Friday, April 18, 2008

Easy to learn, difficult to master

Knitting is many things, but the title of this post is probably going to become my response to the question "Is that hard?" that I am inevitably asked when I knit in public alone. I found this little gem of a description in an article in the Summer 2005 issue of Knitty called Knit Like a Man by David Demchuk. He has an article in the Spring 2008 issue, too, about what males a male knitter hardcore. (In case you are wondering, it's knitting baby clothes in public.)

Today, I taught a friend how to knit. I talk about knitting all the time and apparently the joy I get from it comes through because Naomi expressed interest. We went to Knit'n and I told her all about fibers and yarn weights and we had much fun fondling yarn. She even mentioned afterward that she wanted to go back in the store just to feel everything again. Oh yeah. I SO converted her.

Then we went to Panera across the parking lot (they have free wifi) to have coffee, pastry, and knitting. Naomi picked up both knitting and purling very quickly, much quicker than anyone else I've taught. It's probably because she learned how to knit a long time ago and her muscle memory kicked in. But that is really the easy part, you know? Making stitches is quite simple; even most techniques seen as "advanced" are simple in practice. Using double pointed needles, increases and decreases other than yarnover and knit two together, cabling, reading a chart, and seaming are all straightforward and uncomplicated.

But what I told Naomi was this: basics like casting on, knitting, purling, and binding off are the foundation. Increases and decreases add on, and finishing techniques add on. It all adds up to a whole house.

What really separates knitters from people who know how to knit is how built-up that house is. Some people are happy sitting on the foundation and knitting squares and rectangles in the form of scarves, blankets, and dishcloths. Others build up a bit more and make hats and maybe a sweater. Then you get into gloves and mittens, socks, and colorwork like stranding and intarsia. Have you ever cut a steek on a traditionally knit Fair Isle toddler sweater? If you have, you are the little pig who built a brick house and no amount of breath blown by non-knitters will bring your abode crashing down.

I wonder if anyone really masters knitting. I could name several designers and even friends who are very experienced and know a helluva lot more than I do about knitting. But then I can't help but wonder if they know more than I do or have they simply had more time to apply their knowledge? As I took Naomi around my LYS, I realized that I had a great deal of knitting/fiber knowledge in my own head. How using different fibers affects the drape, elasticity, softness, and tension. The importance of tension and how that can impact everything from fit to durability.

Why different stitch patterns are appropriate to certain projects and not to others. Little tricks like avoiding ladders while using DPNs and making nice edge stitches. Why skipping a gauge swatch is not a good idea and how basic math is your friend. I can cable, pick up stitches, cast on in a variety of ways, knit three dimensional objects, and have designed a purse, blankets, and scarves. The list goes on.

But have I mastered knitting? That would be a resounding NO. I doubt that I ever will, but I'll have a great time trying. There will always be things that I haven't done yet or have only done a few times. It was very easy to learn how to knit and I've pretty much got it down by now, but I'll always have a ways to go to master the art of knitting.

1 comment:

azteclady said...

Courtney, you've just verbalized something I've been thinking about for a while, reading your blog.

I can knit, and I enjoy making simple things like scarves, echarpes, hats--but I don't knit the way you do.

I dabble at it, you perform it.

I'll still read around here and learn stuff from you, though.