Casting On & Binding Off – with Amy Singer

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Long-tail cast on…the best version.

“There are cast ons and cast offs that you’ll never need to know. Wouldn’t it be nice is someone did the research and chose the best ones for you?”

When I read this, I jumped at the chance to attend Amy Singer’s workshop last Saturday. I’m pleased to say the day lived up to its claims.

Amy is perhaps best known as the editor of Knitty. She drew on her deep well of knitting experience to deliver a brilliant class. This class was intended for “a confident knitter who wants to add some extra finesse to the beginnings and endings of… projects.” I think the level was pitched just right. Also, importantly, the attendees were all at that level – it’s no fun if someone is struggling.

It’s not that anything we were taught was freakishly difficult; we were merely experienced enough to be reasonably dexterous with our yarn and pointy sticks, and we were willing to try something new. Plus, where necessary we could see how to adjust new techniques to suit our own knitting styles and tension, with a little help from Amy.

For example, I don’t crochet. (I know, I know, maybe one day I’ll learn.) So, when we learned a completely brilliant (IMHO) version of a provisional cast-on using a crochet hook, my natural tendency was still to try to hold the yarn in my right hand, like an English knitter. It worked out easier – for me – and I got the right result technically, so I’ll do it that way next time and we’ll all be happy. Do I need to say it again? There’s no one right way to do anything, as long a you get the result you want.

Because we were a group of experienced knitters, one or two popular techniques would inevitably already be known to some. For example, I went to the class pretty much wedded to cable cast-on, which I was surprised to find was a new method for most people. I admit I was very relieved to find this favourite cast-on had made it into Amy’s otherwise far-more-exotic shortlist. Those who were already familiar with long-tail cast-on were just as surprised to find it’s a technique I don’t (didn’t) know. The souped-up stretchy version, which was new to us all, I will be trying on my next mitts project.

Along the way, we learned a few little tips too, not just entire techniques. My absolute favourite little trick turned out to be something my neighbour already knew, but it was a revelation to me. If you’ve not seen the best way to deal with the last stitch in a regular bind off, do check it out. I think we all left the class feeling a little bit cleverer than before.

Yes, there are lots of ways to cast on and off, but Amy had edited it down to just the smartest stuff. I know I’ve mentioned that as experienced knitters we each had one or two things that we knew, and where we could help classmates along. But most of the day was new stuff to all of us. I think that’s pretty impressive considering how many years of casting-on and binding-off projects we must have had between us!

I did genuinely feel that we’d learned the “best” methods. They were all great in different ways – easier, faster, stretchier, tidier, matching, decorative. I have start-itis worse than usual now! Amy made us do plenty of practicing in class, but I want to use some of it soon, partly because it was so cool.

Sarah (Purlescence), Amy and myself, unwinding after the class.

Sarah (Purlescence), Amy and myself, unwinding after the class.

New projects need new yarn too, don’t they? I confess I did do a little shopping at lunchtime. Hosted by the lovely Purlescence, I had gone intending to browse their beautiful selection of Hand Maiden and “unfortunately” two skeins “fell” into my hands. I have a Seasilk scarf in Hemlock that is rarely off my neck, but now can be replaced in subtle Tourmaline.

The skein of lace weight Marrakesh is completely unnecessary beyond the fact that I had to have the bejewelled Renaissance colours. I plan make it a double souvenir of the day: the skein is a reminder of a lovely day with friends (old and new), and I intend to design for it using newly-learned techniques.

Sarah from Purlescence looked after us all very well – good sandwiches, great biscuits and fantastic cake. I can’t decide if I’d fancy teaching a workshop at Purlescence myself one day just so I could have one of Jonathan’s phenomenal sung introductions. Amy deserved the stratospheric build-up, even if we were all chuckling at the musical method of delivery! She’s a great teacher, a lovely person, and it was a fantastic class. If you get the chance, take it.

And next…I’m off to Unwind tomorrow. Can’t wait!

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5 thoughts on “Casting On & Binding Off – with Amy Singer

  1. What an interesting post! I didn’t know that about binding off the last stitch, so I’ve learned something new. Hope you don’t mind me asking, what scarf is it that you’re wearing in the photo – it’s very pretty.

  2. Goodness, I am surprised that these things some knitters didn’t know..they were the things I’ve always done..like long-tail twisted CO. And I have nowhere the experience they have. I am self -taught and started knitting sweaters, first a fairIsle for hubby and then an aran with cables. No one ever said, they were too difficult for a beginner so I just read the info & looked at many fotos.

    Hurrah for Knitting, I lov it!

    • We were all surprised when our classmates didn’t know each of our favourite methods…but there were so many techniques that were new. I wish I could share the more exotic stuff, but I don’t want to give away Amy’s class!!

  3. Sounds like a brilliant class, wish I could have been there (and seen Jonathan sing!).

    Marrakesh is possibly my favourite yarn ever. At least, I think it’s made my best ever project (Echo Flower Shawl in Smoke), and knitting it felt *so good* it just had to be fattening. I look forward to seeing what you do with that!)

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