Check, check, and check this item off my list for 2019. In fact, this item may very well be why I neglected other items on the list–it has changed my life in so many ways and I don’t regret a minute it may have taken away from other items on the list. Yarn crafting gave me back my mojo.
I grew up in a large family of crafters of all kinds–someone, at some point, has dabbled or excelled in just about every artistic medium you could think of. Even my father was widely known for his beautiful and delicate crochet work. I have also dabbled, though I’d say I never got serious or really good at any one thing (lies I have told myself all along, of course). “I’m the academic,” I always told people. “I went to college, read books, thought, and wrote a lot;” true enough. I have never ever ever really felt I had a talent, a party trick, that was worth sharing or showing off, and it’s an anxious, thin-skinned, unsettled feeling I’ve had much of my life that’s left me feeling like not quite enough as a rounded adult human. Arguably, my encounter with the power of quiche and pivotal life experiences that pointed me more and more toward food and the power it has to transform and bring people together feels very much like my coming into a passion of sorts, something I’m pretty good at and something worth sharing and showing off. But this post is about the magic of yarn crafting.
I have, for a long time, felt absolutely stuck in terms of personal growth, at least the kind that actually feels really good and gives you all the warm fuzzies–I just felt like I was marinating so long in every kind of adverse, uncomfortable, and really difficult, “oh great, AFGO,” kinds of feels that make it feel like you just have a dark cloud over your head all the time. Learning a new interest, skill, or hobby? Just because? Are you kidding? I was just not in a place where I was ready for that kind of self-actualization, apparently. Learning new things was often just annoying and frustrating and not pleasant or fun at all. Then I picked up a knitting loom. Quite possibly one of the only in my family to do so–it’s not a craft I grew up around and if any of my family tried it, they didn’t do much of it or talk about it much. I stumbled upon something even my family hadn’t done, and I could just make it my own.
In April of 2018, my bestie facilitated an intro loom knitting class to share her love and knowledge of a skill she’d picked up some years before. And because it was basically my job as a social/recreational program coordinator, I kind of had to do it, but not really. I didn’t have to participate, I just had to be sure everything was in place so other people could. But I wanted to, I was actually excited about it, looking forward to it. Something was different this time. I focused, I listened, I was light. I tried, and when it didn’t work, I tried again and again until I understood and got it right, and I didn’t get that lump of shame, overwhelm, and inadequacy when it wasn’t working, I just laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and did it again. For the first time that I could remember in a very long time, I was experiencing authentic joy in the process of learning something new and creating something with my hands and brain. I started with just enough familiarity from my upbringing to lay a useful foundation for learning this new skill–watching my family crochet and needle knit and hearing the language of it, holding in my hands all the handmade items that come when you can turn string into things. My sister even taught me how to finger knit at about 8 years old or so, so as soon as the yarn hit my hands, I kind of knew what to do and understood the basic anatomy of a crocheted chain stich, and suddenly had the realization that I had been loom knitting on my fingers all along as a kid. I learned that one and only e-wrap stitch I would need to know to make my first project, a hat. I cast on, e-wrapped until it was nice and lon, learned to add a brim, bound off, and taught myself how to make my first pom pom. It looked like a gothic Santa hat, all in black; I liked it and was proud of my first real yarn creation.
But I was learning so much more, and this is where the joy and the obsession take shape. As many yarn crafters know, this is so much deeper than having a hobby or saving money making handmade gifts, or even deeper than a yarn crafting side hustle–the majority of the winning here is personal. The life lessons and metaphors were all so immediate and so clear–yarn crafting is truly relaxing and meditative,except when it’s not. Here’s the joy in when yarn crafting is not relaxing and meditative–it teaches patience and problem solving skills, it offers opportunities to practice decision making skills–do I frog and start over? Do I attempt to fix whatever unexpected issue that has arisen? Do I embrace imperfection and just move on? Tension is a literal and metaphorical thing, y’all, even for veteran yarn crafters. The tension of your fiber has serious implications for the outcome of your finished project, and you better believe that the tension you carry in your body carries right through that fiber into your project. If you ever want to see just how much tension you carry around with you everyday, take up yarn crafting and you’ll realize quicklly how not relaxed we are most of the time. Bonus positive externality: I love solving yarn puzzles, also known as yarn barf by some, or when your fiber is a tangled, annoying heap. As someone who is learning to embrace the fact that, as an adult at least, I just am not into games and puzzles, this was really a pleasant surprise.
