A Knitter’s Guide to Decluttering

Or, as it is known in knitting parlance, decreasing.

There are several different decreases available to the knitter, and each one gives us a different idea for how to downsize and declutter.

K2tog (knit two together)
A simple decrease: if you have two the same, get rid of one. Or as John the Baptist put it,  whoever has two coats should give one to someone who has none (Luke 3:11). Martin of Tours went one better and divided by two despite starting with only one.

Wilwisheim StMartin 40-03This decrease also works if you have two things that, while different, can serve the same function. Chuck out your garlic crusher; keep a knife.

P2tog (purl two together)
This decrease works very much like the K2tog; except that you approach the stuff from a different angle. Change your perspective (whether physically or mentally) and see what looks unnecessary from there.

K3tog (or P3tog)
This decrease is also on the same principle as the K2tog, except you start with triplicates instead of duplicates. It can also be extended to quadruplicates or quintuplicates if you really have far too many of something.

Sl1, K1, psso (slip one, knit one, pass slipped stitch over)
This is a good decrease for those who enjoy rearranging their furniture: move things around and you will see your excess more clearly.

Daniel Hochsteiner
Why do I need more x than will fit in that shelf? Why have I kept that pile of y all these years? If I got rid of the z, then I could have my abc here to hand…

Sl1, K2tog, psso (slip one, knit two together, pass slipped stitch over)
This is a decrease that looks very complex and impressive, but is really just a combination of two of the preceding methods. Take it step by step and you will find you have made twice the reduction.

P2tog tbl (purl two together through back loops)
This is the decrease that looks impossible at first glance. I mean, how could I… I’d have to…. No, I don’t think I can. But give it a go (watch your tension), don’t give up, and you’ll be surprised at what you actually can do.

Drop stitch
This is an extreme form of decrease, to be sure. It will leave a hole, and may have spreading consequences… Drop-stitch shawl - corner…and yet for all that, it may produce a more beautiful result. Always providing, of course, that it is done intentionally.

What decreases do you use? Have I missed some? Please share in the comments!

Literary Handwork

Reading and handwork make a perfect pair, in my opinion: the two things I enjoy doing most, miraculously combined. Sometimes I even enjoy the reading more than actually doing the thing itself. And on those occasions when a project outlasts enthusiasm, what better to rekindle the fires than finding the same spark in a book?
Albert Anker - Strickendes Mädchen beim lesen (1907)
Happily, literature is full of examples of hand-workers – particularly in those classics which were written in the days when handwork for women was just ‘work’ and everyone (unless a gentleman of the purely decorative class) was expected to keep themselves busy.

So it is with the Dashwood girls in Sense and Sensibility. “Sir John Middleton, who called on them every day for the first fortnight, and who was not in the habit of seeing much occupation at home, could not conceal his amazement on finding them always employed.”

Or take Mansfield Park, also by Jane Austen. One of her more underrated books, I feel, with one of her more underrated heroines. Fanny is always busy with handwork: her own, or someone else’s. Helping Aunt Bertram the indolent, or being press-ganged into the thrifty machinations of Aunt Norris. And unlike her cousins, she does work of a high calibre.

Mp-Brock-10Then there are the March girls in Little Women, who ” adopted Jo’s plan of dividing the long seams [of sheets] into four parts, and calling the quarters Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and in that way got on capitally, especially when they talked about the different countries as they stitched their way through them.” The book also includes knitting, dressmaking (for humans and dolls), and the embroidering of a pair of slippers (“grave yet cheerful pansies on a deeper purple ground”).

Not all literary hand-workers are enthusiastic. Catherine, from Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, is continually being nagged by her old nurse Morwenna to work on her spinning, sewing, embroidery and the like, when she would rather be running wild outside. “They found the remains of several spindles, many skeins of wool, and an unfinished tapestry in the muck from the privy. Why is everyone so certain they are mine?”
Reine Berthe et les fileueses, 1888
Other fictional handworkers include Miss Silver, who is always knitting something, usually for her great-niece or great-nephews, and who designs and executes her own crochet trimmings to boot. Miss Marple also knits, but in less detail. Devotées (or, indeed, devotés) of quilting can enjoy the works of Jennifer Chiaverini and Earlene Fowler. Embroiderers, or those considering taking up embroidery, should make a beeline for Embroidery Mary.

