Grand Forks teacher shares arm knitting technique
Wearing scarves, especially infinity scarves, has been a noticeably popular trend this year. While it's hardly surprising to see a lot of scarves during winter, the most recent type of infinity scarf is pretty unusual.
Wearing scarves, especially infinity scarves, has been a noticeably popular trend this year. While it’s hardly surprising to see a lot of scarves during winter, the most recent type of infinity scarf is pretty unusual.
The arm-knitted scarf craze has been slowly spreading, and it especially picked up around Christmas. The trend seems to have begun on YouTube, where there is a collection of tutorials to help people learn the technique.
Carmyn Juntunen, a teacher at Community High School in Grand Forks, happened upon one of these videos several months ago. She’s been knitting for years and initially found the idea of arm knitting strange but intriguing.
“That following weekend I tried it, and suddenly, we were all kind of doing it during our little knitting group,” Juntunen said.
Juntunen’s first arm-knitted scarf wasn’t entirely successful.
It was loose and “looked off,” she said, so she unraveled it and tried again. From there, she picked it up very quickly.
She has now perfected the arm-knitting technique, which only calls for a pair of scissors and two skeins of yarn.
Yarn selection is important, Juntunen said. It’s necessary to check the labels and find the weight of the yarn. To get a thick, chunky look in an arm-knitted project, the yarn should be No. 6, or “super bulky weight,” which can be found at Walmart, Michael’s or Jo-Ann’s Fabrics.
The length of yarn is also key.
“The 64 yards ones … that’s a little tight” for one scarf, Juntunen said. “You have to be careful not to make it too wide or you might run out of yarn.”
Better bets are 81 or 100 yards, she said, and the 100-yard skeins can sometimes make two scarves each.
The first step to begin an arm-knitted scarf is casting on, which is a similar technique to needle knitting.
It starts with making a long tail out of the ends of two skeins of yarn, which usually run about 3 feet long. Juntunen then makes a slip knot under her right arm, which is then tightened, while still hanging loose enough to slip over the right hand. The tightness of the knot determines the size of the links.
To begin casting on stitches, Juntunen loops the working yarn around her left thumb and the tail around her left index finger, holding both ends in her left palm with the other fingers. The right hand then slides under the loop on the left thumb and through the loop on the left index finger. This creates a new loop - the first stitch - which slides onto the right arm.
The width of the scarf depends on the number of casted-on stitches. Juntunen usually goes with 10, but there are other options.
“The video I watched on YouTube had 12 stitches across,” she said.
“My first few (scarves) were really wide, and I thought they were almost too much,” Juntunen said. But a few of her students told her they liked them that chunky, so it’s just a matter of preference. Eight inches would be relatively thin, and more than 11 is bulky.
Stitching and tying off
When the casting-on process is complete, there will be a cuff of yarn on the right arm. Juntunen grasps the working yarn in her right hand and pulls the first stitch on her right arm - over her hand - while pulling the working yarn through the stitch.
She puts her left hand through the loop and pulls on the working yarn to tighten the stitch onto her left arm. She repeats the step until all stitches have moved to her left arm, completing one row of the scarf. She then repeats the process using her left arm and transfers the stitches back to her right.
The length of the scarf can be judged by periodically wrapping it around the neck. When it’s long enough, Juntunen binds it off.
The binding-off process is similar to needle-knitting.
Juntunen knits two stitches and pulls the first stitch over the second and then off of the hand. She knits another stitch, so there are again two together and repeats until there is only one loop left on the arm.
She pulls the last loop off and pulls a small section of the working yarn through - creating another loop. She tightens this and repeats once before cutting the working yarn, leaving a second tail on the scarf.
To make it an infinity scarf, she folds the scarf in half and lines up the ends. Then, she weaves the tail loosely into each stitch and either cuts the leftover loop or weaves it into the scarf, and she completes her project by tying it off at the end.
Arm knitting vs. needle knitting
Juntunen has been knitting since she was young. “My grandma taught me when I was in fifth grade,” Juntunen said. “So, I just kinda learned how to do the basic thing, and made scarves and little things for my Cabbage Patch dolls in the ’80s.”
Now, she’s taught traditional knitters this new technique, including Sophie Glessner, a Sophomore at Central High School.
Juntunen and Glessner agree that the casting-on process is the most difficult part of the process. Glessner arm knitted a scarf that took her 30 minutes to complete, and she had no complications.
When comparing arm knitting and conventional knitting, she said needle knitting “was definitely harder.”
“It’s a lot easier to get into a rhythm with the arm knitting,” Glessner said.
Juntunen agrees that arm knitting is easier, especially after getting used to the technique. And while needle knitting can take hours, arm knitting can take as little as 20 minutes.
But one thing that’s missing from arm knitting is versatility, Juntunen said.
While there are other possible arm-knitting projects, such as blankets, they are few and far between. And arm knitting involves one basic, large stitch and one pattern, whereas needle knitting allows for countless stitches and designs.
“Using needles, you can do so many more combinations,” Juntunen said. “I haven’t experimented as much with arm knitting to see what some of the other combinations could be, but there are probably a lot more stitches or creative looks you could create using needles.”
Juntunen started selling her scarves after her colleague suggested it. “I took pictures of them and posted it on our school for-sale site the next day,” Juntunen said. “I had planned to keep one for myself, but before I knew it, I had sold all four of them and had more people asking for them.
“So, then I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll buy more yarn, I’ll make more.’ And then suddenly, I had probably made like 300,” Juntunen said.
But so much knitting hasn’t been without its side effects, she said.
“If you do it too much, you get chaffing (on your arms). It looks like carpet burn,” Juntunen said.
“It’s for the truly devoted scarfer.”
Juntunen is now starting to “phase out” of arm knitting.
“I’m hoping that winter will not be around forever. And who knows what next year’s big project will be, if people will still be as excited about these, or if they’ll be on to some new, exciting scarf or trend.”
McGinniss is a senior at Red River High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
If you’re interested in purchasing an arm-knitted scarf, email Carmyn Juntunen at email@example.com . They cost $15 and vary in size and color.