Properly Practiced Knitting

"Knitting is a method by which thread or yarn is used to create cloth."

What a simple sentence, and yet --

Somehow that just doesn't sound like much.  A method by which thread or yarn is used to create cloth.  Well, yes, I suppose that is right.  Technically.

And yet --

Where, in that sentence, is the obsession?  Where's the interest?  Where's the thing -- whatever the thing is -- that makes us say "you know, $49.99 for 50 grams of bison yarn isn't that bad."  (I've never done that.)  (Okay, I've totally done that.)  (Uh... twice.)

If you stop to think for a minute, though, you can start to pull that sentence apart, to examine it, to find questions to ask.  What's the method?  What's the yarn?  How do you do it?  At its heart, knitting is an act of creation.  It's a way to take materials -- a piece of string, some pointy sticks, a few hours -- and come out the other side with something.  And that just might start to explain that obsession.

The Yarn Harlot talks about this idea and the curious thing that comes over us when we realize anew exactly what we have done -- that impulse to grab strangers by the collar, shake them, show them what we've done and say "Look, look at this thing I made!"  I haven't ever done that, exactly, but once when I visited a friend in Boston, I knit all through the class I attended -- a lecture on the disconnect of the modern consumer from the source of their goods.  "We're disconnected from the process!" the professor cried, "Disconnected from our products!  When is the last time you made something with your own two hands, something you could use?"  I will admit to a certain amount of consternation experienced during that two-hour class, and a certain amount of hilarity after.

Again with that act of creation -- that act by which you, the Average Citizen of the 21st Century, can take stuff and make things.  You can be a producer!  You can make things!  Need a hat?  Make a hat!  It's a strange kind of power to wield. 

I tell people, sometimes, when I'm working on something that looks complicated and they're impressed, that it's actually simple and I'm just doing it to make myself look smarter or more clever.  Usually it's something accomplished by a simple trick -- entrelac, for example, or stranded knitting.  Of course, simple and easy aren't at all the same thing.  Something simple is uncomplicated.  Something easy is something that can be achieved without great effort.  Stranded knitting?  Simple.  Even easy, once you get the hang of it.  It's the getting-the-hang-of that can be tricky, sometimes, but I'm going to quote the Yarn Harlot again, from the waiting room of a hospital:

"A woman approaches me as I sit there, and she watches for a moment before she comments on my work.

"Wow," she says. "That looks complicated.  I could never do that.  I don't have the patience for it."

People tell me this all the time.  They are simply not cut out for knitting.  It's too hard for them.  They aren't the type.  I've prepared a speech for moments like this.  It begins with a statement about the simplicity of knitting, and ends with a two-minute tutorial.  I'm about to launch into this speech when I happen to glance at the woman's name tag: Dr Susan P. Rogers.  Surgeon, Neurology Department

I'm so stunned that it's all I can do to smile in her general direction.  In fact, I may not be smiling; I may just be staring at her in quiet stupefaction.  She doesn't think she can knit?  She's a brain surgeon!  A freakin' brain surgeon who doesn't think she has the skills or the patience to knit? 


Five year old Danish children can manage it.  Illiterate people all over the world can knit brilliantly.  But not a Canadian brain surgeon?"

I taught a friend of mine to knit this past fall.  He's a musician.  He owns and can play well four different types of guitar, an electric bass, a viola, a violin, a mandolin, an electric keyboard, a dulcimer, and a drum set.  And he was sure that he wouldn't be able to knit.  (Truth be told, during those first twenty minutes, I wasn't at all sure he'd be able to knit either.)

It took three attempts -- about a week -- before he was able to remember how to hold the needles ("it's not a pencil; it goes in your hand."), how to tension the yarn, how to knit a stitch ("nope, that's twisted, put it back."  "Ah, @#&%").  And yet -- here we are, two months later, and he's working on a Fibonacci-striped asymmetrical scarf for his mom.  (It was a Christmas present.  We've trained him well.)

