For my seventh birthday, my mom gave me a pair of light blue knitting needles and a ball of white yarn. She didn’t know how to knit, but sent me across the backyard to our neighbor’s house, where the retired librarian Marion Milligan took me under her wing. Marion taught me to knit and purl. I spent hours on her springy old sofa, or on lawn chairs in her backyard, working on my practice square while Marion turned miles of fluffy pink wool into exquisitely cabled sweaters for her granddaughters as she chain smoked (RIP, Marion). Soon I was knitting doll blankets, scarves, and slippers with big pompoms on top. And in fourth grade I started teaching my friends to knit.
I’m not the best knitting teacher. I’m left-handed, and knit sort of funny, and made up my own way of holding the needles. And I’m merely competent, not expert. But I’ve come to realize how deeply I believe in this process–teaching one another to knit. In this time when we learn so much through technological interface, how subversively countercultural to sit with a friend around a heap of natural fiber–wool, cotton, flax–and stand in lineage with generations of women (and men, of course, but that’s newer…) in sharing this peaceful, practical art.
So here’s a simple gift for you: Package up some homemade knitting needles with a skein of wool, an easy scarf pattern, and a heartfelt promise to teach your friend to knit. Choose wool rather than cotton for yarn–it is more forgiving, and much easier for learning. This is a wonderful last minute present–you get credit for woollen-knittiness, but you don’t actually have to knit anything!
Making knitting needles is really fun. For US size 9 needles, cut two 11 inch lengths from a 1/4 ” dowel (they can be shorter–10 inches is good for kids–or a little longer if you like). Use an old fashioned pencil sharpener, the kind that attaches to a wall, to sharpen one end of each needle. Sharpen it until it looks like a knitting needle, but don’t worry if it gets too sharp–you’re going to sand it down. Take some medium-grain sandpaper and sand the whole needle, including the tip–take care with this part, the needles should be very slippery, and the tip nice and round. Finish with fine-grain sandpaper.
Rub on a thin coat of mineral oil, furniture oil, lavender oil, or sesame oil, and use a clean cloth to wipe off the excess.
Let your imagination guide you in finishing the flat ends. Today we used buttons, but I also like to roam the neighborhood and see what the natural world has to offer–hazelnut tops, dried seeds, and shells all work. Stick your chosen end on with a healthy dollup of strong craft glue, and stand them in a jar to dry.
If you are an experienced knitter, you might find knitting on wood to be a little “slow,” but they are great for beginners. And if I am crabby or stressed, I like to knit with wooden needles–something about the combination of wood and wool is very calming (I can’t explain this, you’ll just have to try it yourself!).
Pretty Ruffled Scarf
I named one of my recent knitting projects The Sweater From Hell. It was a pretty Mission Falls pattern, with lots of gorgeous colors, but I had to pay all kinds of attention to it while I knit, counting, and doing math. Who wants to do math while knitting? I kept thinking, “When I finish this sweater, it’s going straight to the homeless shelter, and I’m going to recover by knitting a one-color garter stitch scarf.” Which is exactly what happened. But to make the scarf a bit more fun, I put a little ruffle at each end. I was astonished to find that I got more compliments on this scarf than anything I’d ever knit before. Part of it might be the pretty robin’s egg blue color, but I think it is also the combined simplicity-and-whimsy. Anyone who has mastered garter stitch can knit this scarf. The perfect one-skein pattern to include with your needles/yarn gift.
I made these scarves of worsted, but any weight will do. Choose needles to get the texture you want, and decide how many stitches you need for your desired scarf width. Using worsted weight wool and number nine needles, I made an 18-stitch-wide scarf. Cast on 4x this number.
Row 1: Knit
Row 2: Knit two together across row
Row 3 and 4: Knit
Row 5: Knit two together across row
Then knit every row until your scarf is the desired length. Sip eggnog.
Row 1: Knit into front and back of each stitch across row (this will double your stitches)
Row 2 and 3: Knit
Row 4: Knit into front and back of each stitch (again doubling)
Row 5: Knit
Bind off looslely.
The only tricky part here is the increasing of the last ruffle by knitting into the front and back of each stitch. But if you’ve knit yourself all the way to the end of a scarf, you’ll be ready for it–it only sounds mysterious. Any troubles? Knitters LOVE to help beginning knitters. Ask, and you’ll see. Enjoy.