Let's Stitch and Bitch
How to knit the balaclava you want to wear in the world.
Happy new year! It feels very human to take a blank calendar as an opportunity to make resolutions, dream of a better version of ourselves. I’m full of admiration for people who do Dry January or kick off the month by hitting the gym, but that’s not my approach to getting through winter. Instead, I’ve been drinking hot toddies and cocooning.
Knitting is often stereotyped as a grandma hobby, to which I have two responses:
Knitting is for everyone! If you like working your hands and/or being cozy, it’s well-worth your time and pretty easy to learn. Online patterns exist in an endless array of aesthetics, so you won’t be stuck in a grandpa cardigan unless that’s exactly where you want to be.
Grandmas still rule the knit game, and we should all be grateful! If you don’t have someone in your life to teach you the basics, YouTube is here to fill the gap. Many local knitting stores offer workshops and “stitch and bitch” circles too.
This week on Amateur Hours, I spoke with stylist Michelle Li about pulling pattern inspo from the runways. Read on for her thoughts, plus the knitting resources that helped me pull off a new project with minimal stress.
Inspiration Is Everywhere
How long have you been knitting? What do you like about it?
Michelle Li: I just started knitting last February. I really love it because it keeps my hands busy and I spend less time on my phone. I also love just getting really immersed into something and knitting is such an easy way to do that. People are so generous with their knowledge online. I think that it's a really special, welcoming community of sharers.
Where do you find knitting patterns and yarn?
ML: I find my yarn at Downtown Yarns in the East Village as well as Etsy, but I’ve learned that it’s really important to feel it in person before buying it to commit to a project. And knitting patterns, I usually use Ravelry and YouTube. I find a lot of my inspiration from old runway shows—Jil Sander Spring 2018, Calvin Klein Fall 2018, Joseph Fall 2016—and keep a little folder of things I want to try.
What project are you currently working on?
ML: I’m working on a one shoulder top. I want it to be backless so I’m adjusting a pattern that I found online!
What do you want to make next?
ML: I’m not sure! I think more sweaters, a mini dress, and possibly some chunky socks? I’m really bad at finding the appropriate yarn for the project, because I just love anything fuzzy and mohair. That doesn’t work well for some of the things I want to make.
Be Your Own Grandma
I’ve been knitting on but mostly off since I was nine or ten. But it was the recent balaclava trend sweeping NYC and TikTok that inspired me to dig my knitting needles out from under the bed again a few weeks ago.
The rare benefit of those 28-degree days is that I actually have a need for more knitwear, and knitting my own balaclava (or actually a hood, since the mouth isn’t covered) made the trend feel more personal. Here’s how I got started again.
I made my balaclava with a pattern from ROWsKnitware on Etsy, which was easy to read and included lots of helpful Youtube links to demonstrate techniques. I learned how to do so many new things, like picking up stitches and what “P2tog tbl” means. Alice, the shop owner, even answered my confused DM.
Ravelry is a hugely comprehensive resource for finding free and paid knitting patterns. A lot of knitwear is timeless or a cyclical trend, so I also like looking through Vintage Knitting Pattern Archive and The Vintage Workbox.
Yarn + Needles
It’s tempting to start with soft yarn, but patterns should always come first. Many patterns suggest a specific size needle and gauge yarn, because stitch thickness comes from the size of your yarn and needles. Hold off on buying both until you know what pattern you want to use. For this pattern, I used two skeins of Wool and the Gang’s Feeling Good yarn.
If you have especially sensitive skin, it’s best to go to a physical store so you can feel out potential itchiness IRL.
I’m not experienced enough to knit without a pattern, but I’ve started bookmarking modern knitwear brands to refer back to for inspiration when I’m looking for my next project. Think: A. Roege Hove, Lolo Crochete, The Open Product, and Paloma Wool,
I’d love to see what you make: @alizarae
Newsletter update: You may have noticed that this newsletter has been on a bit of a hiatus. I’m a full-time freelance writer and this is unpaid work, so unfortunately it often gets pushed down my to-do list. I’ve decided to reduce the Amateur Hours cadence once a month in the hopes that I’ll actually be able to stick to it. Hold me to it! Thanks for being here.