Extreme knitting for the needle-adverse
I know, I know. This is a crochet blog, right? So what am I doing knitting? And why have I started on such a supersize scale? Read on, team, and I’ll tell you why I decided knitting wasn’t the devil’s work after all – and how I fared with those honking great Plump & Co needles.
Too legit to knit: why needles and I never got along
Ahhh crochet. The first craft I learned, and loved. The hook took me through good times and bad. Knitting was, to me, always too hard, too time-consuming, too weird. Admittedly, I liked the look of the finished product and I knew there were things knit typically did better than crochet, like achieving drape and fit. But doing it myself never really appealed. No way.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of why I actively disliked knitting:
Someone needed to love crochet: Sometimes crochet feels like knitting’s unloved frumpy sister. We've all had to point out IT'S NOT KNITTING at some point. There are twice as many knit patterns available on Ravelry. Ever been to a fibre craft show and been the only lonely crocheter in a tide of chatty knitters? So I felt it was my craftily duty to fly the treble flag and carve out a place for me and my kind in the wider crafting community.
Bad experience: I did try knitting once or twice. Someone gamely tried to show me the ropes, but neither my head nor my heart was in it. Then I did a workshop on Continental knitting, thinking that it would appeal to my crochet-trained hands. It didn’t. It made absolutely no sense (though I was REALLY good at casting on with a crochet hook). The rest of the class attendees – all seasoned knitters – were jauntily purling and shaping and binding-offing, and I was undoing my one miserable row once again. The teacher was perturbed by my yarn-holding technique. In hindsight, that class wasn’t a good fit for my level of expertise but the whole experience left me disgruntled and disillusioned.
Learning curve: I am already a proficient crocheter. I know the lingo, I love the process, it makes me feel adept and clever. I have a community. Knitting would take me right back to the beginning, to stumbling stitches and wonky misshapen unidentifiable things. I wanted, unreasonably, to be instantly awesome at knitting. Failure, or at least a long steep learning curve, was a scary prospect.
A big year
So that was where things sat for a while. Knitting didn’t matter because I had my hook and a lovely little crochet crowd on Instagram to cheer me on. And throw myself into crochet I did. Last year I packed in loads – publishing my book, releasing lots of new patterns, a wildly successful takeover of Simply Crochet's Instafeed, launching this blog and being nominated in the British Craft Awards for Crochet Designer of the Year 2019.
Phew. After all that I found myself... not burned out exactly, but pleased to have a lull of pressing projects. I took a leisurely stroll down the Ravelry crochet aisle but, oddly, no patterns leapt out and demanded I chain up. Unusual, I thought, but OK. Scrolling through the 'gram was feeling more like a chore than an exciting and inspirational prospect. The crojo had gone. My creative juices were low and in need of replenishing. But how?
Knit so scary after all
Against all expectations knitting has crept up on me. In subtle and sneaky ways. I’ve been finding myself saving more and more gorgeous knits, like this mindblowing "Disha" jumper by Lime Scented and this dreamy laceweight "Dawn" shawl by Grace Anna Farrow. I’ve been branching out in my Insta feed and started following clever knitters like Kate Davies (whose cable owl jumper I just can't get out of my head) and the joyfully colourful Dana @callmedwj. And hey, I'm kinda at capacity in terms of crochet jumpers.
AND THEN my wee son came home from school with this reader:
Sound advice, your Majesty.
It was the wake-up call I needed. The timing was right. I was up for a challenge, I wanted to upskill and I needed something to do with my hands. It was time to knit.
I wanted to start with something forgiving. Something that wouldn’t tell me I was holding my needles wrong or that my tension was criminally negligent. I’d seen the craze for supersize knitting heat up over the last couple of years. Plump & Co here in New Zealand has been a front-runner in the movement, supplying both chunky merino yarn and XL tools worldwide and all with an ethical and sustainable ethos I value. I'd worked with them before on supersize Christmas wreaths so I knew their yarn was divine. It was an excellent place to start.
