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How To: Purl Perfect

Cast on to your next favorite hobby with these beginner tips from international knit-lebrity, Susan Anderson.

Chelsea Rademacher ’13
September 16, 2021

In the summer of 1970-something, Susan Barrett Anderson ’87, MS’89 made some extra cash as a lifeguard at her neighborhood pool. At break time, her fellow lifeguards would play cards, share snacks, or catch up on gossip — but Anderson? She’d go to her locker and pull out her yarn and knitting needles. “It was probably a little odd,” Anderson chuckles at the memory. “It served me well in the long run.” Anderson taught herself to knit in her late teens, perfected the craft through the late 1990s, and has since become an internationally known knitter, knitting instructor, and author. Coffee-table books of knitting patterns turned into national book tours, which turned into a blog, which turned into nearly 100,000 Instagram followers. Today, Anderson is also a business owner: in 2016 she and her son, Evan Anderson ’14 — who gained his business acumen at the Wisconsin School of Business — cofounded the online shop Barrett Wool Co., which sells yarn from American mills, as well as patterns and kits of Susan’s own design, and offers online classes through its Patreon channel. But before you head to Barrett Wool Co. for full tutorials, get started with these beginner tips from Susan.

  1. Pick a Pattern

Staring down the yarn aisle at your local craft store can feel intimidating, and you can often end up with the wrong combinations of yarn weights and needle types. Patterns

typically list specific weights, types, and materials, so start there. Also, make sure you do a quick skim of the pattern, so you know what you’re getting into. “It’s just like when you’re cooking a recipe,” Anderson says. “It’s always recommended you just do a quick skim through, so you’re not having any surprises down the line.”

  1. Use Your Resources

So, you’ve already stocked up on various yarn and needles without a pattern in mind? Head to the Internet! Anderson recommends to find patterns. “You can do a pretty sophisticated search,” she says. “You could just put in your yarn weight, and up will pop who-knows-how-many thousands of patterns for that.”

  1. Use Your Scraps

Once you get the hang of things and finish your first project, you’ll probably have an awkward amount of yarn left. Don’t toss it — use it! “Toy knitting is fantastic for using up small amounts of yarn, because some toys are only six inches tall,” says Anderson. “Those make fantastic gifts, too, because they use up all your little leftover yarns, and then they don’t have to fit anybody.” She also recommends mismatched, stripey socks, or lap blankets.

  1. Share Your Spoils

If you’re hesitant to pick up a hobby that generates more stuff, knitting might be just the thing for you. Get all the enjoyment but none of the clutter by knitting for others. “Knitters are notorious for charity knitting,” Anderson laughs. She recommends contacting local homeless shelters and schools, both of which are often in need of hats and mittens, as well as local neonatal care units, which often need baby hats.

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