Magic-Loop Mittens, Knit Without Fear

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Ready in time for the 3-5″ of snow predicted for Tuesday.

I promise, I will not turn this site into a knitting blog. I actually have at least half a dozen other posts in rough draft form—book reviews! photographs! China stuff!—and need to clean those up and publish them. But first, one last post (for now) about knitting.

My favorite knitting blogger is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, known by the nom de knit Yarn Harlot. Steph (I’ll pretend we’re on a first-name basis) is wonderfully reassuring in her advice about knitting; in both her blog posts and books, she speaks with calm authority. Her basic message is: knitting is not brain surgery. Sure, there are some tricky parts and you may mess them up a time or ten, but just rip your work back and try again. It’s not a big deal. Steph posts about the mistakes she’s made, just to prove that even someone who has been knitting for four-plus decades is capable of screwing up—regularly, and on an occasionally epic scale.

The thing is, although I have read Steph’s blog and books for nearly a decade now, I haven’t really taken this message to heart. I’ve been a very cautious knitter. I learned a ton of stuff really quickly, got reasonably good at it, and then stopped trying new things. I learned to knit cuff-down socks, so I’ve never attempted a pair of toe-up. I’ve knit probably a dozen sweaters, but every single one has been a seamless raglan so I wouldn’t have to sew anything together. I’ve never done colorwork, even though I love the look of classic Norwegian knits and would like a star hat. Whenever I look through patterns on Ravelry, I immediately toss out the ones that involve techniques I haven’t learned, regardless of how much I like the finished objects.

I’m trying to get better at knitting fearlessly, as the Yarn Harlot advocates, and what better place to start than with a project she inspired me to do? I saw these fingerless mitts on her blog in December and ordered the yarn right away. But then I delayed casting on, because as much as I wanted those mitts, I knew I was going to have to Magic Loop them—and that meant I was going to have to learn how to Magic Loop.

Quick explanation: the basic way to knit small-circumference circular things is to use a set of double-pointed needles (DPNs), which form a triangle or square (depending on the number of needles in play). This is how I learned to knit in the round. But a lot of knitters are very fond of a newer technique called the Magic Loop, which employs one long circular needle to accomplish the same result.

(That’s a very poor explanation of something you really have to see to understand. Sorry.)

Because the yarn for the mitts is a super-bulky weight, it would require #11 or 13 DPNs, neither of which I own. They’re kind of an odd size, so I’d have to order them online; depending on what brand and source I chose, I’d probably wind up paying $10-15 for the needles and shipping. And I wasn’t sure if I’d need size 11 or 13, so it would be safest to buy both.

Or I could suck it up, pull out one of the many circular needles I already own, and learn to Magic Loop.

So rather than spend $30 on more DPNs, I decided to try Magic Looping. Last Sunday afternoon, I sat down with my yarn and needles and a cup of coffee and watched a couple of tutorials on YouTube. I cast on and started knitting and realized about ten stitches in that I’d messed up. I found more tutorials online and eventually stumbled over one that clicked and made Magic Looping seem obvious and easy. In between work and phone calls and laundry, I knit the entire first mitt before the end of Sunday, and then I knocked out the second one in a couple of post-dinner knitting sessions during the week. By the time I finished, it was like I’d been Magic Looping since childhood.

Knitting isn’t brain surgery, in either its complexity or stakes. I need to remember that more often.

2 thoughts on “Magic-Loop Mittens, Knit Without Fear

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