Getting Started – Knitting Resources for Blind and Low-Vision Knitters

Over the past few days, I have been working on reviving and updating the blog. One thing I have noticed is that it might not be entirely obvious how to get started with knitting when you are blind or low-vision, and it would be helpful to consolidate the resources available for blind knitters into one page. That page will take a little longer to finish, but I wanted to post this information as a sort of precursor to the complete page, which will be coming soon.

 

If there is anything that you think a blind or low-vision knitter should know, or if there is a resource that has been helpful to you as a blind knitter, please share it with us in the comments so I can include it on the resources page. We already have some listed in the blog roll, but I want to make sure we don’t miss anything that might be helpful.

 

 

A Few Notes on Knitting While Blind

 

Learning to knit can be a daunting prospect for many people, including those of us who are blind or visually impaired. The good news is that it really doesn’t take a lot of tools or materials to begin. Essentially, all you need is a set of needles and some yarn. OK, maybe some scissors, but that is it.

 

As far as being able to knit without seeing what you are doing well or at all, it’s not a big deal. Most blind people do things every day that sighted people are unable to imagine doing without seeing. I always have to laugh when we lose power for some reason and my husband and son scrounge for the camping lanterns like they have to have light to see or something. To me, it’s not a big deal that the lights won’t come on. It is also not a big deal to me that I can knit.

 

So, when I learned to knit, my sister-in-law simply took some time to think about how to explain things verbally. When we sat down for my knitting lesson, she let me feel the needles and the stitches to show me what she was doing. Then, she watched what I did while I was learning and fine-tuned what I needed to understand what to do. That last part is exactly what any knitting instructor does, so no one needs to stress about teaching a blind person to knit.

 

As I have written in a previous post, I wanted to write tutorials because not everyone has someone to teach them to knit in person. And, while there are a lot of knitting tutorials online, they largely rely on pictures or videos when the explanations get harder to verbalize. For people who can’t see those, they are much less effective. My hope is that the written descriptions of techniques that Ana and I have posted to this blog will help to remedy this problem for anyone who is blind or low-vision and wants to learn to knit.

 

In the next section, I’ll list a few tips for learning to knit as well as links to tutorials and other resources that I think are helpful.

 

 

A Few Notes on Learning to Knit

 

To learn to knit, I recommend using needles in the mid-range of sizing. If they are too small, it is more difficult to see or feel the stitches you are creating, and if they are too large, it is likely that your stitches will be less defined. Also, your needles should always be the appropriate size for the yarn you want to use. Typically, a beginning knitter should begin with what is known as worsted weight or size 4 yarn. For this yarn, the needles will probably be either 7, 8, or 9 in US sizing.

 

As for learning to knit, many communities in the US have yarn shops or knitting groups that are already established. For example, our local knitting guild offers free beginner knitting classes at our local library a few times each year. Try to find something like that in your area if you can. Knitters are some of the friendliest people, and most will be willing to help you learn.

 

If you can find someone to show you how to knit, great. If you can’t, there are plenty of resources online, including written tutorials on this blog.

 

 

Online Resources

 

See these tutorials for written descriptions of the knitting basics.

 

 

A slip knot is one of the most common ways to begin with knitting or crochet. There are other options, and if you find this part too complicated, any loop or knot will do to get you started.

 

Tutorial: Slip Knot

 

 

The foundation of knitting is the cast on. See this tutorial for the knitted cast on.

 

Tutorial: Casting On

 

 

The two basic stitches in knitting are known as knitting and purling. See these tutorials for written descriptions of each.

 

Tutorial: Knit Stitch

Tutorial: Purl Stitch

 

 

And, last but not least, is the bind off. There are many ways to do this, but this tutorial explains the knitted bind off.

 

Tutorial: Binding Off

 

 

Here are a couple of other helpful resources. This is not a comprehensive list, but two of the most useful resources that I know of for blind and low-vision knitters.

 

To find a community of other blind knitters who are incredibly friendly, experienced, and willing to answer any question a new knitter can think of, check out the Blind Stitchers Google Group.

 

For a learn to knit book written by Davey Hulse, a fellow blind knitter, see this post with more information. The Touch of Yarn by Davey Hulse

The Touch of Yarn

Contributed by Davey Hulse

 

Once again, Crystal and Ana have really honored me by asking that I update my article about my book “The Touch of Yarn, Beginner Knitter’s Primer”, copyright 2009.

 

The first question you should be asking is:  Are you blind or just another sighted author trying to teach us something.  I’m totally blind and have been since grade school.  So, I’m one of us.

