Now that we are in our third month of Skill of the Month, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that I get all giddy and excited with each new skill!
Right now I can barely contain my excitement because this month we’re focusing on 4 popular handicrafts: knitting, crochet, sewing and quilting. A handicraft is,
“An activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands.”
I love that definition because, to me, it implies that those skilled hands are producing something of significance for her, or his, family. A useful product to make life better or more beautiful, perhaps.
All four of these skills do just that.
My Knitting Story
I taught myself to knit many years ago when I was living in Germany. I rode the bus into town every so often, and I noticed that many German girls and women always had their hands busy with a knitting project. Soon, my own hands itched to get a hold of a skein of yarn and a pair of knitting needles.
At the time I had no income whatsoever, so I checked out a couple of books from a library, found some extremely inexpensive yarn in mossy green and dusty rose, and began knitting a scarf. What else? A scarf is an ideal project for a beginner because it gives you hours and hours of practice getting used to handling the needles, getting just the right tension, and learning how to fix dropped stitches.
I was dismayed that my scarf rolled in on the edges, leaving me with basically a tube to wear around my neck, but I was still thrilled that I had produced this with my previously unskilled hands.
Since then, I’ve knitted a number of sweaters, ponchos, a few purses, dozens of cotton washcloths, and just last week picked up a project that had been sitting in my yarn stash for at least 4 years: a large tote bag that I will felt when it’s finished. See this pretty example of a felted bag.
If you’ve ever accidentally washed in hot water a 100% wool sweater, then you have a pretty good idea of what felting is! I did that once with a beautiful kelly green cardigan. When it came out of the dryer, it was just the right size for a toddler! This time, I’m going to felt my wool project on purpose, and I’ll be sharing the results here on the blog.
There’s something satisfying about finishing a project, large or small. It’s a feeling of completeness and competency.
At the bottom of this article, I’ve listed the books and websites that I’ve relied on the most to learn the basics of knitting and more advanced skills.
The Crochet Chapter
For anyone who is a little leery of tackling the skill of managing 2 sharp knitting needles, there’s always crochet. All you need is a very safe-looking hook and a ball of yarn!
My crochet skills aren’t as honed as my knitting skills, but I can still wield a crochet hook just a bit! One year when I was shopping for a new knitting project, I noticed that everything I wanted to make was crochet! All the cute patterns were for the crochet crowd, or so it seemed.
Crochet is faster than knitting and, for that reason, it might appeal to the more impatient moms in the crowd. It’s also easier to just rip out a few crochet stitches, or rows, than it is to do the same with knitting. Knitters have even come up with a term for the fairly complex task of un-doing their knitting — it’s TINK 0r, “knit” backwards, something I’ve done dozens and dozens of times!
I’ve found that most people either love knitting or they love crochet, but rarely do they love both. I think it’s a matter of whichever skill you learned and mastered first. You feel more comfortable with that skill and, in an odd way, more bonded to it.
And Then There’s Machine Sewing
I don’t like to brag, but I’m a pretty mean sewer. My favorite sewing story is the 2 days I spent with 102-degree fever, sewing a pioneer outfit for my daughter.
That’s a mom’s devotion to her kid, right?
She sallied off on her field trip wearing a darling Laura Ingalls Wilder get-up, complete with a sunbonnet and apron, and I collapsed in bed for a couple of days.
See, I learned how to machine sew back in junior high. Once a week, all the girls in my class went to Home Ec, a subject that doesn’t exist anymore in public schools, but should. I learned how to thread a bobbin and needle, and made several small projects that led to much bigger, more complicated projects down the road.
Like the $60 sundress for my daughter. One spring I decided that I could just whip up a series of cute little sundresses for her at maybe ten, fifteen dollars a pop and went off to the nearest fabric store with stars in my eyes. That first trip wasn’t too pricey, the thread and fabric cost maybe twenty bucks or so. But then I realized the fabric needed a lining, and I had bought the wrong size buttons, and then I needed an additional yard of fabric. When I went back for that extra yard, they didn’t have the exact same design so I had to buy a completely different fabric pattern to match the lining fabric I had previously purchased. Before I knew it, I might as well have bought that sundress at Saks Fifth Avenue.
In spite of these, and many more, mishaps, I still love to machine sew. Other than hiring a seamstress, it’s the only way to have a truly one-of-a-kind project and there are so many different things you can make, from super easy pillowcases to wedding dresses and Halloween costumes.
It’s empowering to browse through a massive pattern book, looking for something that appeals to you, knowing that it’s in your power to make it happen. Dr. Frankenstein probably felt that way when he pieced together his monster!
If you’ve never used a sewing machine before and want to learn to machine sew, you’ll need to track down a sewing machine. Try Craigslist, eBay, or even Freecycle to get a used machine. Bring some thread and fabric so you can make sure the machine works. New machines can be purchased for as little as $80 or so, like this top-rated sewing machine by Brother. Or, you could borrow one.
About 7 or 8 years ago I borrowed an older machine from my mother-in-law. She never used it and said I could keep it for as long as I needed to. When we moved in 2013, I offered to give it back and she said, “That doesn’t belong to me!” So, I now own it. I guess.
For a bigger project, try quilting
I’ll admit here and now that quilting has never been my thing. I made a couple of small quilted projects when I was in high school, but haven’t done much with it since. However, nothing says “Love” quite like a hand-made quilt. My sister-in-law made quilts for both of my kids, and to this day, they love and use them.
A quilt is a great way to use up scraps of fabric from sewing projects or recycle your children’s favorite clothes as they outgrow them. I’ve even seen beautiful quilts that incorporate fabric from a wedding dress. This is the perfect skill for a sentimental person.
Ready to get started?
Grab that yarn, fabric, hook, needles, and whatever else you need, and learn a new skill (or two, like spinning your own yarn to use)! And while you’re at it, drag the kids into this, too! The schools may not be teaching these skills anymore, so if you don’t, then who will?
- A to Z of Crochet by Martingale
- Basic Brother sewing machine
- Better Homes & Gardens Complete Guide to Quilting
- Crochet Stitch Dictionary by Sarah Hazell
- The forum and other resources at Ravelry.com
- Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman
- Singer Complete Photo Guide to Sewing — Whichever skill you want to learn or improve upon, I recommend having a “complete” guide and then other books that focus on specific types of projects, techniques, etc.
- Stitch ‘n Bitch by Debbie Stollar — I loved this book and return to it for its clear illustrations and written instructions.
- Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book — Kind of like a complete encyclopedia for knitters.
- Woolery.com for videos and more, anything related to wool