Little ones enjoy the soft caress of hand knits, just as we do. Knitting for infants, toddlers, and growing children is a popular pastime. Whether booties, blankets, hats, toys, or togs, these smaller projects knit up quickly and make wonderful gifts. Here are a few tips to make these hand made treasures darling, durable, and well received.
First, natural fibers are not purely a luxury for wee knits. Wool remains warm and comfy even when damp and is so soft next to young skin. I choose superwash wool for children's blankets and clothing to keep knitted wool's wonderful qualities, yet be kind to busy moms on wash day. If the child is said to be sensitive to wool, cottons, cotton blends, soy, bamboo, and rayon are all excellent options. Avoid acrylic yarns for when exposed to extreme heat or fire, they melt! Need I say more?
It isn't necessary to limit your projects to baby yarns. Any quality yarn of the desired weight will work for children's knits and using them opens up a world of colorful options. What I call crayon colors - think of that box of 16 colors - look darling on toddlers. Babies also look charming in navy with white or cream trim or soft grays with pink trim. Red, white, and blue is always cute on toddlers as well as pumpkin and greens. I do avoid black and metallics, saving this drama for teens. I also avoid pure white, except for trims. Children's clothing gets lots of wear and washing and no mom wants to clothe her little munchkin in dingy white. An ivory christening ensemble is precious.
Be aware that babies have large heads and very small necks. Be sure to make neck edgings flexible and pullover items with adequate neck openings. Buttons are darling, but be sure they can not be easily removed and cause a choking hazard. Zippers and Velcro closures are handy; i-cord ties add whimsy. Snaps are popular on children's clothing, but I suggest sewing them first to grosgrain ribbon or bias tape before anchoring them to knit fabric.
As you know, little ones grow like little sprouts! If you make clothes with built in grow room, you increase the wear of your hand knit. Sleeves can be turned up for a cuff at first, then worn down when the child grows. Same goes for pant legs. A toddler's tunic can be a sweater later on, with a bit of planning. If items are knit top down, a snip of a single stitch will reveal live stitches, making it possible to add length to bottom edges of any garment. Use your imagination.
Do avoid knitting that will tangle up little fingers. Fair isle floats inside sleeves and mittens do not make for easy toddler dressing. The same holds true for lace and openwork stitch patterns. Reserve these techniques for yokes and hems. Keep ties short to avoid a choking hazard.
Finally, mom's and dad's always appreciate a hand knit for their wee ones, but if it is the child who you are aiming to delight, try knitting a stuffed animal or some other toy. For years my son had a strong attachment to a hand made pillow, where some toddlers love a special blankie. With intarsia or sewn on patches, a favorite hero, pictures of common items like simple sailboats or a big strawberry, and cartoon characters can be incorporated on handknits to make them more personalized. Steer clear of using the child's name on any embellishment. Although it is cute to see "Bobby" or "Zoe" on a sweater, a stranger can seem to be a friend when they approach a child knowing their name.
Copyright Kay Mather 2009
If this were a perfect world, any knitter who heard "this is an E.Z. Pattern" would immediately think Elizabeth Zimmerman, rather than a skill level. My admiration for Elizabeth Zimmerman is long standing and recently when I was reading The Best of Vogue Knitting - 25 Years of Articles, Techniques, and Expert Advice, I was delighted to see many of her articles. Her wit and wisdom are seamlessly blended into her own expert advice. E.Z.'s articles and patterns are as fresh and pertinent today as they were years ago. Her original patterns are increasingly popular, as can be seen in the number of people on Ravelry knitting her Baby Surprise Jacket alone. She taught a generation to "knit without tears", a lesson her daughter, Meg Swansen, is keeping alive through continued publication of E.Z.'s works through Schoolhouse Press. She is the original "opinionated knitter", letting us into her thoughts and projects long before blogs ever existed. Elizabeth Zimmerman's imprint on our craft will certainly endure for many generations to come.
On Kay's Needles
My one completed project this month was a hat and scarf set knit in Queensland Collection's Big Wave, a birthday gift for my brother-in-law. The super bulky, thick-thin, lofty single ply yarn is a wool/cashmere blend, very soft and textural. I used a double seed stitch pattern for the scarf and single seed for the hat, both exaggerating the texture of the yarn. The result was a rustic, masculine pair of accessories, perfect for casual wear.
These days, much of my time is spent knitting the samples for our Rare Purls Original Kit line. Here is a sneak peek of these competitively priced kits, using only high quality yarns and easy to follow instructions.
Copyright Kay Mather 2009
As not only an avid knitter, but also an instructor, I have developed habits that make knitting go more smoothly. I have yet to meet a knitter who enjoys ripping back work or wearing a project that has turned out disappointingly. Hopefully, these tips will help to make your own knitting more satisfying and with fewer frustrations.
