owl mittens, raglan sweaters and adventures in left-handed knitting

I’ve had these mittens done for more than a week now, but with finals grading I didn’t have time to photograph and post them—so finally, here are my owl mittens!

These are my version of the Give a Hoot owl mittens, from a free pattern I found on Ravelry. I know they’re unblocked and without eyes, but that hasn’t stopped me from wearing them and enjoying them. They are just what I needed for riding my bike to and from campus! The sizing came out perfect too, and after a mini-crisis where I lost the second ball from the matching dye lot of this yarn, all went pretty well.

However, doing this project reminded me about something very important: the challenges of left-handed knitting!

This pattern has unique directions for the Right and the Left mittens. I was working on the “Right” mitten over Thanksgiving, and it came out like this:The “Right” mitten ended up being the Left one. Same thing happened in reverse for the “Left” mitten:

And all of this reminded me about something I often take for granted: if you knit left-handed, you always have to be prepared for weird knitting issues. While I doubt there are many lefty knitters out there reading this, I thought I might use this post to provide what tips and tricks I know about how to knit left handed.

Left-handed Knitting

First of all let me say that I am no expert knitter. I just happen to knit the opposite way of most people—when I start a row, all my stitches are on the right needle, and I work them using my left needle. I knit English style (I “throw the yarn” over the needle) and I know that some people consider Continental or European style knitting to be “left-handed” in some respects, but I can’t really speak to that (I tried it, but couldn’t get the purling motion down).

What I have learned is that if you knit like me,  you must keep one key thing in mind things in mind if you want to knit left-handed with any kind of success: directionality.

By directionality, I just mean this: how much does it matter if you reverse the direction of knitting in a particular pattern? A lot of patterns are symmetrical, where the direction you knit won’t really matter. But when it matters, it really matters!

Let me use the own mitten pattern as an example. Here are the Gusset increases for the Left mitten, meaning the point in the pattern where you start adding stitches to eventually divide off to make the thumb part. (These are knitted in the round from the cuff up on double pointed needles):

Gusset increases:

Round 1: K3, K1f&b, K15, P4, K5 – 29 sts.

Round 2: K4, K1f&b, K14, P6, K4 – 30 sts.

Round 3: K5, K1f&b, K13, P8, K3 – 31 sts.

Round 4: K6, K1f&b, K12, P10, K2 – 32 sts.

Notice the bolded parts. If you knit right handed, you will be moving your stitches clockwise (from the needle in your left hand to the needle in your right) as you knit these rounds. So in each round you’ll knit just a few stitches in this direction, then you’ll add a stitch (k f&b), then you’ll go all the way around the tube of knitting without increasing again, coming back to your starting point. Doing this, your increases will all ended up on the Left side of your knitting.

But if you knit left-handed, you will be moving your stitches counterclockwise  (from the needle in your right hand to the needle in your left)  as you knit these rounds—so your increases will end up on the Right side of your knitted tube!

Now, lest you think, oh well, I’ll just wear the mittens with the top side down and that will fix the problem—remember, there’s an owl on the top of this pattern! You will ended up wearing the owl on the palm of your hand that way. It’s much easier to wear the “Left” mitten on your right hand and vice versa. Otherwise, you have to have to move the entire owl pattern to the other side of the mitten (and since those  purl stitches you see above are part of the own pattern, you’ll have to start altering the pattern as you’re making those increases—and I’m pretty sure that would be obnoxious).

The other time I’ve issue come up recently is on the slanted (i.e. directional) increases in the custom fit raglan sweater I’m working on:

I started making my V-neck version of the custom fit raglan sweater a while ago (don’t remind me how long it has been!). It is knit from the top down in stockinette. I decided to use Knit Right Loop (KRL) and Knit Left Loop (KLL) as my raglan increases (those increases at the shoulders) because I heard they were good for raglans. However, when I first started I could not seem to make the increases look like they did in the videos (knittinghelp.com etc.)

Finally I realized that since they were left- and right-leaning increases, they had directionality—as in, they slant in the direction of the sleeves, so doing what patterns said would be backwards. Everything seemed to recommend doing KRL then KLL. But that’s if you are knitting your sweater clockwise. I tried doing KLL then KRL and suddenly, it worked fine!

Resources for left-handed knitting

I’m actually kinda surprised that there isn’t more out there for lefty knitters. I can’t find the website I once used to look things up. But I have a few suggestions.

