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Technique, etiquette, and lifestyle advice for the modern knitter

By Patty Lyons  

I’ve been teaching knitting for many years now and the most important thing I’ve learned is… knitters have opinions. LOTS of them! I’ve always said get 10 knitters in a room together; odds are there will be 11 opinions (It’s one of my favorite things about knitters). Knitters also come up with the most amazing questions. I’ve been answering your questions in emails, PMs, tweets, in my Ravelry group and in my advice column for quite some time now and I’m so excited that “Patty’s Purls of Wisdom” is now joining Twist Collective. This column will be a space for questions and opinions and I couldn’t be more excited—just think of me as the Dear Abby of knitters.


There’s no question too technical, nerdy (love nerdy!), or etiquette sensitive. This is your safe space. From how to navigate “will you knit that for me?” questions to “what’s the best way to join a new ball,” we’ve got you covered.

We are here to talk about ANYTHING: techniques, tips, how-to’s, knitting etiquette, lifestyle questions, you name it. Doesn’t matter how silly you think it is. (In fact, we encourage the silly, as it helps us keep life in perspective.)

Let’s all learn from each other and let’s start talking knitting! E-mail your questions to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. “PATTY’S PURLS” in the subject line. Tell me a little bit about yourself, and your knitting, and share with me your knitting concerns, questions, or tragedies—and make sure to tell me where you’re from.

So without further ado, let’s go to the inbox:


Dear Patty: Can any yarn with the same yarn weight as specified in the pattern be used for the pattern? If the pattern calls for, say, sport-weight 100-percent mercerized cotton can sport-weight 55-percent Super Fine Nylon, 45-percent super-fine acrylic) be used?

Dear Lisa: The short answer is no, but the why behind the no is not short. So pour yourself a cup of coffee and get comfy.

There is so much to consider when you make a yarn substitution, and in my life I’ve made many, many bad yarn subs. Yarn is our main ingredient and grabbing anything off the shelf and casting on is like a baker saying a half cup of flour and a half cup of salt should make basically the same thing. (PSA—step away from that cake!) After much experimentation as a new knitter, I came to the three questions we need to ask ourselves when making a yarn sub: how much, how big, and what is it? Your question relates to the last two: how big? and what is it?

So first let’s address “how big?” Sport-weight is a broad category. (Think of it as a department in the grocery store; if you are looking for canned ham, you should not be in the dairy aisle.) The first element you need to consider is gauge: how many stitches and rows fit in 4 inches. But beyond gauge you have density, and that is the relation between the yardage and the weight. The mercerized cotton is 284 yards/100 grams. The nylon/acrylic is 361 yards/100 grams. That means the cotton weighs much more than the nylon. This will not only affect the weight of the garment, but the drape, the sag, and the fabric quality. Which leads me to (drum roll, please) “what is it?”

Those who sew know that if they have a pattern for a red linen suit, buying red raw silk is not going to get them the same fabric. Interlocking loops of yarn build a fabric, and a mercerized cotton and a nylon blend are going to make hugely different fabrics. So if you like the way the picture of that garment looks, pay attention to the gauge, density, and fiber content. Most importantly: (gonna say it) SWATCH. It is the test ride of your fabric. If you think a chef can make a wonderful recipe without understanding the ingredients, try eating a salt cake. Ask me how I know.

hurt hands

Dear Patty: I knit every day and my wrist is in pain. I knit American style (throwing), so I taught myself Continental knitting. I’m running into the same problem with the left hand as well, what am I doing wrong? I don’t want to stop knitting. I love it too much. Sometimes I endure the pain because I love to knit. Am I crazy or do I have to give it up? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so very much.

Dear Alice: NOOOOOO, you are not crazy AND you should not give it up. You just need to find what works for you. I find that when knitters experience wrist pain there can be several causes, but two that are very common are what I call “the death grip” and “hook hands.” I was a victim of both when I first started to knit. Pick up your needle and yarn and knit a few stitches. Look at the back of your hand and the tendons on your inner wrist: is anything popping out? Gripping needles and/or yarn like Homer Simpson choking Bart puts a lot of stress on our wrists. Now look at the position of your hands in line with your wrist. Is it one line, or is there a break in the wrist? Are you hooking your hands? This can also cause pain. Think of your hands like wet noodles and make sure you are not holding any tension anywhere. It takes some practice, but slow yourself down and listen to your body. It might take you longer to finish something, but once your good form starts to become second nature, you’ll be knitting a sweater a day in no time. Okay, it might take you two or three days.

Dear Patty: I recently attended a conference that consisted of panels discussing various topics. I, and a number of other women, often brought our knitting to these panels. We all contributed to the conversation while we knitted but it occurs to me that this is really no different than playing with a phone during a meeting.

I become irritated when people refuse to put away their phones during a conversation and consider their behavior rude. Could it be that we knitters are just as rude? Should we confine our knitting to private moments and informal family gatherings?

Dear Pam: Knitting only in private moments! To quote Dirty Dancing, “No one puts Baby in the corner!” I may be speaking as a knitter here (who are we kidding, I AM speaking as a knitter here), but personally, I can knit and hear every word you say, but as soon as I look at my phone all I hear is (insert Peanuts teacher sound here) “wah wawa, wah wawa.” For this reason alone I don’t think they are the same. Study after study has shown that our attention sharpens when we are doing something repetitive with our hands. Now am I saying you should be following a chart, knitting double sided lace with light-up needles? Probably not. But if you can work your pattern, listen and participate, then I say knit on!


Patty Lyons teaches nationally at guilds and knitting shows around the country. Her popular classes can also be found online and on DVD at Interweave, Annie’s, and Craftsy, where her “Improve Your Knitting Class” was named Craftsy’s most popular class of 2013.
Her designs have been published in Twist Collective, Vogue Knitting, Interweave Knits, and many more magazines and pattern books.