Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How To Get More Machine Knitting Done, While Having More Fun

Here are some tips for getting more machine knitting done (please note:  I DID NOT say knit faster):

1.  Knit every day, even if it's only twenty minutes.  I am serious about this - I sometimes only crank one sock, but I do try to knit every day that I'm not out for the evening, and I work full-time.  The more I knit, the better I knit; the better I knit, the more fun it is.

2.  Once you get a great pattern, knit the smithereens out of it!  This is a simple but dazzlingly effective strategy to get the most out of your machine, long before you are an expert..  I have several friends who knit amazing amounts for charity, and every one of them manages it by using favorite patterns over and over.  Those patterns are absolutely mastered, yet they avoid boredom by changing the colors, stitch pattern, or some other aspect.

One of the blog readers has "gone to town," as my grandma used to say, with the Circular Swirl Baby Blanket.  She's knitting it in 4-ply yarn for grownups, she's knitted it in various colors and sizes

I knit a lot of socks, because my extended family loves my good-quality socks.  It doesn't really matter how tired I am, I can knit a sock and feel better.

A few years ago, I designed a thread lace afghan, worked on it until I was completely satisfied with it,  then bought piles of cones of white chenille and white wooly nylon (for the thread), then knitted that beautiful afghan for each of my four siblings for Christmas.

3. If you want to make clothing, master your tracing device.  Just last week I was wearing a 10-year-old sweater I made with Millor Andino, a short-sleeved, jewel-necked shell, and I got several compliments.  I hadn't worn it in ages because I got too big for it a few years ago, but now I have slimmed down enough to wear it.  I made that garment shape over and over, using my old Knitleader with different yarns and stitch patterns, because it was so practical to wear a short-sleeved top to work with slacks or a skirt.  This one is off white with a lace pattern in the yoke only, but I've also made it with cables down the front and a puffier sleeve, with a hand-transfer design down the front, with a diagonal lace yoke, with cables all over, and I don't know what else.  Once I got the "roadmap" to fit, every single version fit.

4.  Make swatches ahead of time.  I like to "play" with a new cone of yarn, knit swatches until I get a stitch pattern I like for it, and then make the gauge swatch, block and launder it for later.  It gets that whole time-consuming process out of the way even while I'm still working on something else.

5.  Attend a knit club, or do Ravelry, or somehow have buddies with whom you share your progress.  I don't know how many months I set the goal of having a project done in time for the Knit Natters meeting!  Somehow, being with the other knitters, seeing what they're doing, and having that soft deadline really kicks me into gear, and I know several of my friends feel the same way.  Pat Tittizer is working on the most amazing hand knit Entrelac sampler afghan, with all different squares (nope, sorry, I didn't take a picture yet because it's unfinished and because I'm an idiot for not taking pictures Saturday, but I will try and get one next month). Well, it jump-started me - I went home and played with Entrelac on the bulky machine for a few hours, and am well on my way to making a unique demo out of it.

Of course, now that I have the blog and videos I've gone completely bonkers and am doing more than ever.  It's the flow of ideas from the other blogs, the readers, the photos people send, and the wonderful questions kicking up my motivation and imagination!

The sew-as-you-go sock I wrote is a great little pattern, and I came up with it because several people asked for a sock that did not require a sock machine, or even a ribber. I tried an idea, and it worked. The short-rowed baby hat happened partly because a commenter had me thinking about baby hats.  I got the idea for this post from several people remarking lately that they wonder how I get so much knitting done...

6.  Try small fast projects, like hats, slippers, socks, mittens, pillows, and scarves.  The ribber scarves I've been working up (I hope it turns into a book and DVD set) will be single-evening patterns, in fact, things you can make after a day at work.

7.  Know when to walk away from a loser project.  If you're sick and disgusted with the project, you could use a break, at the very least.  This is supposed to be fun!  If the project is going very badly, maybe it's not practical - the wrong yarn, the wrong machine, mistake-ridden instructions, a nagging sense that it won't fit, or maybe too difficult or tedious for your knowledge level or your temperament.  Take a day when you're psyched up - remember, your time is valuable, God loves you, and your dear ones want you to be a happy person - and dump your older loser UFOs (unfinished objects).  Maybe they're good enough for the thrift store, or maybe there's a handicrafts consignment store or yarn shop in your town that can lead you to a person who will finish some for you.  Maybe they belong in the trash, or unraveled.