For beginners, I recommend watching a video on how to knit left-handed. I found some videos that knit in a variety of left-handed adaptations as far as which leg of the loop to knit into and which direction to wrap your yarn, so I’m sure you can find someone doing it “your way.” This youtube video  is how I do it, and  it includes casting on, knitting and binding off. While it doesn’t have any audio explanation, I think it is a very clear visual of what your hands should do (you can turn off the audio if the music annoys you).

Only downside is that it doesn’t show you how to purl—but there is another video for that.

For southpaw knitters who already know the basics, I like the Knitty article “Knitting in the Mirror”  for its general discussion of left-handed knitting issues. However, the article is old (2003) and almost all of the links in it are dead.

So if you have a specific question, I’d recommend the Ravelry group On the Other Hand. This requires joining ravelry of course (which you should do, since it’s like facebook for knitters but way less annoying). Again, some of the older discussion threads are full of dead links. But there are also active discussions going on. And if those don’t help, you can always post your own question or message one of the 1,620 members (or at least, you know, check out what they’ve knit and what was easiest for them!)

If any of this helped you out or you have another questions about left handed knitting (or crocheting or spinning for that matter!), feel free to leave a comment.

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How to make a Christmas wreath from your shrubbery

(That’s right. Your shrubbery. Or, you know. Branches cut from your Christmas tree.)

I helped my mom pick out this noble fir over Thanksgiving weekend. We always go to the same seasonal lot (Hopper Bros.) This year, they went a bit crazy with a craft I hadn’t seen before: wood and branch reindeer.

We got the tree up and decorated before I left that weekend. It looks like a pretty standard Christmas tree, but it was a Christmas miracle that I got a non-crappy photo of it all lit up with my camera.

When my mom had to cut off the bottom branches to get the tree into its stand, and I asked if I could keep them to make a wreath. I do this pretty much every year—but normally, I just cut a few branches of juniper or other evergreen tree/shrub from around my apartment complex. This year, I got to…well I was going to say branch out but that’s a terrible, terrible pun. So I’ll just say I got to use branches from three different kinds of evergreens (including mom’s juniper shrubbery), plus red berries.

I ecently realized that I don’t know anyone else who does this. Even though its easy, very cheap, and (at least in CA) evergreen branches are super easy to come by.

So I made a tutorial.

Rustic Wreath, Made From Shrubbery: A Tutorial.

Things you will need:

wreath form (this one is 12″)

wire (I’m use green 1/4 gauge wire)

clippers (that will cut branches and wire)

evergreen branches (between 6-12 inches is best)

red berries

[not shown: wreath hanger]

There’s no one way to do this, but I’ll show you what I do. First, gather everything outside, as you will make a mess. Then, gather a handful of branches of varying lengths/types together and wrap them together using the wire, about a few inches from the base. Leave a tail of wire at least a foot long to wrap them around the wreath form later:

For my wreath form, I made five of these bundles. Make sure they curve in the same direction. Once you’ve made those, start to attach them to the wreath form using the excess wire. Wrap the first bundle tightly around , using the wire to go over and under branches a few places to secure it to the form. After you do this to one bundles, place the next one so that it overlaps and covers up the wire from the first.

After you’ve placed them all, hold you wreath up and/or place it on your wreath hanger. Chances are you will discover two problems: there’s a few sizable evergreen gaps in the wreath, and there are some crazy branches sticking out way too far.

This is when you go back and add more branches to the bundles that need them (using more wire and arranging the branches as necessary). Once you’ve got that under control, hang it on the wreath form and use the clippers to trip rogue branches. I don’t do a lot of trimming because, after all, this is a rustic wreath made from shrubbery! But I do shape it a little. And when that’s done, I add the berries.

Before trimming and berries:

After trimming and berries*:

*Yes I know most people would place berries, or a bow, at the top and not the bottom. But this is just how I roll.

The wreath forms and wreath hangers are really cheap this time of year (I’ve seen them both for about $1 each), and the wire can be anything similar to the one in the pictures as long as it holds and you can cut it (the green is just awesome for blending it—it’s usually less than $5).

If you don’t have a yard to raid for evergreen boughs, just put the word out—when my mom heard I wanted some branches for this wreath, I ended up with an entire garbage back full of them. I do recommend letting them sit out for a day or two, just to see how well they put up with being cut. The noble fir was actually drying up much faster than the other two (juniper and…I didn’t ask what the other was, I believe it was cedar), so I put it at the back of the bundles.

And that is how I make wreaths from shrubbery!