 

Most people ask why I wrote it, and the simple answer is:  Because when I started knitting around Labor Day of 2007, I couldn’t find a set of instructions or book that really spelled out each step in absolutely clear terms.  How do you hold the needles?  How do you control the yarn?  What’s a stitch?  Where do I set the ball of yarn to keep it under control?  Oh, and what’s a ball of yarn?  The stuff in the store looks more like a tube or a disk!

 

So, once I picked enough brains and did enough trial and error, I got the basic skills under my belt.  Then as new people joined our blind knitter group, I started trying out my skill at explaining things is simple, straight forward language so that there couldn’t be any mistake what I meant.  It worked.

 

And, so, the Touch of yarn was born.

 

The other thing was that in all the instructions, no one gave any real guidance about sorts of projects that would bring success quickly, and I know that for myself if I don’t have success pretty quickly, I get frustrated.  That’s why every chapter and lesson has its own project that can be done within a couple or three hours, long enough to learn the skill but quick enough so that the project is done and the student can move on.

 

I’d watched many first-time knitters take on a scarf with ordinary worsted weight yarn on medium sized needles.  That’s a project that is somewhere around nine or ten thousand stitches.  When a person is just learning it’s going to take a minute or so for every five or six stitches.  Fifteen hundred minutes or twenty-five hours is way too long for a first project.  No wonder in many of the bags of yarn I buy at the thrift store there are obvious scarf projects done by beginners.  They get bored and frustrated and give up.

 

Before I started writing the book, I thought my audience was going to be only low vision and blind knitters.  But when I started having friends and family use the lessons, my sighted family members were really excited.  My daughter wrote in her blog that the typical lesson book with all its pictures just confused her and that for the first time knitting instructions were making sense.  A special ed teacher who had also been a mentor for a youth knitting guild was extremely complimentary and said that she wanted to use it for her sighted kids.

 

So, what can you learn from the book?  And, what kinds of projects can you get done?

 

It will take you all the way from buying your first supplies and knitting a piece of fabric about 4 by 4 inches (10cm by 10cm) through what I call advanced beginner skills.  Can you knit up a fancy scarf?  Yes.  Can you knit up a sweater using cables?  Yes.  Can you sew stuff together?  Yes.  Can you fix things when you make mistakes?  You bet.

 

And, there’s enough in the book that if you are adventurous and creative, you can even take a pattern from the Internet and modify it to make it truly your own thing of beauty.

 

I’m not much of a self-promoter and it feels awkward for me to sort of hawk my wares to you, but I’d really love you to be able to knit and to have the sort of success that I’ve had.  At my granddaughter’s third birthday I gave her a hooded sweater that I had knit up.  It was just as gratifying to hear the adults in the room muttering, “You made that,” as it was to have the little sweetie put it on, say “It fits,” and come over and hug me.  Also, when my Mom suffered a heart attack, I knit up an afghan and got it to her for comfort and her naps during her recovery.  Later she said she used it every day.  I knit my Dad a shrug to keep his shoulders warm.  He used it up until his recent passing.

 

And, of course, I can’t count the number of smiles I’ve had as I feel one or another of the many scarves and shawls I’ve made my wife as she wears them.

 

So, come along and join me in this wonderful, addictive and creative art form.

 

Davey Hulse, Salem, Oregon

 

Ordering The Touch of Yarn, A Beginner Primer

 

Pick a format:

 

Hard Copy

Print: $25

8.5 by 11 Braille (2 volumes): $30

11 by 11.5 Braille (one volume) $25

 

Electronic: $20 each

MS Word

PDF

.brf for 8.5 by 11 (2 files)

.brf for 11 by 11.5 (1 file)

 

Ordering process:

 

I use PayPal.  My account is:

 

daveyhulse@gmail.com

 

Deposit the money into that account, then email me with your choice of format.

 

If you want hard copy, I’ll need a physical address.

 

If you want an electronic copy, please specify which one.

 

When I get notification from PayPal that the money has arrived, I’ll begin processing the books.

 

Thank you for your interest in my book, and happy knitting.

Davey

 

 

Ana and Crystal are on Viewpoints!

Ana and I did an interview for the Viewpoints Podcast. We talk about knitting with visual impairments and share some tips and advice for other blind and low vision knitters.