Back in school, we all used school supplies and valuable time to practice the skills we were learning, like writing or working math problems.  You can look at those LOSER UFOs as valuable practice, but make them history now so you can move on.  Let's not leave these UFOs in our way, using up our living space.

If your UFO is a complete loser, it may not be your fault at all!  Some patterns are losers. One reason I discipline myself to do videos of the patterns I put out there for beginners is that I'm showing you that it is a practical pattern.  I abandoned a couple of ideas midway because I didn't want to inflict them on anybody.  Maybe your pattern has such skimpy directions that you can't follow it, or is simply too difficult or tedious for you, or maybe the pattern is only pretty on a beautiful model standing in an odd position so as to hide the cuffs or with safety pins in the back to hide a fitting problem.

8.  Find your favorite yarns.  I almost didn't include this, since if you're doing all these things, you will have found favorite yarns along the way.  Let me just lay it on the line:  your favorite yarns and mine will be different!  For instance, I like to machine wash things, so I don't use a lot of fancy fibers.  On the other hand, there are some natural fibers I consider a total treat, and I turned completely green when Pat remarked at Knit Natters that she got a whole carload of alpaca cheaply one weekend!

I never heard anyone else say Millor Andino was a favorite yarn, but I only used it twice, and both those sweaters lasted through years of systematic neglect and mistreatment.  They got thrown into the family wash, machine washed, tumbled dry, and thrown onto a hanger.  Yes, that yarn was very synthetic feeling, but it sure did hold up for a busy mom.

Reynolds Kitten used to be a favorite hand knitting yarn for me and my customers, because it felt soft and natural, it had a little fluff, and it washed and dried beautifully.

9.  Knit for charity.  How can you dwell in the dumps when you are genuinely helping someone else?  It seems quite impossible to knit for charity without helping yourself.

There are so many wonderful charities that could use your help!  A friend at church, who works at a hospital, told me that the donated knitted blankets are the only ones a lot of the new moms have.  Two knit club friends knit like crazy for a Native American tribe in very cold country - every bit of it is wool, usually thick wool.  Crisis pregnancy centers are looking for pretty baby things for the new moms.  Our local Junior League collects warm clothing for an annual "Coats for Kids" drive, and there's probably something like it in your community. People with cancer need hats. Guideposts magazine collects T-sweaters (there's a pattern or two you can use for that project on this blog).  Struggling with gauge?  Well, a child's charity sweater given to your local kids' shelter or home will fit one of the kids!

10.  Do a knit-along with friends - like everyone making an afghan square, or everyone making the same project.  Again, you get that friendly symbiosis going.

Whew, lots of ideas, hope one or two is useful for you.


  1. What a great down-to-earth list of ideas.

    Walking away from a UFO is very difficult for me, as I feel I've let myself down, but you are so right! Some projects can only be chalked up to experience.
    I have a Knitleader for my machine, but I'm intimidated by it. I'll have to get it out and learn it. Not just for sweaters either. I was actually hoping to put everyone's footprint on one so I could knit socks that were the perfect length for everyone!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Check out where she decides to take apart a disappointing Norwegian sweater and do something else with it. An inspiration to me!

    I do need to do some Knitleader lessons, just having trouble getting to it. Why not practice it with a child size, or a even a large doll? Or youself, of course. I think having templates for everyone is a terrific idea. With a little scrounging, you can find extra mylar sheets.

    Have you tried my socks? In the circular sock book, I charted them for 12 sizes - that's baby to Mr. Tall. I have decided that the socks everyone in my family prefers are made with hand knitting sock weight yarn, so I use the same yarns over and over and have few gauge problems.

  3. Diana, my favorite pattern to knit is a raglan sleeve pullover with stripes. I knit for the women's shelter here in town & take a big box of children's sweaters over there a couple of times a year. My DD recently dropped one off for me & she said "don't you ever make anything but raglan's with sripes??" (she knows I do) Hearing you say to "knit the smithereens out of it" was food for my soul. I sometimes feel guilty for making the same sweater over & over, but will never again feel that way. Just knowing that other knitters feel the same about their favorite patterns encourages me. Thx Sheryl

  4. Good for you, Sheryl! Raglans fit almost everyone well, and stripes make them more fun for kids.
    You may make that sweater over and over, boring your daughter, but for the little kid who gets it, it's a brand new, warm sweater handmade just for him. For some of the charities we give to, the recipient has so little that one sweater makes a big difference.