Saturday, 26 December 2009

Not Knitting but Looking

I have an aim to be as wardrobe self-sufficient as possible, by which I mean making almost everything that I wear, and this aim is becoming increasingly important to me. But the more I think about this aim, the more it also becomes clear that, even for the most creative of peops in possession of a huge quantity of mad-skills, to be wardrobe self-sufficient is a very difficult task. For example, there are always going to be some types of garments that peops find a doddle to make (usually through many attempts and lots of practice) and those that they tend to avoid because they appear an impossibility. As I'm sure I have previously reported, for me knitwear is one such Achilles heal.
At present all my jumpers and cardigans are either ones that I bought previous to my initial Wardrobe Refashion pledge or are second hand, with the one notable exception of my first cut and sew jumper attempt which I wrote about here. However, one day I would love to learn to knit to add a further set of skills to my wardrobe creating abilities.

I must admit that there have always been three main issues that have put me off learning to knit. The first is an impression formed by watching my mum battle with knitting projects in the past: it seems that you often spend days on end knitting then trying on a sleeve or even get as far as having stitched fronts and backs together, and if there is a bad fit, masses of unravelling commences followed by many more days or re-knitting whole pieces. One of the things I like about sewing garments is that you can have mid-way fittings which you can respond to if necessary by performing small nips in here or letting out there or realigning this or that, before you get too far, thus preventing an unwearable garment or MASSES of unpicking and remaking. Maybe this concern is just a prejudice born out of a lack of knowledge, and perhaps fitting knitwear is something that needn't be such a headache?

My second concern is that is seems incredibly expensive if you want to use any wool that isn't a cheap synthetic ball of hideousness. It would be awesome to find old jumpers that can be unravelled and the wool re-used, but don't the original jumpers also have to have been hand-knitted to be able to do this? Sadly there appears to be some obvious limitations to this practice.

My third issue was that I rarely saw any styles of hand-produced knitwear that particularly appealed, since those hand-knitted cute 1940's cardigans that I like to imagine overflowed from the wardrobes of our grans and greatnans. I'm a massive fan of hand-knitted hats, scarves, gloves and mittens, but the examples of actual hand-knitted garments that I see in wool shops are rarely anything I would actually like to be seen in. Would I have to hunt down precious vintage knitting patterns if I took up knitting? Keen to be proved wrong and shown some current knitting patterns that I would be happy to wear it was time to do some research. It didn't take me long to discover some whilst checking out the fabulous Drop Stitches Not Bombs blog. The talented author is a true inspiration and her beautiful, and most importantly, wearable Audrey cardigan post led me to this company. It would appear that they have some seriously desirable options available, the pictures in this post hold testament to that (click on each image to be linked).

Now don't get me wrong. I don't want any knitters reading this to be under the illusion that I think knitting is a piece of piss and I'll be whipping up fabulous cardi's like it ain't no thang. I know that learning to knit is going to be a long, difficult and very much on-going task, even though I did a bit of knitting whilst at university (I recall making some not too terrible stripey mittens). So I guess I'm a false-beginner, as language teachers might say (i.e, you once had a bit under you belt but have since forgotten it all). I know that it's going to take a long time to acquire the skills to produce these garment patterns, but my discovery of their existence is certainly extra motivation.


Anonymous said...

I'm a longtime sweater knitter who's learning to sew (in order to make more of her own wardrobe) so I know what you mean about it being intimidating to take up a new craft! I don't think fitting knitwear is hard exactly... just remember that knitting stretches, and choose a bust size that is either the same or slightly smaller than your actual measurement. As for the cost, well... there are places to get deals on quality yarn. I like - their own line of yarns are uniformly excellent and dirt cheap! is a standard, and I have used many of their yarns. And then WEBS ( often has excellent closeout prices on discontinued lines, and volume discounts if you spend a certain amount (they are having their winter sale right now.) You picked out some cute patterns - I love Twist Collective! Interweave Knits magazine is also nice, as well as Rowan (they are more fashion forward.) Good luck with your knitting endeavors!

