Friday, September 2, 2011


Does anyone out there remember using a handmade washcloth? Do you recall the colorful, soft cotton washcloths that Grandma or Mom or Aunt Betty would knit? They were so popular. Not only were they pretty, but they were fun and inexpensive to make - and maybe, just maybe, the dreary job of washing dishes might be just a little more pleasant. 
I actually enjoy washing dishes by hand. The soap smells so nice and the warm water feels so good. And who doesn't love bubbles? Now, throw in a colorful handmade washcloth and I'm actually having fun! I don't limit them to the kitchen. I use them to wash my makeup off at night and in the shower too! The next time you wash your face, try using one of these. I do believe you will be converted and will not want to use anything else. They are soooooo soft. They feel wonderful on your skin. I'm guessing many of you remember these - and maybe some of you still use them. They last forever!!  I love my washcloths.  They just cheer me up.  I put a little vintage into my modern world every time I use one.
The next time you are washing dishes with an old time "warshrag" as my dad and grandma would say, let your mind wander and allow yourself to go back to a time long ago. I'm picturing a family sitting outside on the front porch, relaxing together after the supper dishes were washed.
I can almost smell the blooms of the lilac bush now.  Mom and Dad are sitting on the porch swing enjoying the breeze. The frosty glass pitcher of pink lemonade is ready for anyone who cares to wet his whistle. Granddad rocks in the old wooden rocking chair lighting up his pipe. Brother and sister are perched on the steps of the front porch, ready to visit with neighbors and friends passing by. Uncle Joe throws a stick for the beloved family mutt to chase and bring back, over and over again.  Little brother runs around the front lawn with a Mason jar, impatiently waiting for dusk to arrive so he can catch fireflies.  Now, of course, when the warm summer breezes would bid a fond farewell and old man winter started sending those chilly north winds, everyone had to leave the  porch and gather in the front room around the fireplace. The smell of the burning oak and the beautiful glow of the fire drew everyone near. They stayed warm and toasty from the heat of the blazing embers. Sipping homemade cocoa and toasting marshmallows, they enjoyed listening to the old time radio shows.  It seems to me people did sit and relax a bit more.  They were probably exhausted from doing the day's chores, and most likely had no extra money to do anything else anyhow. Cooking and cleaning and laundry took a lot longer back then without all of today's modern marvels, the appliances that make our lives easier.  It was a very common thing to see women doing handwork. Some women quilted, some did mending or embroidery, some crocheted, and some knitted. It was relaxing, yet productive, and was a pleasant way to pass the time. I always wish I was born one generation back.  Yes, maybe my time here on earth might be done or nearing the end, but oh, to have experienced the simpler, more innocent times our previous generations lived.

About ten years ago, while visiting my husband's parents, my mother-in-law brought out her knitting basket.  It was filled with several knitted washcloths, knitting needles, crochet hooks, and yarn. I was so darn excited when I saw that old basket; she might as well have brought out a pot of gold. I jumped up off the couch and ran over to her and told her how much I loved those knitted washcloths. I also told her I would love to learn to knit one. She let me pick one to take home, and told me she would gladly show me how to do it. I tried not to appear overly excited and not be too much of a dork, which I am. I really mean that - some people are computer geeks, I am a craft geek. If she knew how excited I was about learning to knit a washcloth she would probably have been concerned. I do try to act normal when I'm around my husband's side of the family, for his sake.  I'm like a craft/handwork junkie or addict. Perhaps I should start a support group. I have a feeling I wouldn't be alone! I just love making things with my own two hands, and I really value things that have been handmade. I get so excited when I master a new skill or learn about a new craft. It's like winning a lottery to me! Some people read or watch tv in their spare time. I make things. I might sit on the porch and rock, or watch tv, but usually I will be doing some kind of handwork at the same time.

