There seems to be a law-probably written by a close relative of Murphy dictating that needlecrafters will never have just the right amount of yarn for any article they're knitting or crocheting. Invariably, they either buy too much in the first place . . . or decide to stretch what they have on hand, only to find that they have to purchase some more wool and then wind up with too much. After a while, most serious needlecrafters build up reserves of these seemingly useless odds and ends. . . half a skein of persimmon, almost a full skein of a peach hue, 3/4 of a skein of an iridescent yarn (left over from a Halloween project?), and some electric ice blue for which a purpose could never be found.
Of course, some bits and pieces can be used as trim for other knitwear projects, but aside from this application, I've found only one way to stem the tide of leftover yarn: Make an afghan!
My brainstorm occurred last fall as winter was approaching. My daughter sorely needed a warm blanket, but I didn't want to buy one (well, I didn't have the money, anyway). What I did have, though, was a 20-gallon garbage bag full of the cast-off yarn from 15 years of knitting. I decided to create a spare-yarn afghan . . . a thermal-type blanket that would be useful year round and that could be made with a minimum investment of time. This latter requirement ruled out time-consuming granny-square comforters. After a little planning, I came up with the following pattern for a Rainbow Ripple Afghan, which knits up rapidly, is attractive, and yields a bed-sized coverlet.
The pattern is the classic 'Feather and Fan,' sometimes called 'Old Shale' or 'Old Shell.'
Materials: a 24" circular needle, size 10 1/2 (the gauge is not crucial to this project, as it would be for making an article of clothing), and scrap yarn.
To start: Cast on 210 stitches, and knit in the following pattern (you will have 11 pattern repeats):
Row 1. Knit.
Row 2. Purl.
Row 3. *K2 tog three times. (YO, K1) six times, K2 tog three times.* Repeat from * to * 11 times.
Row 4. Knit.
On the first blanket I made, I changed colors at the end of every four rows, leaving the joined ends to give a fringelike effect along the side. If you don't like the way the fringe looks, just work the yarn ends back into the body of the afghan. Thanks to the large needle I used, I was able to produce the afghan in an amazingly short time. Every evening for two weeks, I sat down and did 12 rows (three bands of color). This yielded a single bed-sized blanket.
Once I'd finished my first knit-it-after-dinner afghan, I started a second one for my son with more leftover yarn (after all, they'd been accumulating for a long time!). With the experience I'd gained on my first comforter, I became somewhat adventurous on this afghan. I modified the design by making some of the color bands double in size (eight pattern rows instead of four), alternating these ripples randomly with four-row bands. What's more, I used all types and weights of yarn, twisting two strands of baby-weight or sport yarn together to maintain a uniform weight with the other worsted-weight yarn. (By doubling the yarn I was really able to reduce my wool cache.)
In summary, I can't say enough about the virtues of the Knit-it-Fast Rainbow Ripple Afghan. It cost me nothing but some evening hours that I assuredly could have wasted on something far less worthwhile . . . and my versions of it have helped two of my family members ward off winter chill. If you can use a spare blanket around the house (there aren't too many people who can't), dig through your yarn heap and spend a dozen or so evenings cozily knitting by the fire. You'll help chase away the after-Christmas blahs and supplement your blanket chest at the same time!
Need a refresher on the basics of knitting and crocheting? Would a list of abbreviations be handy? How about more project ideas and patterns? See How to Knit and Crochet.