And the learning! This is where yarn crafting has had the most profound existential effect on me–it was like I was experiencing a renaissance in learning–loving it, generating tangible new skills and knowledge, throwing myself into it with reckless abandon and glowing with excitement as this new fervor for growth and learning spilled into so many other areas of my life–aerial arts, upleveling my food curiosities, wondering what other household products I could DIY, finding new ways and habits to consume more books–I was genuinely curious again about things I didn’t know and dazzled by new possibilities. With the most rudimentary skills and knowledge in place, I could make a useful and interesting thing, and do it well with relative ease. And I learned a second stitch, the purl, and made a scarf. Armed with just two stitches and the basics of starting and stopping, there was no going back–I was hooked, and almost literally so–since crochet was the craft of choice in my immediate family, I decided I needed to figure that out, too, and bought my first set of hooks. I made a fuzzy beanie for my then 18 month old niece, yanking it onto her head for a photo opp while she napped in her stroller, because that’s where she was when I finished. She was growing and we were moving into another California summer–she probably never wore it again, and I didn’t care–I was learning new and fun things, and ready to just release the results into the universe.
Each new project, I decided, would include something new to challenge and grow my skills, usually a conscious decision, sometimes the challenge of an unexpected quandry. Before I took up yarn crafting, I’d often ask one of my regular knitters in my knitting group at work what she had on her needles, and usually, the reply was, “well, I’m not sure yet,” and my moderately Type-A, Upholder, overthinking brain could not wrap itself around the idea of not having a project goal established before picking up tools and yarn. Now, I totally get it, after having so many specific ideas about what I would set out to create and realizing, again, like life, that we don’t have as much control of the outcome as we think we do. So it was a pretty easy item to add to my 19 for 2019, though at the time, I wasn’t sure if I’d hold myself accountable and actually keep going with it. Like with many new commitments, building the habit is sometimes the first and most difficult part of the process. So I decided to track my progress by keeping a simple photo journal of my yarn projects for 2019, which I’ve included below with some description so you can come along on the journey of my first year as a yarn crafter. Doubling my yarn for thickness, playing with different looms, reconfiguring my two-stitch arsenal to play with different patterns, trying new yarns, refining my bind-off and finishing techniques, and most important to any crafter, building my stash.
With this beanie, I practiced changing colors, and learned valuable lessons about selecting appropriate loom size. I initially intended to make myself a hat, and quickly discovered as I worked it up, that it would be way too small for my head. “Well,” I thought, “I made a hat for my niece, why not her brother?” Not only was he totally uninterested in the beanie, it didn’t fit his 4-year old head, anyway, nor did it really fit his younger sister’s head, and she wasn’t interested, either. I laughed, shrugged, and shoved it back into my project bag, and it eventually went to a small 2 year old.
The beginnings of my first and very own yarn stash. I figured until I practice and learn and develop my skills, I may as well not pay too much for fancy yarns, and I proclaimed my intention to raid our local thrift store for a starter stash to begin playing with. One day, my husband was taking a box of donations and offered to do some yarn shopping for me and this was what he brought home–10 skeins and a rake loom for about ten bucks.
A hat, this time for myself, started on the appropriately sized loom, and trying my hand at working with two strands of yarn for the first time to get snugger stitches. I wasn’t sure what else to do with construction cone orange yarn, except that I have a jacket this color to make myself nice and visible when we’re out on the tandem, so I figured they’d make a nice pair.
I knit myself a snug, bright orange beanie with a brim!
What do I do with yarn left over from my hat? Play with crochet! I realized I already knew how to make a simple chain stitch.
With a little guidance, I figured out the single crochet and embarked on the most common starter crochet project, the dish cloth.
And made a dish cloth. That I use as a shower scrubbie, and it delights me every time I use it, because it’s a useful thing that I made, even if it’s not perfect.
Ah, practicing the stockinette stitch on a simple scarf. The lesson here was not a new pattern, it was the importance of varying your stitches around the edges to minimize curl. This thing rolls up like a noodle when left to its own devices. On the brighter side, I learned more refined versions of the bind-off on this project, having been thoroughly unimpressed with the really basic beginner’s bind-off that I had initially been taught.
A sample project for work purposes, I worked up this beanie to demonstrate a simple e-wrap beanie with a rolled brim, color changes, and a pom pom.
E voila! My fanciest and most impressive creation to this point.
I made this most simple and delicate beanie for the work stash as a sample of what a most basic, beginning project can come out like. It hardly qualifies as a hair net, the yarn was so thin. Not sure it is a good tool for persuading a beginner to pick up aloom, though it’s a thing I made.
Not that my goal was to just make a lot of hats, I figured it was a good consistent medium to practice all the other things, so when I came across a modest amount of this great, fuzzy yarn, I figured it would make a nice hat. The goal was to practice a new pattern that should have resulted in a fun, lumpy bumpy texture. The lesson actually learned here is that fancy, floofy, fuzzy yarns are best used with simple patterns–they tend to obscure textures in fancy patterns.
Next, it was time to try out the rake loom my husband found for me at the thrift store for a dollar, so I could make a truly flat panel piece. I learned the figure 8 stitch and dropping the last stitch alternating at each end to give the edges a more finished look. I’m really happy with the thick, squishy effect this stitch gives.