My grandma taught me how to do a basic cast on, knit, and purl stitch. She also taught me to sew on her old black Singer sewing machine. The woman was a saint. Very patient. I don't think she ever taught me how to bind off; I guess I just kept on knitting all the time. I don't recall ever actually finishing anything or making a project; just practicing the stitches. Every time I knit I can hear her telling me "Not so tight!" as apparently I was holding the yarn too tightly and was having trouble knitting the stitches. Last year I took a knitting class for some rather fancy gloves, with a decorative cable running down the front. It didn't go well. I just can't follow patterns. I think I have attention deficit disorder - I have a hard time staying focused for very long. The instructor would walk around and check our progress and told me that I knit very loosely.  She claimed knitting tension  was supposed to be an indication of the knitter's personality, and that I must be a really laid back, relaxed person. I almost spit out my coffee laughing as she said it -  I can't sit still very long unless I am doing something . . . like knitting or crochet.  I explained to the knitting instructor that I have never been accused of being laid back before, and that I was certain my loose knitting was due to my beloved grandma's voice in my head telling me not to knit so tightly. I miss my grandma. She was so cute. A little southern lady from Kentucky.

Anyhow, back to the story.  My mother-in-law, Lucille, explained this VERY SIMPLE, VERY BASIC washcloth pattern step by step, and said it was really easy and that I would have no trouble with it.  I watched her as she showed the steps, and tried to memorize it.  By the time I got home I had completely forgotten it.  I actually didn't quite understand it anyhow. I decided I would just knit washcloths the only way I knew how.  My way. Straight knitting in the shape of a square. Nothing to think about or remember. It was easier, still fun and relaxing, and they turned out fine.  Just without the pretty edge. Actually I have made a lot of really nice scarves the same way, only longer. Now don't laugh, they were fine, and warm. I like that homemade look anyhow.  

A few years later I was searching on the internet for knitting info, and what do you know?  All kinds of patterns and tutorials.  Let me encourage all of you, even those who don't know how to knit, to just Google "how to knit" and watch some of the many tutorials.  I have found Planet Purl to have many excellent ones, and I will refer you to some of those with this pattern. You can watch them over and over and over until it sinks in, and it is so much easier than trying to learn it from a book. If you don't have a grandma or mom or aunt to teach you, don't worry. If you are interested enough in it to really try to learn, then you will learn and you will love it. I promise.  Visit Planet Purl, and on the home page click on "How to videos" and see what you might be interested in. There are tons of other sites to visit, but this is a good place to start. 

For this washcloth, I'll give you the supplies needed and the basic pattern. Then I'll try to talk you through it for those of you who are challenged like yours truly.