On the non-fiction side, there are plenty of books about the history and practice of various crafts, and then there are books of craft humour. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee is an outstanding outlier in this field.

For those who are passionate about both literature and craft, there are books of crafts inspired by books, which you can add another layer to by making the crafts from the books of crafts inspired by books. While reading the originatory books, if you want to complete the circle and you have the much-desired (by me at least) ability of reading while working with your hands.

Meyer von Bremen Strickendes lesendes Mädchen 1863Alternatively, you can follow the grand old tradition of having one person read while everyone else handworks; or its modern, more solitary equivalent: the audio book.

What are some of your favourite handworky books? Recommendations eagerly sought!

One Glove, Two Glove, Tight Glove, Loose Glove

Sometimes things work out just the way you planned them. Other things… not so much. Last summer I realized that I was down to only one pair of gloves (I’ve been moving my wardrobe in the direction of colours that actually suit me), and that pair were fingerless.

But it was summer! I had plenty of time to knit myself some full-fingered gloves, right? I cast on the first one the week before Christmas, and finished it before the summer ended, despite the inevitable fiddles of altering the pattern to fit. (I have small hands.) Autumn was interrupted by other knitting projects (with deadlines) and some knit-free weeks following eye surgery, and I was starting to feel the nip in the air.

side by side

The second glove knit up in practically no time at all (for me) – only a few days. There was just one problem with it. It was really, really tight.

Same pattern, same needles, same stitch count, what appeared to be the same yarn – but was it? Closer inspection proved that I had inadvertently used the ‘just-in-case-there-isn’t-enough’ yarn for the body of the glove, and the proper yarn for the fingers. Of course, this was only detectable under a certain light, and at the right angle.

I pulled the whole thing to bits (quite fiddly with the fingers, it turns out) and started again, this time using the proper yarn. And the result? You could have knocked me down with a feather – it was still much smaller. Not, perhaps, quite as tiny as it had been, but still visibly smaller. Observe:


I was (and am) baffled. Same yarn, same needle, same pattern. Different size. And it’s not as though my hands are different sizes, either – at least as far as I can tell. The only possible explanation (all right, the only possible rational explanation) is that I was much tenser when knitting the second glove. It’s funny – I didn’t think I was that stressed, at least until the Tiny Glove Happening.

However, since the winter draws on apace (it was one degree Celsius the other morning) I have decided that It Will Do. But next time I knit gloves, I’m going to try knitting them both in the same season. I’ll just have to learn to knit faster.


The original draft of this blog post – I usually write them ahead of time – ended here. Last night, however, as I was trimming away a little end that had come loose (you can just see it in the above photo, about halfway down the cuff below the thumb), I discovered that all was not well. Something more than a little end had come loose further along, and there was now a considerable hole in the almost-new glove.

I blamed it on the fact that the cuff of the Second Glove Mark II was knitted out of the fingers of the Second Glove Mark I – not a wise idea, in case anyone is ever thinking of doing it. You end up with a billion little ends to sew in, and the law of averages will soon result in your glove springing a leak. Take it from me…

The hole was beyond a mend: something more like surgery was required. I did my best to pick up stitches around the hand by where it met the cuff, and then carried on the unravelment from where the second hole had sprung up. Did I mention the second hole? It was right at the base of the thumb, practically.

At more than one stage in these proceedings, I considered wastefully chucking the whole thing and just knitting myself a new pair of gloves. Particularly at the point where I thought I’d only managed to pick up half the stitches, and the other half appeared to be laddering…

Mercifully, that proved not to be the case, and I managed to get all the stitches back onto needles, get a controlled unravel to even the round out, and then start knitting back out. Did I mention Second Glove Marks I & II had their cuff knit from the wrist out (hand started with provisional cast-on) because I was afraid of running out of yarn? I ended up using the reserve yarn for Second Glove Mark IIA (Cuff), since it was in bigger pieces than the twice-used ‘real’ yarn.

Alas, no photos were taken of the Franken-rescue process, as I was too busy panicking, picking up stitches, flinging off winter layers (I overheat when I panic), tap-dancing precariously along the outer edge of my abilities, knitting maniacally and then quivering gently as the adrenaline filtered away. Now all I have to do is sew the ends in, firmly this time. Because now, it’s winter.