As Christmas creeps ever-closer we can begin to get excited about our advent calendar chocolates, Christmas trees and luxury food, but perhaps the one big stress that undermines all of these seasonal treats is acquiring the perfect presents. Christmas is a time to celebrate those we love and care about, and generic gifts can feel underwhelming. On top of this is the financial pressure of being a student: now you’ve got to find something special, but you’re on a budget.
It is my personal, albeit biased, opinion that the solution to all your Christmas worries lies in knitting. The long periods in national lockdown and tier three this year has given me time to pick up my needles. I’ve learnt a myriad of new patterns and designs, found a hobby I’ve managed to stick to and improved my mental health. Amongst the pressures of university deadlines, it is easy to become obsessively productive, particularly for those who, like me, are happiest when they feel that they are accomplishing something. Knitting is the perfect hobby for this mind-set, forcing you to slow down and do something simple (it is impossible to knit fretfully), whilst also taking away the anxiety that (wrongly) suggests that self-care is ‘wasted time.’
If you pick up your needles over the next month, you are taking time for yourself, whilst also making beautiful, handmade, and personal gifts for Christmas. It took me about 14 hours to knit the featured unicorn as a gift to my younger sister. These 14 hours were spent chatting on the phone, catching up on Bake Off and listening to music, giving me time for myself, and a unique and handmade gift to show for it.
If you have never knitted before, here are some easy instructions to get you started. Once you have learnt to knit and to purl, you will find that you can manage most patterns, simply by doing these two stitches in different orders. If you are a beginner, I recommend starting with a scarf: it is a useful and practical present, and doesn’t involve anything complicated. If you are a more advanced knitter, check the website for my pattern on making the unicorn pictured, inspired by the Crafty Kit Co.
- Before you do any stitch, you first need to cast on. To do this you can start by simply tying a double knot around your needle. Try to do it loosely enough that another needle can slip in underneath, but no looser. This is your first stitch.
- Then, slide the other needle in from the same direction, from the front to back.
- Wrap the wool anti-clockwise around this second needle.
- This is the trickiest bit, but go slowly, it’s perfectly doable with practice: pull the second needle down and then through into an ‘x’ on top of the first needle, so that it catches the wool you have wrapped around it.
- Then, pull it to make the loop wider, and slip it onto the first needle. You now have two stitches.
- Repeat this process until you have the desired number of stitches, using the stitch closest to the tip each time (i.e. when you repeat this, you will use the new, second stitch to create your third, then your third to create your fourth etc.)
Smaller needles and thinner wool will need more stitches and take longer.
Once you’ve made as many stitches as you want, you will need to learn how to knit them. Remember: you always hold the needle with the stitches on in your left hand. Every time you finish a row, you will have the stitches in your right hand, so just swap the needles over.
- To begin with, do steps 2, 3 and 4 above.
- Now, instead of making the loop wider and slipping it onto the same needle, simply keep it on the second needle and pull the end stitch (that you have just knitted) off the first needle.
- If you are doing an entire row of knit stitches (which I suggest at beginner level), repeat this process for every stitch on the first needle.
Purling is just knitting backwards. If you have only just learnt to knit, I recommend practicing it first until you feel confident. Once you can knit, you can purl too, but be patient with yourself: knitting is an inherently patient activity.
- Go into the stitch backwards. You still go into the front half of the stitch, but you go in from the other direction, so you made a cross with the needle tips.
- Wrap the wool around the second needle. You always wrap the wool anticlockwise.
- Pull the second needle down until it is independent of the first one and then lift it up behind. It should have a stitch on it.
- As before, slide the end stitch (that you have just purled) off the first needle.
- If you are doing an entire row of purl stitches (which I suggest at beginner level), repeat this process for every stitch on the first needle.
The simplest pattern to begin with is to do every odd row (row 1, 3, 5 etc.) as knit, and every even row (2, 4, 6 etc.) as purl. This will give you a simple but elegant pattern.