Back to Basics

Some of you may remember that at the beginning of the year I embarked on two embroidery challenges / courses online – Sharon B’s Pintangle ( and Anne Brooke’s 52 Tags ( I have to confess that I am way behind on both having got, I think, about as far as February! However they are purely for my own pleasure and to learn more of the skills so I am doing them only when in the mood. Summer never is good time for me to do much crafting as the evenings are short and the garden demanding. Maybe over the winter I will feel like doing more.

However two things became glaringly obvious very quickly.

Firstly I had no idea there were so many embroidery stitches with so many variations on each – why did it never occur to me that if I could whip running stitch I could try the same thing on others? Or that blanket stitch could go both up and down in the same row? Doh!

Secondly that I had never used an embroidery hoop and could see no purpose to one. I did try once, years ago, and the fabric just slipped all over the place so I gave up. A link from one of the stitches in Pintangle explained that I needed to wrap the inner ring in tape to give grip and that a small hoop is easier to manage than a big one. I bought 2 small hoops and several meters of narrow cotton tape in Cardigan Market, did the wrapping as instructed and now it all made sense! I still find it a bit unnatural but I am getting there.

My old hoop and one of my new ones. I wrapped both to try them and see which I preferred.

Those experiences set me thinking. Every woman in my family could do embroidery. I was told that my paternal Grandmother won prizes for her needlework but she died before I was born. Her daughter and niece had tablecloths they had embroidered, some of which I inherited. But I don’t remember actually seeing any of them doing it. I have no recollection of being taught to embroider. I made a mat with blanket stitch and cross stitch on Aida fabric at school and somewhere along the line I picked up stem stitch and satin stitch. Did I glean it from a book? Was I given a kit for Christmas? Did I start to make something and ask Mum to show me how to do the next bit? I will never know. I am just glad that I have started at the beginning, learning in a structured way to do it properly.

But that linked to another problem I was having – knitting. I had realised that whilst I could knit, did knit, made perfectly acceptable things when I knitted, it felt very clumsy and seemed to involve a lot of letting go and picking up movements. I was sure my Mum did it in a much smoother way but of course she died nearly 30 years ago so I can’t ask her. The embroidery revelations made me recognise that I similarly have no recollection of being taught to knit or of watching her closely to see how she did it. I identified the main problem as being that I was having to take my right hand off the needle to hook the yarn round it, then grasp the needle again to make the stitch. I knew Mum had a way of flicking her right index finger to make the same move. So I have been experimenting and have discovered that managing the yarn with my left hand in exactly the same way as I do when crocheting works for me. It also makes ribbing and any other pattern which involves switching from knit to purl and back a doddle. I have no idea if this is an orthodox technique but it works!

Of course in the process I went back to ‘stick your tongue out and hang onto the yarn as if there’s an overexcited St Bernard on the other end’ stage! Very salutary. I will have more patience with novices now!

By chance I had got a book from the Library on knitting blocks and decided to practice my new method by knitting some of those. I had a box of balls of Aran yarn which I had knitted into a jumper, worn a couple of times, decided I didn’t like, and unravelled so if I made a hash of it I wasn’t worried. The first block I tried was knitted in the round on 4 needles – big mistake! I have knitted loads of socks on three or four needles but there the work drops down and the needles are short. Here the fabric got wider and on the long needles contrived to keep stabbing me with at least one of the needles that was not being used at the time. So then I tried one which was mainly stocking stitch with a simple diamond of lace stitches. Better. Now I am doing what it describes as ‘diagonal pattern’. Fiendish! If I make a mistake (and there have been plenty) it is a devil to take back. I have pulled the whole thing off the needles and started again twice. It is only stubbornness which will get it finished! However I am getting the hang of the technique much better with so much practice.

I wonder what else I will discover I have only half learned?

23 thoughts on “Back to Basics

  1. claire93 September 4, 2021 / 4:19 pm

    so pleased to read that you’re learning (or re-learning) new skills.
    I vaguely remember being taught to knit as a child, by a mum who held both needles elegantly and do the “whip yarn round” without seeming to change hold on either needle. I never knew how she did it and, she died more than 35 years ago, so I was too young at the time to have bothered to ask. I’m a bit of a cack-handed knitter and sort of wedge my right needle into my trouser waist band, which means I can let go of the needle when wrapping yarn over. I recently discovered that there are such things as “knitting belts” and “knitting sheaths” (I’ll let you google) that were used precisely to stick that right needle in place! So I realise, I’m not actually cack-handed, I just found a different traditional way of doing things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 5, 2021 / 10:20 am

      I have read about knitters in the past using devices to hold one needle but have never seen one. I found I wedged the right needle in my armpit! It has been quite interesting to experiment and I now know 2 ways to knit without needing to let go. I think the ‘tarn in the left hand’ works for me because I am so used to doing that with crochet – meaning I only have to work n changing my right hand action!