“Hey babe,” my husband said, poking his head in the bedroom door. “I’ve got a 30% off coupon for Thrift Town. Wanna go buy some yarn?” “Uh, yes,” I said hesitantly. I didn’t need the yarn, I wanted it, and these kinds of things are great excuses for my husband and I to spend quality time together going out on little adventures. And yes, he is a rainbow-pooping unicorn. I officially have more stash than I can currently keep organized–I bought just about all the yarn they had that day.
A curious yarn puzzle that came in one of the grab bags purchased at our local thrift store, a menagerie of what appeared to be very different fibers, even if complimentary colors, and one can only wonder about the intentions of the crafter responsible for this. Slowly and methodically working it all apart, I found that they had been consecutively joined, fuzzy grey to lumpy lavendar, lumpy lavendar to silky white nylon. I balled it and rejoined it to the stash.
This scarf made me very happy–I really like the thick, squishy quality of double stranding 4-ply on a rake loom with a figure-8 stitche, and I am definitely scaling up my embellishment skills and detail work with the more finished edges and fringe.
In the spirit of learning new things that I can then teach to others in the context of my work related yarn groups, I tackled patterns for holiday dishcloths, beginning with one depicting a Christmas tree. It pushed my skills in terms of following a moderately complicated pattern–moderately complicated by my experience, anyway. I think it may have also been my first project completed on a small gauge loom, which was an interesting adjustment in and of itself.
Still working on those fancy, clean-edged bind-off skills, and probably coming to the project with accumulated work stress, I sat down to simply bind off and finish the project, and the damage that resulted as a result of the tension in my work became an afternoon ordeal. After all that work, I ruined it right at the end. I sure as hell didn’t want to start over, or even discard all that work as a loss. I despaired, I was annoyed. I took several deep breaths, regrouped, and broke out the yarn needle and a generous length of yarn and started carefully mending. It was, after all, meant primarily to be a sample project, not a show piece or even an actual functional item meant to withstand aggressive use, and this would give me great experience with repair, right? My primary goal was retaining the integrity of the piece so it wouldn’t unravel with light handling.
And I think I did a pretty good job.
And just every once in a while, I defiantly sneak off to a quiet part of my office, particularly when work days are egregiously long, to take a relaxing knitting break. Shhhhhhhhhhhh…
The Halloween Pumpkin version of the holiday picture dish cloth. The bind off was thankfully uneventful this time.
Not pictured in this collection is a hat that I started and restarted more times than I can count. It was to be my first project on a small gauge loom, and my first try at the basket weave stitch. There was adjusting to the physical difference of working on a small gauge loom, getting used to literally working in a tighter space, yarn that kept breaking, probably because it is old thrift store yarn, stitches that dropped and I just haven’t developed the skilol of recovering from that in such a tight space, and rethinking how many stiches and how many rows would sort of make a square on the small gauge loom–the pattern I was following was for a standard gauge loom. Finally, in November, I sat down with this project at a meeting and settled in to work on it. I’d hardly gotten started, when, muscling, not with that much tension, mind you, but granted, some, damned if a peg didn’t just break right off. I took a deep breath and banished that project back into the plastic bag from which it had come, and it remains there, being punished for being so difficult and breaking my tools. When I told my bestie I’d broken a loom, she said, “Now you’re officially a loomer.”
Finally, what is likely to be my last yarn project of 2019, I found a pattern for loom knitting a small gift bag that looked like it would make a fun sample project for the work stash, so I worked one up with some royal purple yarn in our stash at work, my first use of a smaller, 24-peg loom, and my first try at intentionally making holes in my project for the purpose of adding a drawstring.
Finito! This worked up pretty quick and easy, and I was delighted to improvise the ribbon by upcycling the ribbon that came off of a box of chocolates that had benn gifted to me the very day I finished this project, randomly resulting in a lovely combo of royal purple and gold, and reminds me of those fancy drawstring bags that Chivas Regal came in. It’s probably not something I’d want to work up just simply for gift giving, though it’s a fun option if you’re giving something durable that does benefit from containment, like your D&D dice, some marbles, or other small curiosities you need to keep track of.
So I knit eleven somethings this year, and thanks for reading all the way down here and letting me tell you all about them. I proudly consider myself an official yarn crafter, even before I broke stuff and even though I’m not quite boutique level talent just yet. I am learning new things with every project, new skills, new lessons, new insights, and having so much fun in the process. It’s undoubtedly a habit I’ll continue and therefore, need not roll over to next year’s list. Next, what is the status of my ability to speak anything other than english?
I randomly chose this hair scrunchie as my next project not long after initial publication of this post, uncertain if I’d finish it before the end of the year, and I did. It’s a good thing, too–just a day or two after deciding on this project, I came across this NPR piece on the resurgence of the scrunchie.