Handmade: A prolific crocheter learns how to knit

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
Avid crafter Gregg Burrell of Highland Park knits her second scarf surrounded by other items she made -- a crocheted rafffia sun hat, a woven basket, and her knitted yellow scarf.

When news spread that skilled crocheter Gregg Burrell of Highland Park was learning to knit, I asked her to let me follow her on her journey as she joined the millions of knitters around the world. 

She agreed, and it's been a life changing experience since the day she cast on back in January with help from a YouTube video. "That was easy!" she said.

However, learning the knit stitch, with help from a fellow yarn lover, was a bit more challenging. She found herself, unintentionally, adding stitches while creating her first "practice project" -- a yellow scarf made in garter stitch with Debbie Bliss Lolli Yarn. But once she got over the fact that she doesn't hold her yarn and needles like other knitters in her circle, she was well on her way! She even learned to do the purl stitch before finishing her scarf project. And as with learning to cast on, a YouTube video showed her how to bind off.

A yellow  knitted scarf by Gregg Burrell at her Highland Park studio.

Burrell learned to crochet in her teens from her mother, Cheryl Alston of Highland Park,  but gave it up for about 30 years, before asking a co-worker to help reacquaint her with the technique. "It came back! It was like riding a bike!," she remembered. Then in 2012, she joined the newly-formed Detroit Knitting and Crochet Club (DKCC), which meets every fourth Saturday of the month at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library, under the direction of its founder, Leigh Mosley Bloodworth of Detroit.

Burrell later found herself wanting to add to her crafting skills by learning to create the closely-knit fabric that many of her fellow DKCC members formed into scarves, shawls, sweaters, and more. She loved the drape and flow of the fabric, a characteristic that's not always achievable with crocheted stitches. She's looking forward to "making items without the gaps (or openings) between stitches that come with crocheting."

Burrell has had a wealth of people supporting her on her learn-to-knit journey. One DKCC member was kind enough to gift her an entire "box" of needles in various sizes. And, others have insisted on showing her the "right" way to do basic knitting, including yours truly. 

A crocheted sun hat and knitted scarf by Gregg Burrell of Highland Park at her Highland Park studio.

When she told me she was using metal needles, I knew I had a knitting emergency on my hands! "Oh, no!" I shrieked, as we spoke one day via phone. "They're too slippery for a beginner. You can't get a good grip on the yarn, and your stitches will slip off the needles." 

A week later, I made a bee line to the March meeting for DKCC, but not before grabbing a pair of short wooden needles in size 9 from my collection. Help was on the way! It was Jocelynn to the rescue!

Once at the meeting, I took the needles out of my knitting bag, and said, "Here, try these." After casting on and proceeding to work in garter stitch, she immediately noticed the difference. "They're a better grip and lighter weight than the aluminum," she said with a smile.

But despite an hour, or more, of practice each day, she hasn't quite reached her comfort level. "I have muscle memory with crochet, so I can do it without concentrating. I have not established that with knitting yet. I'm looking forward to getting to that level with knitting so I can relax," she said. 

And, like so many knitters and crocheters, Burrell also admits she's impatient with her projects, and sees herself being no different with knitting. "My interest wanes quickly, she said. "I usually have three to five projects going at a time." 

Burrell practices how to create more uniformity with her stitches.

A couple weeks ago, she told me she was knitting a hat with circular needles! I was shocked -- thinking it was too soon for her to take on such a project. In addition to circular needles, I envisioned a pattern, which she has yet to learn to read; stitch markers, a tape measure, double points and rows of decreased stitches -- items and techniques, typically used by more advanced knitters when shaping the crown of most knitted hats. 

Her plan was to close the top by drawing, or gathering, the entire width of the fabric together with a yarn tail. Because I wasn't ready for another knitting emergency, I suggested she work on the tension of her stitches by making a second scarf. So, the hat project has been "put aside," for now. Whew!

Jocelynn Brown watches as Gregg Burrell knits with wooden needles at a Detroit Knitting and Crochet Club meeting.

But, whether you're a knitter or a crocheter -- beginner or advanced -- Burrell invites you to join her June 8, from noon to 4 p.m., for a World Wide Knit in Public Day (WWKIP) event on the Detroit Riverfront at Atwater and Rivard, just east of the Renaissance Center. This will be her third year hosting the fun-filled get-together for knitting and crocheting enthusiasts. Participation and parking are free, and refreshments will be available from a nearby concession stand, in case you forget to pack a lunch. And, don't forget to bring a lawn chair, just in case.

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

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