Of course, swatching is your best tool for successful projects. Not only does it properly size your work, it is a good opportunity to become acquainted with the yarn and stitch pattern used in your project. Many beginning knitters see the gauge given at the top of their pattern instructions and regard it as general information, rather than necessary data. Seasoned knitters at times go straight for the cast on, especially working projects where size does not seem critical, such as scarves or throws. But even when size is not such an issue, if your knitting is turning out much larger than the given gauge, you very well might run out of yarn, an irritating and costly mistake.
Even when knitting at the recommended gauge, there are times when more yarn is needed than is suggested in the pattern. I make it a habit to buy at least one extra skein of any primary yarn in a project so I won't be caught short. I avoid the possible hassle of having to run down another skein of the same dyelot or the even bigger hassle of running down a discontinued yarn or color. I keep the extra yarn in a ziplok bag along with my receipt, to facilitate a return should the yarn go unused. Note - most yarn shops have a time limit in their return policy and will not allow returns if the ball band is missing or if a yarn sold in hanks has been wound into a ball.
Another good habit is to take the time to visually check your work every few rows. A friend was sailing through her first lace project, when near completion she noticed that the stole was lopsided. And I mean WAY lopsided. At some point, she had put down her work in the middle of a row and when she started back knitting, she had begun knitting in the wrong direction. In fact, she had done this on two separate occasions, making several unintentional short rows. Her stitch count was accurate, but the work was a real mess. A quick visual check would have caught the error and averted the frustration of ripping out days and days of work. I make it a habit to complete a row before putting down my knitting, to avoid this very mishap.
Even when knitting a foot of stockinette with no shaping, I find myself counting every few rows. This is a habit left over from my early days, when frequently a split ply or a wayward yarn wrap would unknowingly be knitted and add to my stitch count, a common beginner's error. Dropped stitches, though easily corrected, are a challenge, as well. If your count is not right, you know there is a problem somewhere and you will become a better knitter by finding the cause. I don't make as many mistakes these days, but my counting habit still serves me well. I love that little feeling of satisfaction when I get to the end of a row and have the proper stitch count. Whee! It never gets old.
Taking a moment to read all the way through your pattern is always recommended. So many times a designer will add information at the middle or the end of a pattern that alters the instructions that came before. More than once, I've gotten far into a pattern, then read "at the same time" and had to rip back to include those instructions, never a happy scenario. Recently, I was knitting a striped pullover and knit the back and front pieces first, as is usual in patterns. But the designer had instructed that the sleeves be knit first for a reason, to make it a simpler task to match the stripes when joining the sleeves. I had to rip out both sleeves and knit them from the shoulder down in order for the color stripes to match horizontally when the sleeves were sewn into the body. A great tip, stockinette looks the same whether you knit bottom up or top down,
Speaking of sleeves, lately I have gotten into the habit of knitting both sleeves simultaneously. I cast on both sleeves on a circular needle and work back and forth, using two balls of yarn, of course. This way, I only have to deal with the shaping increases and decreases in the pattern once and I end up with perfectly matched sleeves. Many sock knitters have converted to the magic loop technique and knit both socks simultaneously, for the same reason. This is surely the easiest way to avert falling into the dreaded second sock syndrome. I have taken this idea even further and cast on both left and right fronts of cardigans at the same time on the same circular needle. Again, I only have to navigate the shaping once and my pieces are beautifully matched. If you try this, be sure to reverse the shapings for the left and right fronts.
Over the years, I have developed many personal habits that help me to be a better knitter, to accomplish great results, but these are my habits, my preferences. With time, we all come up with our own modus operandi. Where my checklist suits me, I encourage you to experiment and develop your own way of navigating a pattern, a project. We can learn from others, but ultimately, it is our own project, our own path. And after all, don't most of us savor the journey as much as the destination, if not more?
On Kay's Needles
The project giving me the most satisfaction over the holidays was the Urban Adventure Bag, designed by Noni. Not a difficult or time consuming knit and the end result was so gratifying! With some basic finishing, the simple construction became a sturdy and savvy shoulder bag. A double strand of Cascade 220 quickly knit into the body of the bag. An I-cord handle and some chunky notions pulled it all together. Though my choice of a heathered yarn was all the pizazz I needed, the generous sides of the bag body offer the perfect opportunity for embellishment. A needle felted emblem comes to mind, though a separately felted adornment would look nice, as well.
