Knitting and cancer

One of the things you’re going to experience when you get cancer is there’s a lot of boredom and sitting around waiting for things. A little bit of knitting can help while away those long hours waiting in hospitals or watching box sets. For many people, knitting is quite meditative and relaxing. So why not rediscover your love of knitting or learn a new skill and teach yourself to knit? If your loved one is a knitter, maybe get her/him some wool and a nice pattern as a present.

Knitters can also knit for cancer patients and survivors. Many of us lose hair as a result of anaemia, poor nutrition or chemo. That can be embarrassing or make us cold. It can look untidy and be a very visual reminder of our illness. Sometimes the answer can be to wear a scarf or hat, and a hand-knitted hat in soft wool could be just what the doctor ordered and a very welcome gift!

So how do you knit a hat? Well the best way is to master the art of knitting on DPN (double pointed needles) or circular needles. It can be tricky, but here’s a simple ribbed hat that’s great for beginners. It comes out pretty generously sized, but you can increase or reduce the size fairly easily. I’d say this size (104 stitches) is suitable for a fairly large sized head. This pattern uses both purl and knit stiches and the best way to learn if you haven’t knitted before is to go to YouTube where there’s some great instructional videos.

  • Cast on 104 stitches and spread across three DPN (34 on each of two needles and 36 on one). I use double knitting wool on 5mm needles, but go up or down a size of needles depending on how loose or tight you knit.
  • Work in a Knit 2 stitches (K2), Purl 2 stitches (P2) rib for around 11 inches.
  • Reduction Row 1: K2tog, P2tog until end (52 stiches remaining).
  • Reduction Row 2: K1, P1 until end (52 stitches).
  • Reduction Row 3: K2tog until end (26 stitches).
  • Reduction Row 4: K2tog until end (13 stitches).
  • Cut yarn and sew it through remaining stitches to draw up the top of the hat – or use a Kitchener stitch. If you’ve never done Kitchener stitch, which is really an invisible way of finishing your knitting, then try this YouTube video which is really easy to understand: How to do the kitchener stitch

Okay so how can you adjust the size of your hat? Well I think you’ll find the hat is pretty stretchy if you’ve done a good job, but if you want a smaller or larger hat then you simply need to decrease by increments of 4 stitches. Why 4? If you decrease by 2 you’ll get two sets of purls or knits coming together and an obvious join in the pattern. So experiment with 100 stitches or 96, for example. You can measure how much you will decrease the size of your hat by simply measuring two or more ribs (measure two ribs on your completed hat). As a rule of thumb, each decrease of 4 stitches should equate to around an inch in circumference (ie a 104 stitch hat will be approximately 1 inch bigger than a 100 stitch hat).

What yarn to use? I always use pure wool or cotton yarns because I like the way they knit, feel and wear. Personally, I like using Drops yarns which hail from Norway. They are affordable, come in a great range of colours and I particularly like their alpaca yarns which are really soft. If you come from the UK then I heartily recommend The Wool Warehouse which has a reliable service, good prices and the delivery is great. Wool comes packaged in a lovely, re-usable bag so it feels like a treat.  The only problem with Wool Warehouse is they may bankrupt you, because they have such a lovely range of yarns to choose from you might not be able to stop yourself buying a little too much! (Step away from the knitting.)

Another good idea for knitters is to knit a blanket. This could be a collaborative effort by friends to literally wrap the cancer patient in love, or it could be an easy project for the cancer patient themselves, as squares require little concentration and are quickly finished. There are some lovely patterns for squares on the internet – I personally like the heart shaped pattern here.

If, as a cancer patient, you want to knit but are having trouble concentrating, then I’d heartily recommend squares (see above) or this great pattern (see Classic Bath Mat) by Toni in the US, who generously provided it for free. It’s for a bath mat (knitted in cotton), but actually you could knit it in other yarns. I knitted it a couple of times in Drops cotton for a washable mat and in wool for a bedside mat!



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