We went to Northampton, MA, to visit my sister.  Some of you already know where this is going -- for the rest of you, let's just say that there is a really big yarn shop in Northampton.  Can you say "warehouse"?  Can you say "too many options"?  Can you say "I didn't even know they could make yarn out of that"?  (Can you say "I wish it would catch on fire so I could run around with a cart and then flee while everyone was distracted"?)

He spent more money than I did. 

Here's another quote, from one of the most famous books on knitting out there, published in 1971 by one Elizabeth Zimmerman:

"Most people have an obsession; mine is knitting.

Your hobby may be pie-baking, playing the piano, or potbelly-stove collecting, and you can sympathize with my enthusiasm, having an obsession of your own.  Will you forgive my single-mindedness, and my tendency to see knitting in everything?

Carvings and sculpture remind me only of Aran and other textured designs; when I see a beautiful print my first thought is how it would adapt to color pattern knitting; confronted by a new fashion, I immediately start drawing in the air with my forefinger to see if it would suit itself to knitting, and if so, how -- which way the grain should run, if the shape could be knitted in, and what stitch would be most effective.

So please bear with me, and put up with my opinionated, nay, sometimes cantankerous attitude.  I feel strongly about knitting.


If you hate to knit, why, bless you, don't; follow your secret heart and take up something else.  But if you start out knitting with enjoyment, you will probably continue in this pleasant path."

I don't know anyone who knits and hates it, but I think it's advice we could all stand to hear every now and then.  Can't stand your WIP?  Make something else.  Tired of making scarves?  Try a hat.  Sick to death of tiny stitches on tiny needles?  Make a bulky-weight shawl and laugh at how fast it goes.

Knitting slumps happen to all of us.  Whenever they happen to me, I get worried: What if I hate knitting forever?  What if I don't pick up the project again and suddenly it's three years later and I haven't knit a stitch?  I sometimes feel bad about putting something down or starting something new, but there are times when I have to say to myself "It's okay to take a break!  Everything will still be there next week!"

You don't have to love anything all of the time.  You can be mad at your knitting.  You can give it the silent treatment.  You can threaten to take it off the needles or leave it buried in the closet or mark it "hibernating" on Ravelry so you don't have to think about it any more.  But if you started it of your own volition, odds are that you'll come back.

It's the 21st century.  You -- you reading this right now, you personally -- you have the ability to take a bit of string and a couple of pointy sticks and make something.  Anything!  Really, there never has been a better time to love knitting & crochet.  Yarn has never been nicer.  Needles have never been nicer.  There has never been such a wide & high quality selection of doo-dads and tools and weird stuff that you never even knew you needed (that you now can't live without). 

There's never been a yarn shop in every little town in America.  (You know what's a great thing?  Knitmap is a great thing.)  Ravelry has a road trip planner.  A road trip planner!  Ravelry exists!  A big, awesome place that has been called one of the best designed websites on the internet.  Yes, really.

I've heard a few people complain that "everyone knits these days!"  It's easy to forget that when our  hobby went mainstream it was a good thing.  A great thing, even.  I understand the impulse to want to be separate or special or have a unique hobby, really I do.  But the more the merrier, we say -- remember, you have common ground with everyone who knits.  Everyone!  It doesn't matter what kind of yarn they use, or what sort of needles, or even what they're making or how long they've been doing it or why they started.  You have common ground with the 36-year-old who only makes garter stitch acrylic scarves.  You have common ground with the 25-year-old who makes cashmere lace tablecloths.  (Are you a knitter?  You have common ground with crocheters!)  You have common ground with anyone who has ever put yarn to tool.

"Knitting is a method by which thread or yarn is used to create cloth."

Technically correct, I think we can agree.  And yet...

This may be one of those rare times that we can accurately say "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts."  To knit: put loops on a needle, draw other loops through, repeat until fabric is accomplished.  To crochet: put a loop on a hook, draw other loops through, repeat until fabric is accomplished.  That is the sum of the parts, at the most basic level.

The whole, though, is the reason that we can all understand exactly why this is funny:

(This was supposed to be a history of knitting blog.  I'm not really sure what happened.  Uh... I'll do that one next week some time.)