How to become a Master Knitter

I recently joined The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA), out of a desire to learn more from (and about) the knitting community. The membership comes with various benefits, including the opportunity to take classes at the annual conferences and a subscription to their quarterly magazine, Cast On. And as I was paging through the online brochure, I came across this advertisement:

Test your skills!
Earn Master Knitter Pin and Title

The TKGA Master Knitting Program (c) is a noncompetitive and rewarding achievement program for advanced knitters. You will work hard to earn the coveted “Master Knitter” title and pin.
The program consists of specific written instructions for samples you are to knit, questions you are to answer, and research you will need to report on and document. The Master Knitting Committee will review everything carefully. Portions may be returned for rework according to constructive suggestions for improvement. Each participant’s work is evaluated by objective measures, and criteria for evaluation are applied equally to all.
You must successfully complete each level before ordering and moving on to a higher level.

They had me at the headline. An opportunity to “test my skills”! I was salivating immediately. Oh, I can see the manipulation going on, the appeal to ego (“the coveted title” — and pin, don’t forget there’s a pin!). And the program isn’t cheap: you do all of the knitting, and then you pay to get the chance to have your work reviewed and vetted. But the implied challenge, the structured progression from level to level, the feedback from experts, the chance to effectively grow from journeyman to “master” — I have no ability to resist these things. Bring it on, TKGA!

MASTER LEVEL I, Hand Knitting


  • Sixteen knitted samples: three swatches each of ribbing and basic stitches and gauge, mirrored increases and decreases, yarnovers, cables, and color change.
  • Seventeen questions to research and answer.
  • One hat.
  • Two-page report on blocking and care of knits.

It’s a chance to focus on skills and exercises rather than the products themselves. I’m in heaven, and I haven’t even purchased the kit yet. I’ve attempted each of the items listed at least once already, so it should be within my power to satisfy the requirements (the subsequent levels look much harder, involving techniques I have not yet attempted and original design). Now I just need to find the time.

For some reason, it cracks me up that there is a written report required. I wonder how many submissions they get that were written in LaTeX?

Why argyle socks aren’t knitted in the round

I’ve gotten used to the idea that socks are knitted in the round because of their tube-like shape; knitting in the round means no seams to do up at the end. However, I recently discovered that argyle socks are an exception: the leg (and sometimes part of the instep) is knitted *flat*, and then a seam is sewn up the back of the sock, and then knitting proceeds in the round for the foot of the sock. I’ve become interested in argyles because I haven’t yet attempted any “colorwork” aside from horizontal stripes (which don’t require any special technique) and I’d like to try something more complicated. I wondered, then, why the instructions would be different for these socks. As explained by Moth Heaven (her sock (leg) is shown at right; the ribbing is at the bottom and the leg proceeds upwards):

If you knit across a row in intarsia, for example — dropping the pink to pick up the green, when you come back around again on the next row, the end of the pink yarn will be all the way over on the other side of the diamond. That is why intarsia is knit flat.

Again, I haven’t attempted any colorwork yet, so “intarsia” is still a vague concept (one I hope to clarify soon), but even so this explanation made sense to me. I love explanations! Knitting instructions, like cooking recipes, tend to be very prescriptive (do this, do that), without stopping to explain why. No doubt this is because there’s a lot of domain knowledge you pick up by experience, and the typical pattern or recipe writer doesn’t want to take the time to spell out the reasons for each step, but it sure helps you learn faster, have more confidence in what you’re doing, and gain the ability to adapt patterns without making a mess.

I also recommend the excellent step-by-step guide to argyles from the same site. I haven’t actually used it yet, but an argyle sock is rising to the top of my to-knit list. (She also appears to be using the magic loop technique — cool.)

How to knit with a magic loop

Knitting round things, like sleeves and socks and other tube-like structures, requires some work-arounds. If the item has a large circumference, like a sweater, then you can knit it using a circular needle, which is two straight needles connected by a flexible cord. For this to work, the item you’re knitting must have a larger circumference than the length of the needle — otherwise, the stitches have to stretch across to fit the needle, and that will distort (or render impossible) the work.

For smaller items, the usual approach is to use a set of double-pointed needles (dpns). These needles are short (usually 5-6 inches long) and, as the name suggests, they have points on both ends. This allows you to knit onto and off of either side. Using a set of these needles, you knit the round shape with a piecewise linear approximation, as shown at left. However, this setup is somewhat awkward, particularly if you’re on the move — the needles stick out at all angles and pierce holes in unintended places.

