What is an MKAL? MKALs or Mystery Knit Alongs are an increasingly popular type of knitting event in which knitters from around the world join together to knit the same, unseen pattern. A little like putting together a jigsaw without seeing the completed picture, participants knit the pattern in instalments, unknowing of how their piece should look, how it will evolve or what it will eventually become.
Why take part?
- At the end of the MKAL, you will have a great finished garment or object– probably completed more quickly than if you were knitting without a schedule.
- MKALs often introduce you to new skills that you may not have chosen or thought you were able to tackle.
- It’s fun! With every clue, it’s a bit like opening a surprise present or going on a treasure hunt!
- For knitters who like to plan every last detail, an MKAL can actually be a great way to allow (force!) you to be a little more laid back about the details. It can be strangely enjoyable and freeing to find that you do not have to and in fact, cannot, consider and choose every element.
- It is a shared community experience– it can feel very special to consider that you are joining in with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of other knitters around the world. On a more practical level, this also means there is more support if you have any difficulties with the pattern.
What’s the downside?
- It’s a mystery, so you may end up hating your final garment or project.
- If you don’t like it, you will have spent hours on a project that could have been better spent on knitting something you know you would like.
- If you don’t like it, you may be left with yarn that you might not otherwise have bought- e.g. if you bought yarn particular to the pattern, a specific kit etc.
- The pattern may be more prone to errors as you will be part of the first set of people (other than testers) to knit the pattern.
If you do take part in an MKAL, how can you maximise your chances of success?
– choose the MKAL carefully: if you have liked a designer’s previous work, it stands to reason that you have a better chance of liking any of their future designs. If you’ve never come across them before, check out their patterns on Ravelry and note the ratings and comments made by ravellers about their patterns- how easy are their patterns to follow, have they run a successful MKAL before, do they offer much pattern support?
– read any pre-MKAL advice from designer: most guidance about yarn choice and gauge is pretty vague (e.g. ‘pick three colours’), but when it is more specific, it tends to be because it is more important to the pattern’s success. E.g. if designer says you need to have three colours of different tones or that the stripes need to be in a solid colour, this may have a big impact in the final result. Still feel free to do something different, but it may not match the designer’s version.
– consider using more affordable yarn than you may sometimes use, or knit from stash. Even though you can always frog (undo) the finished item, it can help you relax if you know there is little consequence if you don’t like the end result- you have not spent a lot of money specifically for the project. Also, when you’re knitting with a favourite or expensive yarn, (even outside of an MKAL) you often really want to make the best of the yarn and make something perfect- in an MKAL, this is far harder to achieve and you may be left dissatisfied with a project that you would have liked if it had been knitted with yarn that carried fewer expectations.
– check for errata: a MKAL should have been test knitted before publication, but problems do sometimes pop up. It’s a good idea to regularly check the pattern page, any design support forums or your messages on Ravelry to see if there is any updated information.
– consider changing elements: while much of the fun of an MKAL comes from trying new techniques, if you are really not enjoying knitting particular aspects of the pattern- to the extent that you think you’ll have to give up- then consider changing them. E.g. swap brioche for rib or stick with garter rather than a textured stitch. You will need to take care to keep track of stitch count and make sure to include any necessary shaping, and it will look different than intended- but maybe it will make it even better?!
– enjoy and find support in the community: there are usually special groups or threads set up on Ravelry for MKAL discussion, as well as instagram hashtags that let you see people’s progress. You don’t even have to join in actively- but if you want, you can take part in discussions of yarn and colour ideas, ask questions if you don’t understand, show off your completed clue etc.
– cheat! If you just recoil from the idea of mystery but would still like to join in, wait a few days and then go and have a look at other people’s progress in the spoiler threads so you have a better idea how the item will look and perhaps better insight into how to combine colours etc. You can even wait until a few instalments of the pattern have been knitted and then make a decision about taking part.
– and remember: you can drop put of an MKAL at any time and if you don’t like the end result, you can frog (undo) your knitting and use the yarn for something else!
If you’re inspired to try out or join another MKAL, see the following MKALs that start in the next month:
Speckle & Pop! Westknits Mystery Shawl KAL 2017 by Stephen West (here). This is the 8th shawl MKAL hosted by Westknits, whose previous MKAL patterns have involved thousands of knitters. As Stephen West writes, his MKALS ‘are notorious for bringing together a colorful community of knitters from all around the world engaging in a riot of adventurous knitting skills.’ Starts 29th September.
Apparition by Boo Knits (here). Knitted in a lace weight yarn, this Halloween MKAL shawl also features beading that will ‘dance in your stitches adding weight and drape but not overpowering the delicate and ethereal feel of the shawl.’ Starts 1st October.
Behind the Scenes by Michelle Hunter (here). Knitted in a chunky weight yarn, this long rectangle, cabled design can be worn as a scarf or a cowl. An opportunity to increase your knowledge and experience of cable knitting, the pattern is supported by online videos. Starts 5th October.
Navigatrix Mystery KAL by Laura Nelkin (here). This shawl or cowl incorporates garter stitch with other more complex stitch patterns from around the world, plus optional beading. As Laura Nelkin says, this patterns ‘is sure to teach you TONS’ and with her “no knitter left behind” policy, she aims to offer support to all her knitters.
SGY Mystery Shawl KAL by Tabetha Hedrick (here). The first ever Sweet Georgia MKAL, this 4-ply/fingering weight shawl is designed to be a relaxing knit comprised of easy garter stitch, slipped stitches and small sections of simple lace. Starts 10th October.
Find out more on Ravelry (here)– look through new pattern announcements at Patterns- Recently Published or Hot Right Now. Or visit the fantastic KAL Fanatics group which lists KALs (knit alongs) and MKALs being hosted each month.
Over to you: what do you think of MKALs? Have you had any negative/positive experiences with MKALs? Do you have any tips for having a successful experience?
Images at top of page: Some of the hugely popular MKAL shawls by Stephen West- clockwise from left: The Doodler (here), Exploration Station (here), Building Blocks Shawl (here).