If I were to have a New Year's resolution associated with my knitting, it would be to finish the small stack of my projects that only need a bit of sewing. It is not entirely finishing phobia that has thwarted me. Year after year, I knit beautiful, warm, winter sweaters, only for an early spring and warmer weather to divert my attention to designs more suitable to the changing climate. The winters in Georgia are getting warmer over the past few years. I am told that El Nino is the culprit, but it does bring to mind what the future will hold if global warming goes unchecked.
This year, I am adding hand made socks to my gift list. Socks are a wardrobe staple and, if knit well fitting, warm, and attractive, they are truly an earthly delight. With the abundance of sock patterns and yarns available, it is easy to match a perfect pair to everyone on your list. As the yarn requirement is usually 100 grams or less, socks are quite an affordable gift. Although I remember that not so many years ago, I thought making socks was only for the experienced knitter, with the written assistance of Cat Bordhi and Kate Gilbert, I am now able to tackle basic socks worry free and more complex pairs with the confidence that comes with understanding basic concepts.
A sock is comprised of but a few components: the leg portion, the heel, the gusset (really the only part that is a bit tricky), the foot, and the toe. Socks do have a goodly amount of shaping for their size, but once that shaping is learned, all socks are variations on the same structure. Many of the women at my weekly knitting circle, the Noble Knitters, knit socks from memory. The outcome is an attractive and practical gift, whether for oneself or some other lucky person.
My ambition this holiday season is to give every man on my list a pair of socks. I mean, who doesn't need more socks?! Even basic sock patterns look quite impressive with the widely available self patterning yarns. Sock yarns are currently one of the most popular specialty yarns on the market. Manufacturers are formulating yarns that all but assure success, from self striping to mimicking fair aisle, from kettle dyed to deep solids, and most are spun in easy care superwash fibers. The addition of luxury fibers ensure an accessory that is not only appealing to the eye, but even more delightful to wear. These yarns are hard core indulgence.
A recent delivery to Rare Purls included a bag of Classic Elite Alpaca Sox. Though sock yarns come in every color of the rainbow and a multitude of combinations, this color batch was named simply "Wren", a perfect, lofty blend of ashy medium brown with muted enhancing tones - just lovely! Alpaca Sox is super soft due to the high alpaca content and durable from the addition of 20% nylon, a must to ensure a long wearing sock. Most sock yarns are spun in superwash wool and come in a standard 4 ply or the more bulky 6 ply. Although wool is the standard, blends containing silk, alpaca, and even soy are available. Some yarns come with additional fine yarn to work in the soles, but my preference is to work the bottom of the foot in a more dense gauge using a needle a size smaller than the rest of the sock. This fortifying technique is a breeze when using the socks on two circulars method, but is also easily achieved with double point needles. The outcome is a sock that will withstand both wear and the test of time. After all, whatever lucky person gets these handsome tootsie huggers will want to wear them any time they are clean. With this in mind, a drawer full of hand knit socks would not be too many, making this the perfect gift year after year.
Other ideas for man pleasing gifts projects are cowls, ski hats, gloves, and ties. All require only modest amounts of yarn, which gives you the option of splurging on the good stuff! A cashmere scarf is a truly luxurious accessory, even when knit in a simple stitch pattern, and ties knit in quality sock yarn can be quite dashing. But in my book? Nothing says love quite like a gift of super soft, hand knit socks.
Copyright Kay Mather 2008
I am so blessed being surrounded by a family full of men. Bill, my husband of over 28 years, my grown son, Luke whom many of you know as my boss, and Will our first born, now living in San Diego. Naturally, I try to knit for them, wanting them wrapped in soft, yarny love, but where it is easy to find projects that the women in my life will appreciate, my men are a more challenging task. For all of you looking for man pleasing projects, perhaps you can benefit from my years of experience making gifts for the men in my life.
My first experience in knitting for the male of the species was a resounding failure. I was about 13 years old and crocheted a cardigan as a gift for my older brother. Lots of allowance and hours of work produced a sweater only a mother could love, but certainly not my brother. Even with natural wood buttons and masculine colors, the fit was terrible and the overall effect quite "home made" rather than "hand made." Although as a Southern gentleman he made the appropriate comments, the sweater was never worn and probably donated if not discarded. Strike one.
As I matured, both as a person and as a needle artist, my second gift to a man was during my senior year of high school. I purchased a lovely kit for a crocheted afghan and made it for a home economics credit. The finished project was quite detailed and lovely, but my pride at Christmas turned into regret in February when my bull headed beau sought greener (and older) pastures. Strike two.