Clare said...

It's funny, I have the exact same feelings as you, but the other way around! Fitting sewn garments is a mystery to me, but making knitwear that fits is something that comes naturally. Guess it's all a matter of practice, but if you are nervous about knitting up all your pieces, sewing them up and finding they don't fit, my first suggestion would be to try some seamless knits, especially ones knit from the top down, since you can try them on as you go along and take advantage of finding out fitting mistakes early on (just as you would with a muslin). Also, always make a gauge swatch (much fit heartache can be avoided that way!!)

I believe you are in the UK/Spain, so the suggestions above won't be ideal since Knitpicks don't ship to Europe, and the delivery rates for Elann etc are quite high (though do check out stitchywitch's blog, she's made some incredible stuff!). Not sure about Spain, but if you're still in the UK and can make it along to a branch of John Lewis they have a great sale on at the moment. Ebay is also great for finding cheaper yarns. also have some cheaper (but still excellent) brands. The thing about knitting is that it's not necessarily going to work out cheaper than buying the clothes (in the way that sewing often is) but there are bargains out there.

Design-wise, Twist is fantastic. I'd also recommend Ysolda ( and Kate Davies ( for some fantastic designs (Kate's Owls sweater is a really quick knit and great for a first sweater in my opinion, and the pattern is free). And if you aren't on Ravelry ( yet, JOIN! It's like Burdastyle but (IMO) better and an absolute mine of inspiration and advice (including Spanish users who could advise you about the cheaper places to buy yarn, AND many vintage pattern sources, some free, with actual pictures of finished garments that are light years away from the stuff you'd see in your average smalltown UK knitting shop!). My username on there is Borrower if you want to have a look at my projects (though I'm terrible at remembering to post photos!)

Drop Stitches Not Bombs said...

Oh my goodness, I've only just noticed that you mentioned my blog - wow! Thanks very much. I have actually been planning a post on getting knits to fit since you mentioned it in a comment; I guess I have held back because I am far from an expert, and I was a little worried that I might issue all this advice and then have my next project turn out to be ill-fitting mess, thus showing me up as a fraud! But if you think it would be helpful I would be happy to share what I have learnt and recommend some resources... until I get round to that, the previous commenters have left excellent advice. I wish you lots of luck with your knitting (and a very happy new year!).

naughty little pony said...

I've been doing a bit of knitting last week and found it very enjoyable. I'm gonna knit you something with the left overs of the wool from your hat next.

Djinn said...

I recommend you join Ravelry for pattern inspiration (there are loads of 'vintage-esque' designs out there, not to mention actual vintage patterns posted online.

Jumpers don't have to be handknitted in order for the yarn to be reclaimed - just knit in one piece (as opposed to cut from knitted fabric - if that makes sense). You should be able to tell either way by the seams. Go for quality, lightly worn pieces - 100% wool if you can find it. Google 'reclaiming yarn' for instructions on how best to go about the task of unravelling!

eBay is another good source of cheap wool. Also try Kemps' online shop for their clearance bargains.

Knitting is addictive and seriously good for mental well-being. Good luck!

Zoe said...

Wow! Thank you all so much! It is very nice to know that there is so much knitting support out there. Happy creating everyone x

Anonymous said...

don't know if you ever masted knitting, haven't read all your blog yet.

Knitting is more forgiving than sewing - cut it our wrong with sewing then you are stuffed, mess it up with knitting then you just unravel and redo, wool is very forgiving

If you look around and keep an eye on sales there are bargins to be had - £20 for 10 balls of pure merino in house of fraser sale etc

knitting is easy, its all a matter of confidence and practice - at the moment I am scared of my sewing machine so next year I'm putting away by knitting needles and plunging in with the fabric !

If you can sew you can probably follow instructions, in which case you can knit said...

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