textiles · exploration · misadventure

Some call it cheatin’: Answering knitting questions from comments


Hand-dyed blue-grey, bright pink, and apple green silk handkerchief.
A few days back, I got a super comment full of great questions from Casey over at Adoption =. Casey has an informative, funny, supportive, funny, painful, funny blog, and whether or not you have adoptive, foster, or birth children, if you check her out you just might enjoy her work.

Casey had this to say:

So…here we go. Enlighten me, because my mother in law tried to teach me to crochet many years ago. I managed a (very trapezoidal) baby blanket and a (pretty darn good) scarf. Then we got the kids, and I really haven’t done much yarn-related-self-improvement since. I’ve watched with longing as mothers crochet/knit away while their children play, and we’re getting to the point that I could do it (the hyenas are much less wild)…if I knew how. Probably time to take it back up.

CL: Here here. I wholeheartedly support all forms of textile addiction.

Is knitting better than crochet? Easier? Harder?

CL: I would not say one is better than the other. Some of us love both of them and it also depends on who you ask, and believe me, there is a war out there for some folks. I do more knitting than crochet, because it’s what I learned first and I know it better. It’s my default. But my favorite thing I ever made out of yarn is a granny square blanket for my bed.
If you want to talk watching the kids out of one eye while you do it, and you want to talk easier, you want to talk crochet. There are fewer musts. Crochet is cool. It’s kind of lawless and wild; you can stick that hook almost anywhere and come up with something fun. Knitting takes considerably more patience when you initially start learning, and it is persnickety. If you drop a stitch, dude, you’re f’d if you don’t find it and pick it up. It’s easy to miss stitches, or knit into the backs of them, or accidentally add one and end up with a triangular scarf. However, I do find it infinitely satisfying.
If you need a crochet refresher or basic knitting lessons, you can find pretty good ones for free on YouTube. You might have to hunt a bit through the less helpful to find the more helpful videos, but I basically learned to knit from YouTube, so you can too. Google “beginning knitting” or “beginning crochet” videos, and you will be on your way.

Where I come from, “hankies” are handkerchiefs, unless you’re referring to a hank of wool (which I think I’ve heard before) but I don’t usually keep piles of silk around. Can you explain that a little?

CL: Sure! So, yes, most people are familiar with the traditional hankie, the kind you blow your nose on. Mawata silk handkerchiefs for handspinning are something different.
The very best silk is actually kept for the garment industry, which means the handspinning market, which is very small, uses silk cocoons that are flawed in some way, still in long filaments, but unable to be reeled out into the mile-long strands that mills will use for spinning silk thread for cloth. (Nope, not kidding. Mile-long strands of a filament stronger than steel.)
These cocoons are prepared in several forms for the handspinning market, and these forms have several things in common: the cocoons are soaked to remove the seracin (a hardening agent the worm spins alongside, but not permanently bonded with, the silk). Then the worms are removed and the cocoons several (25-50? See the layers in the picture at top) of them are stretched, one at a time, over a form of some kind and dried in that shape.

Some forms are three-dimensional and shaped like bells or hats, and some are flat and square. The square ones are about the same size and shape as a traditional blow-yer-nose handkerchief, hence the handspinner’s name for them: silk handkerchief. Jayne's mawata

Jayne's mawata knitted
Photos courtesy of Jayne at See Jayne Knit Yarns over at Etsy, used with permission.
ps: I am dying of lust for these.

Knitters use these in the way I (sorta) described in my two Stephanie Pearl McPhee posts. Spinners use these by similarly attenuating them and adding twist to make yarn, or by blending them with other materials and spinning the blend into yarn.

If you convince me to knit instead of crochet, what are the absolute must-have basics? The best type of materials for a beginner?

CL: Having just knocked knitting above, you know, I love to knit. You’ll need two things: a set of needles and a ball of yarn.
Some people recommend starting with cheap yarn, which you can find at many pharmacies or drug stores. Personally, I recommend starting with wool, which is a little more expensive than the acrylic you’ll usually find at these stores. It’s easier on the hands because it has elasticity that acrylic doesn’t have, it looks nicer and you can admire it more as you go along, and when you’re done you might actually have a pot holder you can use, instead of one that will melt onto your hand when you pick up the kettle.

(Another reason acrylics aren’t recommended for households with children: they are not fireproof. They are anti-fireproof. They don’t catch fire—instead they melt violently onto skin, stick to it, and destroy it utterly. Because of this, acrylics used in baby clothes and blankets are, by law, heavily treated with fire retardant chemicals. Wool is a natural fire suppressant, which is why firemen use wool blankets. But I digress. Good thing you have those crackers.)
If you have a local yarn store near you, a trip there with or without your hyenas might be fun, and your shop folks could help you pick out something relatively inexpensive to start with, get you set up with needles or hooks, and give you help when you need it.

Many local yarn stores also have classes, if you want to dive deeper, or if you learn better in person rather than online. You won’t likely find this level of customer service at a Joanne’s or a Michael’s. These are great places for a bargain, but are not the same as a local yarn store, although, if that’s what you got in your town, you will likely find wool yarn there, and it will likely be inexpensive.

Per your post analogy…gimme some crackers! 🙂 (Please.)