You will need knitting needles.  I use size 8.  I love the bamboo ones, they feel so good in my hands. Some people love the aluminum ones. I do like the little clicky sound they make when I knit. Have you ever seen the short  knitting needles that are connected with a plastic cord between them?  Well, it turns out they are for knitting in the round, like a tube. I bought some once when I thought I could knit socks.  Well, I never did make the socks, but I found out those needles are wonderful!  Since the actual needles are shorter than the regular needle length they are easier to hold in your lap.  I even can use them when I am lying reclined on the couch without the ends poking me in the stomach!   I love them.  That is all I use now. I have two sets.  Both are the bamboo size 8, one is the shortest cord possible (approximately 9 inches), and the next set is a slightly longer cord, (approximately 18 inches). The way these work is when you are knitting and you have too many stitches on the needle the extra stitches just overflow onto the cord.   So if you are knitting a huge sweater or afghan or something where there is too much knitted material to fit onto the needles, the cord holds the stitches.  Ingenious!! Either way, I love the way they fit into my hands, and I am not constantly dropping a needle between the couch cushions or on the floor.  Seriously try them.  Click here and here for more info about circular needles.  
You can do just plain old regular knitting on these needles, you don't have to knit in the round. As I mentioned earlier, the actual needles are a little shorter than normal needles, which make them so portable and easy to hold. Each size needle comes with different sizes of the cord; the size of your project will determine which size you need.  If you are making a huge afghan you need to buy a needle with a longer cord to hold all the stitches.  I use the needles with the shortest cord at the beginning and end of the washcloth.  When I get to the middle of the washcloth I switch over to the size 8 with the 18" cord.  Those needles are just the right size to hold all the stitches of the washcloth.  The only reason I don't use the needle with this size cord throughout the entire washcloth is that the longer cord is great when I need it, but I don't like having in my way when I don't.  But, the combination of the two works great for me.  I am a little fusspot though, I don't like to be bothered.  My knitting is my therapy.  I actually get into a sort of a rhythm, and if I have to stop to adjust my knitting onto the needle from the cord, or move the longer cord out of the way it annoys me.  Like I said, I'm fussy.  Just sayin'.
Now for the fun part. Go shopping for yarn!! Pick up some beautiful cotton yarn in your favorite color.  Lily makes Sugar 'N Cream yarn which is perfect, very inexpensive (less than two dollars) and comes in so many beautiful colors you will have a hard time choosing.  You can find this yarn in any store that carries yarns; JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels, Hobby Lobby, and even WalMart carry this brand.  You can also find many beautiful, soft yarns in many color choices at your local yarn store. Just be prepared to pay a bit more.  Keep in mind that if we don't patronize our local yarn and quilt shops they can't stay in business and the larger chain stores will be our only option, and that would be sad. I would miss being able to walk into my local shops and visit and get help with my projects. The selection and quality of these goods is way better than in the chain stores, and you can't put a dollar amount on the friendships and good times you will surely enjoy. If you are new at this, maybe for your first try get the Sugar 'N Cream.  But, DO visit your local yarn store and support the store. You will be amazed at how many beautiful yarns there are that you would NEVER see in a chain store.  Talk to the owner and instructors, meet some new friends that have a common interest, take a class or a field trip with a group. You'll have so much fun!!! 

Pattern:  For the experienced knitters, here is the basic pattern.
Cast on 4.  
Row 1: Knit four.
Row 2:   Knit 2, yarn over, knit to end of row.  
Continue in this pattern until you have 45 stitches on needle.
Next row:  Knit 1, knit 2 together, yarn over, knit 2 together, knit to end of row. Continue in this pattern until you have four stitches left. Bind off.

So, now for the beginners. I am going to give you links for tutorials for all the steps. These are excellent tutorials from Planet Purl. Remember to turn up the volume so you can hear the instructions. It is just like having a friend sitting down with you showing you. Keep in mind you don't have to sit through the entire tutorial, you can slide the little bar on the bottom to fast forward through the very beginning if you want. I usually listen at least once to the whole thing because there is always something new to learn! This washcloth starts out at one corner.  As you increase you get wider until you get to the middle of the washcloth, where you will have 45 stitches.  Then you start the decrease and you go back down to 4 stitches.  

Pattern for beginners:

Make a slip knot. Click here for tutorial.

Cast on 3 more stitches. Click here for a tutorial. This is a really quick and easy cast on.  There are many different ways of doing it, this is the way I was taught. You now have a total of 4 stitches on the needle. The slip knot counts as one, your three cast on loops are the remaining 3.   See, I told you this wasn't hard. I do want to remind you about the voices in my head.  I can still hear my grandmother saying "Not so tight!"  If you pull the yarn too tightly around the needle, especially on the cast on row, it is harder than blazes to knit the first row.  So chill. Lighten up, no death grips please. I think at this point you should maybe go pour a beverage. Relax.  Maybe some chocolate too.   I know you can do it.

Next step: Knit 4. Click here for a tutorial. You will knit all four stitches in this first row.  Remember this row is kind of the hardest since the cast on loops are always a little snug.  I was going to try to explain the knit stitch, but this little video tutorial is so good I am just going to hand it over to her. Honestly there are so many informational videos and tutorials, and even several Learn To Knit CD's you can buy at the craft store (which I did many years ago by the way, since I am a very basic knitter). Every little bit of info helps.  Now you can find it all online, but when I bought the Learn To Knit CD many years ago the online tutorials weren't available. Even better, you could visit your local yarn store.  They are beautiful shops, filled with wonderful people who want to help you and want you to love to knit!