      • claire93 September 5, 2021 / 11:18 am

        I have a friend who sticks right needle in her arm pit, and I think my gran used to do the same. Both very proficient knitters!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. apeacefultree September 4, 2021 / 5:44 pm

    I am also a big fan of the “stick your tongue out” strategy :)..except in my case it’s the thread when I attempt sewing. The blocks look great – I like the center diamond pattern.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 5, 2021 / 10:21 am

      Thank you! I wonder why we instinctively do that tongue out thing? It doesn’t help at all!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. September 4, 2021 / 8:17 pm

    On university challenge the other week the picture round was to identify four embroidery stitches. I got them all correct, but the team did not- they kept saying cross stitch for all of them! I have the military issue embroidery ( unfinished) that my aunt was issued with in the RAF during WW 2 !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 5, 2021 / 10:25 am

      You mean you haven’t finished it yet?! 😉 Well done for beating the team.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. onesmallstitch September 4, 2021 / 10:14 pm

    I admire you for keeping going – nothing wrong with a little stubbornness. I don’t knit any more due to arthritis but if I sit down and pick up some needles and yarn I can almost feel my mom next to me giving instructions. I learned from the start to put the wool around the needle smoothly while still holding the needles. Wasn’t allowed to “walk around the needle”. I miss knitting but have enough to do to keep busy so don’t get tempted anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 5, 2021 / 10:26 am

      I sometimes wonder if my hands will always be able to keep knitting but that is partly why it seemed important to learn to do it with minimal effort – which will be when the rhythm comes naturally so not yet!


  5. June Lorraine Roberts September 5, 2021 / 5:28 pm

    I used to embroider a lot when younger. I should try some small projects again …maybe napkins


  6. anne54 September 6, 2021 / 2:28 am

    Like you I don’t remember learning to sew and knit…and I don’t remember learning to read either. However, I know my Mum taught me. I do remember some truely awful creations, and we used to have the mantra of ‘knit one, drop one’! I know I taught myself a technique of winding the yarn around, as taking my hand off was too cumbersome.
    I love how you are recording your experiments in embroidering. It will be invaluable for you in further projects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 6, 2021 / 9:39 am

      The embroidery is certainly widening my horizons. I am enjoying watching your sampler grow and wondering when I will get to those stitches!

      Liked by 1 person

      • anne54 September 6, 2021 / 10:59 pm

        I am sure you could do them right now, Sue. Cathy’s instructions on the video are very clear. However, the ones you are practising look just fine.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Going Batty in Wales September 7, 2021 / 9:55 am

        Maybe when I have finished the courses / challenges I have started on I will do a sampler. I could use one of the designs for the outlined blocks and make my own fillings!


  7. Helen September 6, 2021 / 7:54 am

    I guess when we are children we pick up bits of this and bits of that but need to hone in on what we most want to learn before being able to learn more than a few basics.

    I did both embroidery and knitting as a child but have no idea which stitches I learned with the former and got exasperated tension whilst doing the latter.

    Anyway, good luck with these endeavours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 6, 2021 / 9:40 am

      Thank you. I enjoy being creative but also love learning.


      • Helen September 6, 2021 / 10:51 am

        Both very good things 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  8. queenofsienna September 6, 2021 / 10:50 am

    That Nicky Epstein Knitting Block by Block book looked very interesting. I found one for $4.99 with free shipping and bought it. The idea of creating a sweater, scarf, blanket block by block appeals to me and this book looks very good. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 7, 2021 / 9:58 am

      I hope you enjoy it and glad that my post was sueful!


  9. Laurie Graves September 7, 2021 / 2:52 pm

    I think skills we learn at home are seldom structured. I don’t recall ever teaching my daughters how to cook, but somehow they picked up the basics by helping me get meals ready each night. As for knitting…I knit exactly the way that you do. Or did. Anyway, bravo for learning new tricks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales September 8, 2021 / 9:01 am

      I’m sure you are right about learning by helping. Experimenting with knitting has proved to be fun if frustrating at times!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ju-Lyn October 5, 2021 / 10:43 am

    Thank you for the idea to wrap the embroidery hoops – my Older Child has just embarked on a project and bought herself some plastic hoops, which we were concerned about holding the fabric well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Going Batty in Wales October 6, 2021 / 9:43 am

      Glad to have been of help. I hope she enjoys her project.

      Liked by 1 person

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