 

Please check it out:  ViewPoints 1214 4-4-12 Knitting for the Visually Impaired

 

Also, check out  ViewPoints

A weekly, half hour radio program for people living with low vision

Find out more about the show and get links to the podcasts at:

www.ViewPointsPlus.net

 

The Right Decrease: Knitting Two Together

When I was five, my mom taught me to knit. Literally. She cast on the stitches, and I knit them. After a few rows of crinkly garter, we moved on to purling. A sweater, after all, requires the ability to make smooth stockinet for the body and corrugated ribbing for cuffs and edges. I think the next lesson was binding off, and the last was the long-tail cast on. Great! Barbie and all my other dollies were happily stocked with blankets, scarves, washcloths, pillows, and more blankets, scarves, washcloths, and pillows. What else can a girl imagine squares and rectangles into?

Eventually, my mom taught me to decrease, turn two stitches into one. That was magical because I had been given the power to make the fabric change shape. For example, if I cast on a bunch of stitches and decreased at the beginning of every row, I made a triangle, which was like the shawls grown women I knew wore, or if I cast on a bunch of stitches, worked a few rows even, then decreased all the way across the row before working a few more rows even, I would create a ruffle. New and exciting things were possible, and the decrease was my first major step into non-rudimentary knitting.

The simplest decrease is called “knit two together.” The way it’s abbreviated in knitting patterns is “k2tog” or “k2 tog.” Technically it slants to the right. This is important when you’re making lace or when you want the decreases to line up, but when you’re starting out, it’s a great all-purpose decrease.

How does it work?

Normally, when I knit, I have the thumb of my left hand resting lightly on the needle between the first and second stitches. Before a decrease, I move my thumb so that it’s resting lightly between the second and third stitches.

For the knit two together decrease, I do exactly what I do for the knit stitch, only instead of inserting the needle into one stitch, I insert it into two. I start by placing the tip of the right needle where my left thumb is. I push the tip through the second, then the first stitch on the left needle, scoop or wrap the yarn exactly as I do when knitting a single stitch, then draw the right needle back through both stitches, dropping them off the left needle when I’m done.

It feels a little awkward the first time or two, and it’s one of those things that your hands just get, so it’s best not to think too much about what you’re doing or what you’re going to do. It’s best to imagine all the things that you’ll be making.

The Glory of Great Mistakes and Greater Influences

Contributed by Timothy Harshbarger

Who knew knitting would lead to so many bad influences and so much good folly? After four months of knitting, I still feel like quite the novice. So far, the only thing I’ve completed is what I am calling the misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes.

My friend Stacy, the bad influence who got me into knitting in the first place, and I went to a yarn store where we both bought lots of … well … yarn. I picked up a bunch of small skeins of cotton blend to make dishcloths, and the first skein I happened to grab when I got home and broke out the needles was bright pink, a fact I discovered when the guys were over talking and drinking beer—while I worked on my dishcloth. They all stepped up to their man-friend duty and informed me of the color. Fortunately, I think I carried it off manfully myself.

But I was talking about bad influences. After the misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes, I started on a scarf. I was doing really well until I snapped the yarn while sitting out front waiting for my ride to work. I am undaunted, though because my knitting list, a passel of bad influences, has helped me believe that I may theoretically have either a very thick woolen dishcloth or the world’s smallest, squarest scarf, or I can always try to pass it off as a coaster with a little salesmanship.

It’s like this. I realized, when I finished with the dishcloth, that I had two choices. I could decide that I had done a bad job of it, or I could change the name of the project, thus encouraging myself in turning it into a success. I pause here to reiterate that both my friend Stacy and my knitting list are the reason I am turning out this way.

My conversations with Stacy usually start out like:

Me: I really messed up. Can you tell me where I went wrong so I won’t do it again?

Stacy: Let me take a look at it?

Stacy takes the fabric from me and checks it over.

Stacy: Tim, you discovered the yarn over.

Me: I did? Goodness, I am just a creative genius and don’t know it. Now if I could only make mistakes on purpose.

Stacy: You are doing better all the time. Here’s what you did to create the yarn over ….

And she goes on to tell me all about yarn overs, how to make one (on purpose,) what I might use them for, and we finally discuss how to fix the mistake. Thus she encourages me to make as many mistakes as I possibly can so I can learn all sorts of new things. Such a bad influence.

Then there is my knitting list, with all their talk about the yarn sometimes telling you what it wants to be, their seditious nonsense about making patterns your own, and blasphemy of blasphemies, their outright support of making mistakes. They are happiest when I take chances and experiment. True instigators.

They all make knitting just too enjoyable, too risky, and too exciting, and I really want to be daredevil enough to do some fancier things, though topping a misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes will take some skill indeed. I’m looking forward to the first time I give a finished project to someone, and I know I’ll do it with so many knitters to lead me astray.