Did you do it?  That wasn't hard, right?  Once you have the knit stitch down you are there.  I promise. So all you beginners put down your needles and applaud yourself.  I know I am silly, but I get so excited about learning something new.

Ok, next row. Knit two stitches, then do a yarn over (otherwise known as YO). Click here for a tutorial. Then knit the remaining two stitches. You now have five stitches on the needle. 

Knit the next row in the same manner; knit 2, yarn over, and knit to the end of the row.  You now have six stitches on the needle.  Keep going in this pattern until you have 45 stitches on the needle. If you want a bigger washcloth you can keep going, 50 or 55 stitches. . . it's your washcloth . . . whatever you want.  If you stop at 45 stitches the washcloth should measure around 8" square.  Some end up a little smaller, some a littler larger, depending on the tension and the yarn used.

Now we decrease, using a method called knit two together (otherwise known as K2T). Exactly like it sounds, simply knitting two stitches together. For tutorial click here. Starting with this row, you knit one stitch, knit the next two stitches together, yarn over, then knit two together. Then knit the rest of the stitches to the end of the row. I know this sounds kind of counter-productive, but trust me.

Next row, same thing. Knit one, knit two together, yarn over, knit two together, knit the rest of the row. Keep doing this every row till you get down to four stitches.

Last row, the binding off row. Not sure how to bind off stitches? So easy you won't believe it. Click here for a tutorial.

You did it. You're done. I'll bet you are smiling and very pleased with yourself. Well you should be!! You did a great job. I knew you could do it. I'm so excited. Send me pictures. Seriously. Ric Rac and Polka Dots has a facebook page. Click here here to visit. Please share with us.

Is there anything nicer than a handmade washcloth? I think not. Of course unless it is a crocheted washcloth, which I also love. If anyone is interested I would be happy to put up a pattern for that also. It only takes a couple hours to make one, but the years of enjoyment are countless. I take care of my mom, who is homebound and not able to do many of the things she used to do for herself, and every time I give her a shower and use one of my washcloths she always comments on how much she loves them. They are so soft and so pretty. I have crocheted an edge on one of hers and I must admit that each time we use it I admire how pretty it is. I have decided to have nothing but handmade washcloths in my home. Using one of these is like taking a trip back in time. I think of all the moms and grandmothers who would sit and knit these and share them with family and friends. I hope that those of you who are lucky enough to have been given one of these little gems really appreciates them for what they are, a gift from the heart.

I do realize that some of you have absolutely no desire to knit or crochet a washcloth, so I have decided to put some of my extras into my Etsy shop. They are nothing fancy, just a soft, sweet, made with love washcloth that needs someone to love them. If anyone actually buys them it will be a good reason to keep on knitting. I will try to keep the price very reasonable for those of you who are not able to make one for yourself but would love to have one. 

I would like to send many thanks to my friend Meri at ImagiMeri's for the wonderful graphics. Do visit her blog, you'll love it!  Click here to visit Meri.
I would be really happy if you are inspired by this post to try making a washcloth. I have heard from some of you who are going to try it.  I really enjoy making them.  It must be genetic, because my dad even knew how to knit and I have a scarf he made - nothing fancy, just straight knitting. I love and treasure that scarf.  Every time I see it I think of him. I hope you love making them and that you love your washcloths. I also hope you will consider sharing them with your friends and family. I give them as gifts, usually a set of three coordinating colors with a beautiful ribbon tied around them. I usually include a bar of homemade soap purchased at craft shows.  You could also include a favorite body wash or lotion.  They make wonderful baby gifts, so soft for that delicate skin. Whoever the recipient, they absolutely love them . . . which makes me very happy.