Recently, I’ve been trying to become more open minded. (People who know me: stop laughing.) I find that over time, one’s habits of mind, especially the ones that have been useful in the past, can become limiting. For the past 15 or 20 years (hmmm, coinciding with onset of motherhood), I’ve had a “triage” mindset, in knitting and in life. Learn what you need to know to do what must be done.
When I was a newer knitter, this meant I learned a lot, very fast, because every project presented new rungs on the learning ladder. Over time, the firehose of new-to-me techniques dwindled to a trickle. Like most humans I know, I tend to repeat positive experiences, which has meant less learning along the way. I’ve felt like I need to shake things up, but it is hard to give up the mindset of waiting until I absolutely need to do something, before stretching to learn how.
The project we embark on today, A Year of Techniques, is exactly what I need to shake off my resistance and learn some new stuff.
I’m starting now, with helical stripes. The first pattern in A Year of Techniques is (hold your breath): the Hyacinthus Armwarmers.
Here Goes Nothing
Confession: until Jen and Jim Arnall-Culliford sent me the pattern and tutorial a few days ago, I could not have said what helical stripes are, let alone alone how to execute them.
Yesterday, I watched Jen’s video tutorial. I may have been just the tiniest bit skeptical about Team Arnall-Culliford’s claim that helical stripes are “incredibly easy.”
I cast on my Hyacinthus Armwarmers.
“Here goes nothing,” I thought.
Well, guess what: helical stripes are incredibly easy. They have a quality of easiness that is actually easy, as opposed to the so-called easiness that is only easy after you’ve read several books and practiced for six months.
But easy doesn’t mean “not clever.” Despite the simplicity of helical stripes, I could have continued to knit for the rest of my days without ever thinking of this neat trick.
Helical stripes are a leap of spatial imagination. I love them. No, scratch that. I lurve them.
Helical stripes are so easy that I knit my first few of them in my dentist’s waiting room, reading the step-by-step tutorial off my phone. I continued to knit them, flawlessly from row 1, while I sat on the phone in conference calls for most of the afternoon.
Here are my first helical stripes, using a single Zauberball that has been divided into two balls. (I divided it unevenly, to maximize contrast in the stripes at the start of my mitts. Once I get going, there’s no telling what will happen.)
Beyond Single-Row Stripes
While knitting my helical stripes, a question crept in: beyond socks and mitts, how often are one-row stripes really used? What else can we do with this technique?
I didn’t have to meditate on this very long to think of my four precious skeins of indigo-dyed wool from Lana Plantae.
I bought these at Vogue Knitting Live in January because –well, I had to buy them; they are Things Dyed With Indigo. What I really want to make with this yarn is a boxy pullover, in the round. But anyone can see that the skeins vary in color; I couldn’t knit with more than one of them without a dye lot stripe. But if I worked two or more skeins at the same time, in helical stripes, the shade differences would blend. That’s truly useful.
I also remembered a time, early in my Honey Cowl career, when I got into a deep discussion with a bunch of knitters about the “seam” that forms at the place where the 2-row slip-stitch garter pattern switches from round 1, which is plain knit, to round 2, which is purl-slip-purl all the way across. I have always accepted this seam with serenity, as something I cannot change. But helical stripes, the same simple technique that lets you knit single-row stripes without a jog at the color change, also lets you change from knit to purl without that seam. That’s what Jen says. I cannot wait to try it. It is killing me not to cast on a Honey Cowl right this minute.
And finally, Jen says that you can knit 2-, 3-, or even 4-row stripes using the helical stripes technique. WHAT. I will have to see it to believe it. But I trust Jen.