CL: Casey, I hope you enjoyed your crackers. And thanks for letting me proselytize. God that felt good.

15 thoughts on “Some call it cheatin’: Answering knitting questions from comments

  1. Oh Lou,
    Thanks for this post and thanks to Casey too for asking these questions- I have been a knitter for about 35 years and a crocheter for about a year- I tried to learn crochet for about 30 years at least but could only succeed a year back- having learnt crochet, I can vouch for it that it is addictive. As to knitting of course, it holds a special place in my heart- I feel it follows rules and can be thought of as something traditional and crochet is something funky,cool and in fashion.


  2. Hi, Susie! Glad you liked the post. Casey asked some super questions, and I couldn’t not reply. I’m envious of your success with crochet. It IS funky and cool, and I just haven’t been able to devote time to it—pulled in too many directions by too many other things, my own fault. Thanks for your visit, and your great comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Okay, I don’t know why this made me laugh out loud: “you might actually have a pot holder you can use, instead of one that will melt onto your hand when you pick up the kettle.” It’s really not funny. Really. (Still giggling. I think something is wrong with me. Lack of sleep, perhaps…)

    In any case, THANK YOU so much for this! I love learning new things. You’ve also inspired me to pick those needles back up. Based on your advice, I’m going to head toward crochet, because my brain is seriously too full of other stuff. (Some of it might actually be stuffing, per my old Pooh books.) When the hyenas move out and I have time to think, knitting sounds like a fun “while we’re on our nth cruise this year” activity. Because after they move out, I will need cruises.

    Loved the post, and thanks so much for the link to my blog. Hugs!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Humor’s weird and a little unexplainable, right? That sentence was totally meant to be funny in a “voice of experience” kind of way. So glad this helps you get on the straight and narrow towards textile junkihood. And Just so you know? There are knitting cruises, I shit you not.

      Liked by 1 person

      • AHHH HAHA HA knitting cruises? I can just imagine the activity guide pulling out their hair. “Look, people, I totally GET that your project is fascinating but– freeze so you don’t drop a stitch, then LOOK UP. THERE. IS. A. WHALE. And also glorious mountains. No, wait, keep looking, just…oh, come on. You ALL just missed the iceberg that downed the Titanic!”


  4. Pingback: Today, I Feel…SPECIAL! | Adoption =

  5. Lovely post, Lou. Have tried to knit a few times, but as you say- it’s unforgiving. In the last few years I learnt to crochet from books- probably not the best technique, but I managed it.

    Have successfully made a blanket for my new nephew and a lovely blue/green number for my son. Didn’t edge my son’s as he keeps on growing and I thought I could add to it as he stretches!

    I was suffering from an anxiety disorder when I started crochet and found it just about the best therapy going- it’s meditation in wool form 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Couldn’t agree more with your “best therapy going; meditation in wool form.” Anxiety Disorder is pretty serious, and it says so much about crochet (and textile play in general, i think) that it is a profound help to you. I’m a firm believer that using our hands in creative ways feeds the human beings inside of us.

      And your thought to not edge your son’s blue/green job is brilliant.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. This may be a silly question, but what do you do while you knit or crochet? Sit quietly? Listen to music? Watch television? I know it’s said to relieve stress and anxiety (which is in part why I’m so curious), so I expect watching tv would un-zen the process. And since the idea of sitting quietly with yarn and needles or a hook makes me a tad uncomfortable, I’d say that may be even more reason for me to head to the nearest yarn store.


    • Not a silly question at all. A lot of people ask it. Mostly, I listen to audio books. I was a bigger reader before I started knitting, and I find you get different joys out of a book when someone reads it to you than you do while reading it. I find it just as valuable as reading. But if it’s knitting I need to really concentrate on, I don’t listen to anything; my entire brain is on the knitting. I’m not one of those people who can watch TV and knit, although I was known to knit in meetings at work before I was laid off. My colleagues knew I could knit and participate at the same time. During layoffs, big cheeses came from New York for meetings to tell us how we were helping the world and cheer us on to be great team players while they were crucifying our departments left and right. I knitted away while looking right at them. I liked to pretend I was Madame Defarge (and kind of hoped they sensed that).


  7. I just have never been able to GET knitting. Long long ago back in the dark ages I did teach myself to crochet. I specialize in making squares, or oblongs, and have managed to make scarves and hats forall my relatives. My two grandgirls in Minnesota always seem pleased with their annual scarf, maybe because it is cold where they live? I made their mom a big nice off-white afghan once, and crammed it I a box so it would jump out at her when she opened the package. She was not expecting the afghan and was really surprised…she still has that afghan on her living room couch.

    Once I bought a LOT of purple/black yarn, intending to make a full-length cape for myself. Nah…it just ended up being a few balls of re-wound yarn. My mother made one of those braided octopuses out of the blue and black yarn, put googly eyes on it. It’s a family heirloom now.

    Potholders are another of my specialties.

    I love to crochet, and always have a scarf under contruction….in the vicinity of my tv chair.


    • We all have our specialties, it’s true. I love that your grandgirls are pleased with their scarves. It means a lot to me when someone appreciates something I took time and effort to hand make for them. And it’s wonderful that the afghan is in obvious use!


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