The first chills of autumn found their way to our neighborhood over the last week. With them have come cries of distress from my girl whose hands were freezing each morning as we walked to school. No, that’s not right. They weren’t freezing, they were FREEZING — spoken as only a true knitter’s child who has never known the discomfort of cold hands or head. Partly to get her stop complaining and partly because it’s what I do, I promised to knit up some mittens for her. She could pick the yarn & help me design them and I would ensure that her hands would not be cold on the way to school again. She accepted the plan of action & muddled through the chilly morning yesterday.
After school yesterday over her snack, I gave her some yarn options. She emphatically selected a skein of Greenwood Fiber Works Handspun.
And spun it up during the Tour de Fleece this summer into a skein of bulky/super bulky, Navajo-plied loveliness. My daughter has loved it since it was on the wheel, so it’s only fitting that she get it.
Rather than sifting through Ravelry for a pattern that fits my needs, I grabbed my favourite book for this situation: The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs by Ann Budd. Here’s how it works:
1) Flip to the chapter on what type of item you want to knit (i.e. mittens, gloves, hats, tams, scarves, socks, vests, basic sweaters — yes, they are all in this book!).
2) Select the size you want to knit, preferably using the measurements of the person for whom you are knitting.
3) Knit a swatch with your chosen yarn.
4) Read through the basic design elements included at the end of the chapter & decide which — if any — you’d like to use, or continue on with the basic no-frills pattern.
5) Follow the instructions for your designated gauge & size, incorporating any design elements you desire.
6) Enjoy your simple, custom garments & accessories.
Now I know there are probably some of you out there who this scares to death. ‘Work without a pattern? Uh-uh, no way!,’ but I promise that as long as you take a few moments to understand the layout of the book it is really very simple. It’s as basic as understanding how to check gauge & read a chart (not a lace chart, they call it a ‘chart’ but it’s just an excel-like spreadsheet). Oh, wait. You don’t know how to do that? There is an excellent explanation on how to knit a swatch and read it on page 6 complete with a great illustration. There is also an in-depth explanation of how to interpret the charts within the book — they are pretty straight-forward to begin with, but just in case the author walks you through it. Perfect! Really, this is do-able for all knitters with basic skills.
There are many books from this publisher & author as well as many other series that are specifically written as a kind of blank canvas for design. Frankly, it can be overwhelming for most knitters, especially those who aren’t particularly fond of math. The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs is a great place to start though. I love that it includes the most basic accessories and presents basic design so simply. As a spinner, I especially love that I don’t necessarily have to have slap a label on my handspun — super bulky, bulky, worsted, etc — it doesn’t matter here. What matters is that I knit a swatch at the density I wanted for these mittens and it was 3 stitches per inch. Voila. With Ann Budd as my guide, I cast-on and was off.
Because I knew I would be tight on yarn & I was free-styling a bit, I knit these mittens 2-at-a-time. This means that they will definitely match and I don’t have to make notes as I go if I don’t want to. No stressful attempts at re-creation on mitten #2 because it is already done — that is my kind of approach for this kind of project! In the interest of full disclosure, the mitten pattern did not go down to the 3stitches per inch for gauge that I needed, but there was enough information there for me to easily make adjustments (and really, trust me when I say I am not a math whiz so this is do-able for most with enough patience). Because I am a new spinner I found that my yarn was actually a bit heavier on one end of the skein — the joys of handspun! — so I ended up adding a couple extra rows to the body of the lighter weight mitten before decreasing so that I would have the hand length I needed. When all was said & done, I finished my girl’s mittens last night and she awoke this morning to her brand new mittens.
Disclaimer on following photos: Now when I asked her to get dressed for school today, I also mentioned that I wanted her to pose for photos with her mittens for me. What she came out wearing was a hot pink tuille skirt, Hello Kitty t-shirt, neon striped knee socks, and completely different color family striped fleece pullover. And fuzzy ugg-type slipper shoes. Not exactly my dream for showing off these mittens, but she was adamant and I was not interested in a fight over the matter. We compromised and rolled up her sleeves a bit for the photos.
Overall, I am so very happy with the results of these basic mittens — the ease & speed with which I was able to knit them up, the fit, the colors — they are just perfect for my girl. Most importantly though, she loves them & her hands are warm. She wore them from the moment she woke up until she walked into school. I believe the above photo and a bathroom break or two were the only moments they weren’t on. She even refused to take them off for teeth brushing! I think I am safe to declare mission accomplished here.
If you are looking for this kind of basic no-fuss patterns that you can easily customize or maybe just looking to dip your toes in the waters of design or maybe you are a spinner who is having trouble knitting with your handspun, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns: Basic Designs. It is guaranteed to fit the bill & be loads of fun to use!