Solids, Heathers, Jewels, and More

Colors can be something of a headache, and asking sighted people for clarification doesn’t help because each has a different notion of what color matches what and which color looks good on whom. So I’m not even going to pretend to go there. Instead, I’ll mention a few general bits and pieces about colors that may come in handy while working with yarn.

Some Basic Characteristics

Light and dark are contrasts. If you’re musically minded, think of light as one octave above middle C and dark as one octave below it. Think of muted, a dull version of the color, as quiet (piano), and think of vivid or saturated, a bold medium dark to dark variation, as loud (forte).

While most colors can be light medium or dark, white, yellow, pink, and lavender are light by definition, and black and red are dark by definition.

Solid yarns are the same color all the way through and make fabric that is uniform in color. A textural equivalent is the smooth public side of a store-bought knitted sweater.

Tweed yarns are solid yarns with flecks of different colors and make fabric that is uniformly not-solid. We all did a little weaving in elementary school or summer camp. (Remember the potholder?) The yarn and loom were big enough that the fabric we made had a definite grain and a clear textural pattern: the longer lines of the weft lay across the vertical warp, which was mostly hidden to the touch. This texture is like tweed: the solid background color is like the horizontal lines of the woven potholder that are easy to find with our fingers, and the flecks are like the tiny vertical bits that we can also feel. The foreground and background colors are so uniformly distributed that the fabric isn’t described as being two different colors though the two colors are seen.

Heather yarns are different muted shades of a single color. The different shades would be something like light blue, light-medium blue, medium blue, maybe a turquoise that’s more blue than green. Muted means that the colors are visually soft or grayish, like a dusty or fuzzy surface. The overall textural equivalent of a heathered fabric is like the fabric that results from working with slubby yarns, the yarns that are thick in some places, but thin in others. This type of fabric is full of subtle, but unmistakable variation. It has loose, almost lacey areas where thin yarns form a meshlike fabric; it has dense areas where thick loops interlock; and it has normal areas where thick and thin loops come together.

Variegated yarns are a dramatic version of the heathers. Variegation progresses through unmuted shades of the same color or more commonly from one color to another. The cape I’m making now has several shades of pink and peach, , a related lavender, white, and green. Texturally, the general effect is like making a slubby fabric, only imagine that the different fabrics—mesh, dense, and standard—are made of different yarns, maybe silk, wool, and cotton, so while the way one color or texture blends into the next is subtle, the over all effect is not.

Jewel tones are vivid medium or dark colors resembling gemstones (e.g., ruby red, emerald green, sapphire blue). They’re usually solid or nearly solid (meaning subtle variations of the same bold color), and they draw the eye, so they’re best for items that make a statement, comparable to a melody heavy with fortissimos, allegros, or slinky syncopations.

Colors and Stitch Patterns

To show off stitch patterns, solids and heathers in light to medium shades work best.

The darker the yarn, the less likely people are to see the stitch patterns and the more impressed they’ll be by the person who could see well enough to knit or crochet with the color.

Variegated yarns are best for no-frills crafting, like stockinet, garter, or ribbing for knitters. People never see the stitches amid all the interesting color activity, so take it easy and let the variegation do the work.

Jewels are also good for no-frills stitching. The colors tend to be darker, and their vividness is pretty damn interesting in and of itself.

All of these are generalizations, of course. A sighted friend with color and craft sense can discourse on various nuances or, more likely, point out a specific yarn that does or doesn’t do well with intricate stitch patterns, but knowing broadly what these color terms mean and how they affect our work is takes some of the uncertainty about what to do with our yarn.

Learn to Crochet

Knowing how to crochet can be a great thing for knitters as well as those who have never picked up a ball of yarn. Even if you’re not planning to crochet a lot, it can be used for borders on knitted items, embellishments, ties for bags and other little things. If you really get adventurous, you can do a whole project with crochet. There are some wonderful afghan patterns out there.

I recently did a few posts on the basics of crochet. It’s worth taking the time to learn. I wanted to list all the posts together in one place so here they are in the order you would need them to learn how to crochet. I hope you find them helpful.

The Art of Crochet – An article on my personal experiences with crochet as well as some highlights on the history of crochet.

Slip Knot Tutorial – A slip knot is the first step in both crochet and knitting.

Chain Stitch Tutorial – The chain stitch is used to make the foundation row in crochet.

Single Crochet Tutorial – The single crochet is the most basic stitch in crochet.

More Crochet Stitches – A short explanation of the most used crochet stitches.

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