Pony gets Plumptious
I wanted to embrace the whole extreme knitting thing so I decided to try the biggest needles Plump & Co offer: these ones are 45mm wide and almost a metre long. Yep, that should do it, I reckon. The yarn is Plump & Co's chunky merino 2-ply in White. It's soft and snuggly, with a beautiful drapey quality. It would make the squishiest, most comfortable blanket for Sunday morning sleep-ins. But I was getting ahead of myself. Better learn how to knit first.
The first problem I had was where to sit with these gigantic implements. I mean, they're longer than my arms. My initial thought was the sofa. No good, too narrow. The ends of the needles kept hitting the back. Anything with arms was out; goodbye, armchair. A stool meant I was doing all the heavy lifting myself. The bed it was then. And that worked really well. Spacious, supportive and conducive to a wee nap if it all got a bit much.
Plump & Co have lots of online support for newbies like me. The helpful casting-on video kick-started things and I was off. Jessica Kaufman’s lovely snappy How to Knit videos taught me the basic knit stitches. It was all a bit ungainly at first. Twice as many tools than I was used to, for a start. I felt awkward and unco. Blissfully, I didn't need to worry about uneven tension. On such a big scale, you're using everything you've got to wrangle the yarn where it needs to go; your needles/fingers/a fork/the cat. It's a wonderfully physical experience and you get plenty of opportunity to correct any stitches that bother you. Another brilliant thing about XXL yarn is that it all becomes rather sculptural. Rather than looking iffy, any wonky stitches add texture and personality to your project.
Which was fortunate. As it turned out, mistakes abounded. Additional stitches, dropped stitches and I-don't-even-know-what's-going-on-here stitches. I undid, redid, undid again, found loops in odd places, whacked them back on vainly hoping for the best and then tried again.
But it was fun. The supersize of this endeavour meant I was only ever dealing with 12 stitches per row, not 112. The yarn was soft and pliable enough that I could tweak my wayward lumps and bumps. It was easy to see how each stitch was formed and how it hung out with its neighbours. And that was about the time it clicked. All of a sudden, knitting made sense. The needles began to go clack-clack-clack, rather than donk-grind-*pause*-smash-*explete*. I understood the rhythm and I enjoyed it. Actually enjoyed it. Half an hour later, I had a thing! A proper big thing and one that I had knitted myself.
What to do with my big thing? Being a practical sort of filly, I elected to turn it into a cushion. I had an old cushion the right size but the wrong colour (too bright, too white and weirdly parrot-y) so I whipped up a quick cover using an old woolly baby blanket. Just hand-sewn, nothing fancy or particularly neat. Then I used a tapestry needle and thread to sew the seams of my knitting around the cushion. It was quick and easy.
And then, my friends, it was done:
If you don't know what you're doing, learning to knit supersize is a great way to start. You can see how the mechanics of knitting works and come to understand the movements. You can easily fine-tune your technique later for smaller-sized projects.
I can see now my prior misgivings about knitting were misplaced. It's nice now being bistitchual. I can nod enthusiastically at the next yarnfest when the knitters get deep-and-meaningful about dropped stitches. Ohhh, I can intone, I know. Of course, there is still bucketloads for me to learn. And that's a good thing: now a learning curve is exciting and invigorating. I think I've finally overcome my knit angst. Crochet will always be what I do and love (fear not!) but there just might be room in my life for knitting needles as well. Even ones as big as these.
Friends, I would LOVE to hear from you on this one. Have you, like me, been scared to try something new? Are you firmly monostitchual or do you like to mix it up? Have you found a new passion in an unexpected place? Tried extreme knitting? Do please share your experiences in the comments below (you'll need to sign up to do so but it's fairly painless).
Yarn and needles kindly supplied by Plump & Co, after I approached them to let me have a play. All views are my own; I don't hawk stuff that I wouldn't recommend to my mother.