As a child of the ’70s, yarn was among my favorite playthings. There was a lot of crochet in my childhood. A lot of macramé. God’s eyes, pompoms, hours upon hours of cat’s cradle. Even the occasional latch-hook rug. (I remember one particular latch-hook Santa kit that I begged my mother to buy me for a long car trip. She resisted mightily, certain I would lose interest before I finished it, but gave in. I don’t think I got through a fourth of it. Sorry, Mom.) I knew the basics of knitting — taught, I imagine, by the same neighbor lady who must have shown me crochet — and I even had a pair of ugly green aluminum needles, but never took to it. I think it was too fussy for me, the needles versus the hook. I lost interest in crochet sometime around junior high.
For a decade or more, I’ve been saying I was going to learn to knit, for real, while resisting it at the same time — thinking i’d love it and it would be expensive and a time suck. Last year my husband and I moved to a place where, for the first time in several years, I would not have a garden to occupy me, and I told myself I would learn to knit. I did some research on Google and found a place in Berkeley that taught knitting but wasn’t a yarn store, which sounded great. But still I didn’t go, all my time and attention occupied by my high-tech job.
Then earlier this year we went to visit friends in Nashville, a family we’re very close to. The mother and daughter (Jo and Meg) are both avid, very skilled knitters. We arrived to find Jo on her deck, knitting as always. I picked up a book she had sitting around and began flipping through it, and it was a catalyst — there were at least a half dozen things in it I simply had to know how to make.
“Jo, I swear I’m going to find that place again and go learn how to knit this winter. And then you’re going to tell me which of these things I can make first.”
She looked at me and said flatly, “Little Meg can teach you knit in 20 minutes when she gets home.”
The book was Joelle Hoverson’s “More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts” and that night Meg cast on a first project for me — the Pointy Elf Hat on the cover, in red, which I finished the next day. Those two friends — and that book — may actually have changed my life.
Anyway, I promptly bought the book, read the author bio and learned that Hoverson is the owner of Purl Soho, a store I was in several years ago with friends who knit. I sat there patiently while they shopped, looking around at all the yarn, wishing I knew how to knit and being thankful I did not, given how broke I was at the time. And I found that Purl Soho, as you probably well know, has a fantastic blog called The Purl Bee, full of all kinds of lovely patterns and ideas.
Which brings me to the point of all of this: The Big Herringbone Cowl. Designed by Whitney Van Nes, pictured at left above. I don’t know what it is about this cowl but it instantly became a sort of holy knitting grail for me. After I’d finished just a couple of projects, I attempted this one and failed quickly. I’ve been a knitting machine in the meantime, even trying my hand at some lace stuff, and have since successfully done a large swatch of the herringbone stitch with a bulky yarn, just to get the hang of the stitch. But I still can’t do it with the big needles and the little alpaca without my nice cast-on edge turning to chaos once I start knitting. But eventually I’ll get it. Meanwhile, I’m fixated on what I imagine the density and texture of it to be, and want it around my neck, so I’ve settled on a stand-in: The Honey Cowl by Madeline Tosh. That’s my work in progress on the right above. It’s going well, far from finished and delayed by Christmas-gift knitting, so I’ll pick it up again in the new year. Maybe by the time I finish it, I’ll be ready to try the herringbone again.
PHOTOS: Left: The Purl Bee; Right: Karen Templer/Yarnover.me
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Oh how I love this post! The story of how you learned, and what motivated you to learn is wonderful. I learned from a DVD I found at the library, late in 2010. Now, I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. I love it.
I have the same herringbone neckwarmer on my list of things to try. It’s gorgeous! I’ve been putting it off because the stitch looked so tricky to me. Maybe now that I’m making more time for knitting I should finally give it a shot.
And the honey cowl is so pretty Karen! I love the yarn and color you’ve chosen. It’s adorable. I do understand what you mean about the slipperiness of the thin alpaca though. I can’t wait to see it when it’s done.
I’ve done that herringbone stitch for practice in the meantime, using a bulky yarn, and didn’t have the same problem at all — the problem being the cast-on stitches turning into a giant mess when I knit the first round. But I’ve had a big “duh!” moment since the last time I tried it. I bought the yarn and attempted this when I’d been knitting for about 10 minutes and knew nothing whatsoever about the weight classifications of yarn. I’ve still never seen Blue Sky Worsted, but when I asked for it at my nearby yarn store (my first time in), the girl sold me this alpaca instead — the one seen in the Honey Cowl. I’m guessing it’s significantly thinner than the BSW, and that’s probably at least half my problem right there. So I’ll try it again sometime soon, with something the intended weight, and with a whole lot more knitting experience under my belt.
I don’t imagine you’d have any trouble with it, Sarah.
Thanks Karen. I’ll try it on some stash first to see how it goes then order the Blue Sky Alpaca, which I’ve never seen either. But I do have a Jimmy Beans Wool coupon burning a hole in my pocket sooooo :) this might be the right time. I wish the local shop had it.
Laura from The Purl Bee sent me a link to this article and I have to say I think it’s the sweetest thing I’ve read about More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. Thank you so much! Let us know if you need any help on the herringbone cowl! Best wishes, Joelle
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