MOORHEAD, Minn.-Images of chunky, knit blankets made of 1-plus-inch diameter yarn recently have been circling the web and social media. Do a little digging, and you'll find these cozy blankets retail for $50 to $200 on sites like Amazon, Ebay and Etsy. But, with a little practice, intrepid crafters can create their own hand-knitted blankets.
Betsy Armour, 40, of Moorhead, Minn., came across a video of hand knitting on Facebook and was instantly mesmerized by the process and its results.
"When I saw this video and they laid it out on the table, it was like looping. That's what I do with my banners for my props in my business," said the owner of Betsy Armour Photography.
An avid crafter herself, Armour told her husband, Chris, about the project, and he - as the researcher of the household - set out to find where they could buy the rare, chunky yarn.
Yearning for yarn
Although needles are required for most knitting projects, that's not the case for hand knitting. It only requires yarn, so Armour set out to find the perfect kind.
"I kept looking around," she said. "Like a crazy person, I went to JoAnn's, Hobby Lobby and Michaels."
Other than Prairie Fiber Arts Center in Moorhead, which carried the yarn for a time but discontinued it when there was no demand, Armour couldn't find a local shop that sold it. Finally, her husband found Woollymahoosive.com, a United Kingdom website that sold the yarn by the kilogram.
"Four kilograms in each (type of yarn) was a different length," Chris said. "You can make different sized blankets for the different weights, too, because of how fluffy it is."
The couple also noted the difference between true merino wool and acrylic yarn varieties.
"It was just (tricky) trying to find the wool and find the right kind," Armour said. "It was difficult because I didn't want to spend a lot of money and then not know what I was getting."
While the real wool was safe to machine wash, it came at a price. Not only did it literally cost more, the felted wool Armour bought also tended to roll when she was knitting. The couple had to buy two large, 1.25-inch diameter dowels to act as giant knitting needles to keep the project flat as Armour knit.
Though acrylic yarn must be dry cleaned, it's less expensive, appears soft and does not twist while knitting.
Armour bought a 4-kilogram (or 8.8-pound) ball of acrylic yarn for 60 British pounds. Shipping and handling added another 37 pounds-and two to three weeks wait time-costing the couple approximately $135 to make a 6- by 4-foot blanket.
"When I started (hand knitting), I loved doing it. It's one of those things where when you start doing it, you lose yourself in the project," Armour said. "Part of the reason I liked it is because I knew I couldn't knit. Knowing that, it was like, 'Oh, I'm getting into knitting ... but I'm not.'"
To hand knit, crafters create loops, interlacing them and moving from row to row.
"It goes so quick. It kind of reminds me of when you hit the spacebar on a typewriter, you're just (moving along)," Armour said. "The larger blanket only took me like 2.5 hours."
The most difficult part, Armour said, is getting the hang of starting the project and, when you get to the end, finishing off the edge.
"You have to be careful because we found there are certain kinds of wool that would actually tear," Armour said. "This (acrylic) stuff doesn't."
When Armour saw and felt the end result of her hand-knitted blanket, she was beyond pleased.
"What I like about it is that it almost looks like a braid. I think with the looser feel, you actually get more warmth," she said. "When I finally had a moment to sit down with it and lay it on my lap, I was like 'Wow, this thing is warm,' which is really nice for these cold winter nights we seem to keep getting."
Not only does the blanket promote warmth, it's one-of-a-kind.
"I'm always about unique and finding something different," Armour said. "You just can't get it around here."
Blankets without a budget
Thanks to her husband's research, Armour avoided some potentially expensive mistakes. Here are her tips for those looking to craft an Instagram-worthy blanket.
• Do your homework. "I think you should research the product before you even get into it," she said. In doing so, crafters can ensure they'll have enough yarn and avoid buying the wrong variety.
• Use tutorials. "Look online. YouTube is awesome for some amazing tutorials," Armour said. "That's actually how I learned how to do it." A simple Google search yields hundreds of results, catering to hand or arm knitting techniques.
• Expect to spend money. "Just know that it's not a cheap project," she said. "When you get into it, it's going to be $100-some, if not more, to actually make a blanket." Consider whether you're actually up for the craft project or should consider just buying a blanket for approximately the same cost.