cause felting. Felting is a result of agitation. Heat helps with that, opening the scales covering each strand, but without agitation heat alone will not felt your wool.
Wool means every yarn and there is little difference apart from price. The term “wool” applies only to the fiber spun from sheep fleece. Sometimes it is stretched to apply to hair grown by other animals, like goats or llamas, but this isn’t exactly correct. The term does not cover plant and synthetic fibers, even though some people may use it colloquially. All types of yarns have very distinctly different properties, wool being a wonderful, natural, renewable, elastic, breathable, antibacterial and flame retardant product which can take high volume of moisture and still be very warm. Plant and synthetic fibers have very different properties to wool in knitting and wear. Higher cost of wool production means that in general wool is more expensive than synthetic alternatives, however comparing the two is really like trying to find similarities between a Sachertorte in a Michelin star restaurant and a Mars bar. Here is a link to the British Campaign for Wool, an initiative aimed at raising awareness of properties of wool and distributing information about this wonderful material.
Acrylic is hypoallergenic. It is true that acrylic yarns don’t contain some of the allergens inherent to wool, like lanolin, or used in production of wool yarn – like wool specific dyes. Saying that what sometimes is taken as an allergic reaction may also be a reaction of sensitive skin to scales on wool. Acrylic, being a man made fiber, does not have scales, like wool, however some types of acrylic may may have microscopic sharp edges, which still can irritate sensitive skin and by doing so surprise knitters or garment wearers. In case of true allergies – it really is a hugely individual matter. Some people are actually allergic to some element of wool fiber and other protein fibers, plant fibers and synthetics are a very good alternative for them. Some people may be allergic to something entirely different, with skin rashes or eczema being some of the symptoms. In case of skin irritations acrylic and other non-breathable synthetics may not be the best choice and cause further irritation. The fiber which consistently seems to be truly friendly to hypersensitive skins and skin allergy sufferers is silk, organic bamboo and organic cotton-bamboo blend following some distance after.
Wool causes allergies in babies and needs to be always avoided. As everything we put on our babies and everything we feed them, it is a question of caution, trial and error. Baby skin is very sensitive, and absolutely – a baby can react to a wool garment. But so can it be any other fiber, be it plant, synthetic or protein yarn. Personally I dress my kids in superwash merino and use merino silk blends for blankets with no allergic reactions but added comfort of buttery soft, breathable yarn with perfect temperature and moisture control and flame retardant properties.
“Baby soft” acrylic is the only material suitable for baby and children’s knits. As a mum of 3 very young children I understand the pain of sinking under the mountain of family laundry. But even with the thorough understanding of the sisyphean task of washing, drying and putting away the same clothes over and over, often after only couple of hours wear, I don’t ever use acrylics on babies and children and firmly believe acrylic is not a suitable fiber for childrenswear at all, commercially mass produced or hand made. Yes, they can be machine washed, but so can most other plant fibers and superwash wools. Apart from the maintenance aspect, and more importantly so, acrylics have very poor temperature and moisture control properties and are highly flammable. While we don’t think that fire accidents would ever affect anyone we know or ourselves, unfortunately they do happen and an acrylic garment can cause horrible, extensive injuries due to fiber melting and burning. We had an awful, freak scare recently when a total stranger threw a brightly burning cigarette into my daughter’s buggy. An acrylic blanket could have ignited on contact. It is not a particularly comfortable subject for many knitters to write about, as most would be afraid to be branded intolerant yarn snobs, the fact is that every parent should make decisions what they put on their kids with full information available of risks and potential issues involved. While sold in a wide range of nursery friendly colours, for this knitter acrylic is the worst available, risky choice for children, with plant based alternatives available in similar price range and protein fibers used for items with a longer life, like blankets.
Continental knitting is the same as German knitting. Continental knitting simply means holding yarn in the left hand when knitting right to left. German knitting is just one possible form of continental knitting, with a specific yarn hold and one of many versions of purl stitch possible. There are many variations of continental knitting, with various yarn holds, ways of working the knit stitch and even more ways of working the purl stitch. I’m preparing a separate post on different knitting methods, so watch this space.
Continental knitting is much faster than English knitting. While English wrapping while letting go of the right needle can be a slow enough process, many English method knitters knit very fast and either wrap without letting go of the needle, or flick. Conversely, some continental knitters keep the yarn very far away from the work, use the thumb or one of the fingers for wrapping. Both methods can be slow or fast, depending on the skill, experience and particular set of motions used. Miriam Tegels, who is the world’s fastest knitter according to the Guiness Book of Records, is a Dutch Continental Knitter. She hand knitted 118 stitches in one minute at the Swalmen Townhall, Netherlands, on 26 August 2006. However, in 2008 a Scottish woman, Hazel Tindall, won the International Championship for the World’s Fastest Knitter, knitting 262 stitches in under 3 minutes. Hazel is an English “flicker”, who wraps her stitches using the right index finger. Which shows you that whichever way you knit, if it’s done with smooth, small and soft movements, you can knit fast. Or not, if you don’t want to be quick but enjoy the process instead.
If you enjoyed this post, have comments, questions or anything else you would like to add, I’d love to hear from you! Have you learned any of these “rules” when learning to knit? Have you encountered any interesting myths? Write a comment if you have.