Enter the Magic Loop technique. My pro knitter friend Kate showed me how to knit a small item, like a sock, using a long circular needle. It turns out that this *is* easier than working the dpns, at least so far (I haven’t gotten to turning the heel yet). Here’s how you do it (links are to pictures of each step):

  1. Obtain a really long circular needle. I’m using a size 2 circular that’s 47″ long. You can probably get by with a 40″ needle.
  2. Cast on the number of stitches needed for the pattern (here, 56).
  3. Divide the stitches into two groups. Pull the loop of the needle through the gap between your two sets of stitches and move the stitches so that each half is on one of the needle ends.
  4. Rotate so that the loop is on the left. The working yarn should be on the right, coming out of the back row. Adjust needles if necessary to get this arrangement.
  5. Pull the back needle through the stitches, leaving them in place. Pull the needle out enough to give yourself some working room. Insert this needle into the first stitch in the front row and follow your pattern for the first half of the stitches. (This will be tricky, since you only have the fragile cast-on row to hold things together.)
  6. When you finish the row, the other needle end will be free. Continue pulling the loop out the way you did in the last step, which will bring the free needle up and into the back row of stitches. The loop will be on the right. Repeat from step 4.

So far, this is working out great! Since taking this picture, I’ve just about finished the 1.5 inches of ribbed cuff and soon will move on to the leg of the sock.

Thanks, Kate!

How to knit a basketweave pattern

I got together last night with some knitting friends to work on a joint project. We’re using up some spare yarn in a collaborative project: we’re each knitting a set of 6×6-inch squares, to be sewn together into a baby blanket that we’ll donate to charity. I’m having a lot of fun with it, since I can experiment with new stitches and it’s okay if they don’t turn out perfectly!

For my first square, I decided to learn how the basketweave stitch is done. This version goes in blocks that are four rows long, so every four rows you change your stitch pattern. But although it looks nice and regular, there’s an interesting trick to it. Each little square does not, as you might otherwise assume, have the same number of stitches in it. The knit ones are only two stitches across, while the purl ones are four! This works out because the leftmost and rightmost purl stitches “bend around” the knit ones, so the overall visual effect is as if they were the same width. But they’re off by a factor of two! Pretty clever.

Here’s the full stitch pattern, to make this particular basketweave (K = knit and P = purl):

Cast on a multiple of 6, plus 4, stitches.
row 1: K4, repeat: (P2, K4)
row 2: P4, repeat: (K2, P4)
row 3: K4, repeat: (P2, K4)
row 4: P4, repeat: (K2, P4)
row 5: K1, P2, repeat: (K4, P2), K1
row 6: P1, K2, repeat: (P4, K2), P1
row 7: K1, P2, repeat: (K4, P2), K1
row 8: P1, K2, repeat: (P4, K2), P1

From “The Everything Knitting Book” by Jane Eldershaw.

Finally, an extra-loose bindoff!

Today I learned how to do an extra-loose bindoff for a scarf I’m knitting. I’d rate myself as an “intermediate” knitter — willing to try new techniques, patterns, and stitches, but still needing some good instructions (or a knowledgable friend) to venture into the unknown.

The scarf I’m knitting is a Moebius Scarf. That is, like a Moebius strip, it has only one side (achieved with an ingenious twist in the circular needle setup — kudos to Cat Bordhi and her book, “Magical Knitting”!). Interestingly, for the purposes of knitting (but also obviously, if you were to think it through), a Moebius strip also has only one edge. So you knit around and around and that makes the scarf grow outwards, on both sides, from the center. It’s great fun, in terms of knitting and topology.

At any rate, once this scarf comes off the needles, you want it to have a lot of flex, so that it can drape fetchingly around your neck, rather than bunching up along the edges due to a too-tight bindoff. Binding off too tightly is a common affliction, so that many knitting books recommend using a larger needle once you get to this final step; but who really has a second set of somewhat-larger needles ready for every project they attempt?

Magical Knitting recommends the following solution:

Knit 2, * insert left needle through the front of 2 stitches on the right needle, knit 1 (dropping both stitches off), knit 1. Repeat from *.


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