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Knitting - A Sad Story With a Happy Ending
Stuggling to Learn to Knit
Do you see this poor duck in the picture to the left? That's me and this is not a learn to knit story like all the other learn to knit stories. I decided to learn to knit a few of years ago and just don't understand what I'm doing. I feel like a duck out of water. It's not that I can't knit. I can. But I don't have the knack for creating something that looks like it is supposed to be. For instance, I tried to knit squares for a quilt. Being a mathematician, you'd think I knew what a square should be. I do, but my hands don't want to work that way.
And whose fault is it anyway? Not mine, I'll tell you. It's my mother's fault. Yes, it's true. My mother cast a spell on me so I'd never be able to knit and I'll tell you why.
My Mother and Knitting
When I was growing up, my mother was constantly knitting. She made sweaters, scarves and other clothing. She knitted while watching TV and socializing with her friends - who were also knitting. Both of my grandmothers knitted, too. I still have Afghan blankets from both of them. I used to watch my mother knit. I can still her the clicking of her knitting needles and see her moving her hands, turning the wool (it was almost always wool) around her fingers. I never had a desire to knit, nor did anyone offer to teach me. Eventually, everyone put down their knitting needles and I never thought of knitting again.
At least, not until a few years ago.
If I taught you how to knit the way you teach me about computers, you'd never be able to knit!
Computers and Knitting
My mother and I got along really well. Our only problem was that we had difficulty communicating with each other. It was most evident when she would call me for help with her computer. Years ago, my sister and I got my mother a computer. We installed it for her with basic software, showed her how to use email, surf the web, load her games and play them. However, as with all computers, there was the occasional glitch. Unfortunately for us, she lived in New York and we were in California. Tech support was difficult, to say the least.
She called me for help. One problem was that she would call me when I was at work. The second problem was that she didn't hear well. It wasn't cool for me to speak loudly at work, so I would always have to walk outside to talk to her. Then it sounded to her as if I was screaming. I gave her step by step instructions. I even emailed them to her. She could never follow them. She would tell me it was like I was telling her a recipe and leaving out an ingredient. Or she said it was like her teaching me how to knit and left out a step so that the sleeves on the sweaters were lopsided. Needless to say, I almost never could help her. And she kept bringing up the knitting threat. After a while I got smart. and had my sister help her.
My mother passed away in 2007, I missed her deeply. I found myself looking for a way to stay connected to her, but I wasn't sure what that looked like.
A Coincidence - Debbie Stoller
I was at a gathering one night not long after my mother died. There was a group of women aptly listening to someone talking. I walked over to them to see what was so interesting. It happened to be Debbie Stoller, the author of many books on knitting. She was discussing her latest book. It also turned out that she was going to speak about her book at a large independent bookstore in the area within the next few days. I decided this was the sign I was looking for. I was going to honor my mother by learning how to knit.
I went to the book reading. I found her talk very engaging. It seemed that everyone in the audience had read her books and made the items in her books. They even brought samples of their work with them. i bought two books by Debbie (see the first two books listed below). I started reading them that night and went shopping for needles and yarn the following day.
Within a few days, I could knit, purl, cast on, and cast off. I also learned what it meant to drop stitches because I did it so frequently. I knew what to do, but my hands just couldn't follow.
I started learning how to knit using this book. It is filled with information about the basics of basics including needles, yarns, techniques (knitting, purl, cast on, etc.) and how to fix things (I visited these pages often). I also liked her advice on what you should have in your knitting bag. I was pleased when I needed something and it was already in my bag.
Some Learning - A Glossary of some basic terms
I almost forgot! This is supposed to be an instructional lens, so we're going to take a break in the action and learn a few things.
- Knit (stitch) - Intertwining yarn with a series of connected loops.
- Purl (stitch) - The Purl stitch is the same as the knit stitch except the stitch is made from back to front instead of front to back (see video below).
- Cast On - A very important step in knitting is getting the yarn on the needles. This is called casting on.
- Cast Off - Casting Off (or Binding Off) is the method used to get your project off the needles.
- Dropping Stitches - Dropped stitches are stitches that fall from your needle and create gaps in the pattern. I've become an inadvertant expert at this stitch.
And Some Video Instruction
Click on the links below for some basic information about what we just learned in the glossary.
I Practiced for Weeks and Here is What I Made
OK. You can't wear it and it won't keep you warm. But what you don't see is that I mastered some techniques. I could cast on, knit, purl, and drop lots of stitches. My kids were pretty proud of me. I just couldn't get the hang of putting it all together. I got frustrated and pulled everything apart. That's when I realized my mother was right. So I put down my knitting needles until I got another sign.
My Next Sign
I was reading my synagogue newsletter and saw that there was a knitting group that met once a month. I took that as my next sign from my mother to get back to knitting. I knew most of the women there (men are allowed but I guess they aren't interested). They were making squares to create baby blankets for the afghans for Afghans humanitarian project. I figured this was a great first project for me. How could I go wrong with a 4x4 square? I just had to count the right number of stitches on each row.
As you can see in the picture on the right, my first "square" wasn't so square and there are plenty of dropped stitches. One night, I was knitting while I was lying with my infant granddaughter. She loved the color and feel of the yarn. So I kept this piece for her.
If You Don't Succeed
Try, Try Again
My next attempt (picture on the right) was more of a rhomboid than a square. It obviously didn't become part of a blanket. But finally I was able to make squares that were included in the blankets.
I have come to have a greater appreciation for knitting. My skill set still leaves a lot to be desired. But I really enjoy the knitting and being able to create useful items. I have come to admire (probably more in awe of) those who are so creative and can use their hands so well.
My Latest Project
The knitting group started making baby hats for newborns in the hospital. The picture on the right is my first baby hat. I'm so thrilled even thought it isn't perfect. You can see I started purling accidently.
This baby hat took me a long time because I was too embarrased to ask for help. The women in the knitting group are so much more experienced than I am. However, I am beginning to learn more complicated projects and how to read knitting instructions.
Maybe I'm not the best one to give advice on knitting, but I'm going to tell you what I've learned in the last few years:
- Learn the basics. Practice until it feels natural. Don't worry about making anything.
- Knit with a buddy or mentor. Feedback is very helpful. Ask for help.
- Socialize. Knitting becomes more than just needles and yarn. Share ideas with others.
- Show off your finished project. Maybe even give it to someone. It will brighten their day.
Honoring My Mother
My mother's spell seems to be wearing off. I plan to continue learning more about knitting (stay tuned for another lens on my progress). It brings back memories of my mother and helps me feel "connected" to her. It is a challenge for me. I am not creative nor am I very skilled with my hands.
Sites That I Like About Knitting
- Knit Like You Mean It
This site is a blog with a ton of good information, incredible pictures and book reviews. Hope you enjoy it.