Not one to give up easily, my third gift to a man in my life was a knitted raglan pullover detailed with rows of cables up the yoke. I chose a soft, medium brown 100% wool worsted and a pattern above my skill set. My then boyfriend had enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was shipping out February 13th. I worked diligently to finish this sweater before his departure, learning about cables, stitch holders, and proper blocking along the way. To my delight, the finished project was PERFECT! Bill was very impressed at both my craftsmanship and my diligence, that I had spent many clandestine hours creating a sweater , a beautiful sweater, for him. Yes, I know what "they" say about boyfriend sweaters, but to this day, my husband relates how this knitted gift had a significant part in winning his heart. Home run! A hand made gift is not only beautiful, it is also a tangible symbol of commitment, all tied up in yarn. Each stitch expresses your love.
Since that occasion, knitting with a man in mind no longer stresses me and all of my gifts have been well received. A Noro hat and scarf set for my father lay in his drawer for several years, but upon his retirement, it became his chosen warmth for every winter walk. Both sons have oversized, cozy afghans in their choice of colors, snuggly warmth for now and keepsakes for years to come. Some of our friends have enjoyed knitted gifts as well. Doug's Big Wave was knit for a friend and then became a popular, easy pattern, its popularity outlasting the production of the title named yarn. Other ideas for man pleasing projects are cowls, ski hats, gloves, socks and ties. All require only modest amounts of yarn, which gives you the option of splurging on the good stuff! A cashmere scarf is a truly luxurious accessory, even when knit in a simple stitch pattern. Ties knit in sock yarn can be quite dashing and, in my book, nothing says love quite like a gift of hand knit socks.
For photos and more information, go to Knitting For the Men in My Life - Part 2 at
On Kay's Needles
It seems that my needles have been so busy that my pen needs to play catch up! Nothing gets my needles clicking like a gusty Autumn day! When working on a design for a moebius lace scarf, an inspiration from Cat Bordhi's moebius scarf seen on the DIY network show, Knitty Gritty, I discovered when I was binding off the double coil of stitches, that I had knit a beautiful lace collar. The project, with its many rows of fagoting, would not fit a neck snuggly enough to be worn as a scarf, but the lovely layers of lace will look marvelous as a collar to a pullover sweater. Hopefully, I can come up with a fitting pullover design this month, to complete the concept.
My sock knitting has taken several turns. I began my On Line Supersocke project on #3 US double point needles, only to find the knit fabric was too loose for a durable sock. Not only did I change to a smaller needle, but I also changed to two circular needles, following instructions for an alternate sock knitting technique. I am currently working on the heel, where I have again changed the needle gauge, using a #1 US needle in order to knit a denser fabric for a longer wearing sole. I have been consulting Cat Bordhi's book, Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles, for my basic sock pattern and her clear instructions on this increasingly popular sock knitting technique.
I have designed a cozy rustic cardigan to ward off those chilling winds, perfect to wear with jeans, a khaki skirt, or my favorite corduroy jumper. The yarn I am using for my sweater is Himalayas by Queensland Collection , a lofty single ply 100% wool that has variegated color and texture. The thin-thick nature of the yarn brings interest to a simple stockinette stitch pattern, making this a good choice for a first sweater by a novice knitter. I have chosen to add polished wood buttons, to add a country feel to my colorway of autumn colors, but for those seeking a more urban look, try fun and funky Lucite buttons in coordinating colors. Himalayas is a bulky weight yarn, so this is truly a quick knit and as always, Queensland Collection yarns are a good value, while not forsaking quality. Himalayas Cardigan will be available at rerepurls.net November 1, 2008, with the Rare Purls Original Pattern free with purchase of the kit;
Also on my needles, an infant haat for my newest nephew, Blake Alan. I have knit a hat in Andes by Ester Bitran yarns to match one I made for Blake's dad last year. The colorway is David's favorite, the colors of mossy oak camouflage in a 100% wool, hand dyed yarn.
What better way to spend a long weekend than among literally tons of yarn, innovative knitting instructors, and the season's hottest designers?! April 23-26, 2009, Stitches South will make its debut at the fashionable Galleria in North Atlanta. Stitches expos have been a mecca for knitters for many years now and finally Stitches is coming to the South. Classes, fashion shows, yarn distributors, and a gaggle of retail vendors will be gathered at the Galleria to present a long weekend of fiber excitement. For those of you traveling here to join in on the fun, the adjacent hotel and other nearby lodging have many rooms available, placing you in the lap of luxury while you rest your feet between shopping, classes, and other knitterly diversions. Shop till you drop, take a class from a nationally recognized instructor, learn a new and innovative technique, then retire to your room to cast on and rest up for the next day.
Rare Purls will be there in the thick of the fun, offering our original kits plus some of our own favorite designer lines. This will certainly be the yarn event of the year south of the Mason Dixon line and I urge you to make plans early. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to see you there!
Copyright Kay Mather 2008