Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The importance of pattern reading

As a beginning knitter, one thing has been hammered into my head as being of the utmost importance when picking up needles and casting on. This is so important that should I fail in any way, gremlins will pop out from my couch cushions, rip my needles from my hands, and chomp them to bits. They will nibble away at my fingers, so that I can never knit again since I am unworthy of being deemed a knitter. That one thing, holiest of holy, is gauge.

Every pattern starts with a reminder to us, the knitters, lest we forget: "Take time to check your gauge". Today, I share with you something even more important than gauge *hears a collective gasp across the knitti-verse*. Perhaps it is the naïveté of being a beginner in a craft where so many have gone before that I dare even suggest that this one thing is more important than gauge. Perhaps I will go down in history as being wise, and brave enough to exclaim "The emperor has no clothes". I will take shelter in the relative anonymity that is the internet and forge on. I will open myself up for potential finger-nibbling by gremlins. Heck, I'll just say it:

Reading a pattern correctly is more important than making gauge.

*looks around the room and notes a distinct lack of gremlins*

Well then, I guess I am free to explain myself. Knit something to gauge, and whatever you knit may fit, but it could be non-functional or unwearable in public. Your sweater may have sprouted a third arm. Your glove may have forgotten your opposable thumb. None of it really matters if you can't read the pattern correctly. Why then, don't pattern makers also warn "Take time to understand the pattern"?

Now, I realize in posting this that experienced knitters will get a good chuckle at this. But beginning knitters out there may learn a good lesson from my misfortune. My pattern, for a pair of Mary Jane Baby Booties read as follows:
Cast off 9 sts (1 st remains on needle), k2, slip these 3 sts onto a safety pin, cast off 3 sts...

So, I did the following:
I cast off 9 sts
I knit 2
I moved my NEXT 3 sts to the safety pin
I continued casting off 3 sts.

This produced a bootie with a very inconveniently placed strap:

Knowing that is not what was intended, I figured it HAD to be because of gauge, the most important power in the knitti-verse. I therefore started again and paid careful attention to each and every stitch. That bootie came out the same. Luckily, at the time, I was at my LKG (Local Knitting Group). A wise and experienced knitter, Julia, came to my aid and pointed out the error of my ways... I frogged back. I then:
Cast off 9 sts (leaving one on the needle)
Knit 2
Moved THOSE three sts to the safety pin.

In the end, all was right with the world. The resultant bootie looked like this:

In hindsight, I can't read the pattern without seeing how clear and obvious the directions are. Isn't that how hindsight works, though? The benefit of time and added wisdom makes one embarrassed to remember what they once thought - how feathered bangs or acid washed jeans were a great look, how cool New Kids on the Block were, or how That Boy was simply the best thing ever to have happened to you.

That is why I kept that first, failed bootie. I will put it in a box somewhere, and when I feel like taking a trip down memory lane, I will find it (probably under a Vanilla Ice cassette tape), laugh at it, remember lessons learned, and I'll realize just how much I've learned and how much is left to know.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Article Link

Perhaps it was kismet that I was listening to Bessie Smith's "Whoa, Tillie, Take Your Time" when I stumbled across this article on knitting. Given that the author is a person of faith and I was wading through my to-do list, perhaps it was a divine message.

This list of "faith lessons from knitting" applies to any religious background. For me, the one I always lose sight of is the last one:

8. While finished products are nice - and sometimes very nice - it's realy the process that's the most important. After all, if all you wanted was a sweater, you could have bought one cheaper and a lot faster than knitting one. Living is all about process too, about the working at it, day in and day out. The finished product - the life well lived - is celebrated when we aren't there anymore, at our funeral. Until then, we just keep working at it, one stitch at a time.

I think this is especially nice, because one of the reasons I truly enjoy knitting is how deceptively simple it is, and how relatively untouched it is by technological advances. Really, there is no magic technique we can use to speed up the process of making a sweater or a pair of socks, and still be hand-knitting a garment. We can make socks two at a time on two circular needles, and while this may make the socks go quicker (or at least avoid second-sock syndrome), it doesn't change the fact that they were knit stitch by stitch by stitch.

I think there is a lot about life in general to be learned from knitting, and perhaps the reverse is true.

For now, I wanted to share this article with those who have not yet read it. Are there other lessons you would like to add? Comment and tell me. :)

Friday, February 9, 2007

FO - Chocolate Rib Hat

Pattern: That Chocolate's Gone Straight to Your Ribs Hat
Wool: Paton's Fab (100% acrylic) in brown.
Needles: Clover Mamboo Needles 4.0 mm
New-to-me techniques: k2tog, working in the round on two circulars

I found this pattern really easy to follow and work up. As my first ever finished project, I was so excited when I finished that I ran up and had to show my husband right away, despite the fact that he was asleep in bed. I'm nothing if not enthusiastic :)

This above picture reminded me of something. It ate at me for awhile until it hit me... the way the hat decreases at the top reminds me of Dumb Donald from Fat Albert:

The hat was a Christmas gift to my brother-in-law, Matt. When I mentioned I was learning to knit, he asked me for a brown skull cap. Matt was an ideal recipient of my first ever FO because he is very laid back and easy going that I didn't have to worry about making it perfect or what his reaction would be.

Matt currently lives in Arizona, where it's been cold enough lately that I hear he's gotten an opportunity to wear it!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Knitting (and blogging) the tongue-out way

When I was a kid, I had Barbie dolls. Those were the good old days: Barbie and Ken were together, and 80’s fashions were on their first go-round. My grandma, in all her loving grandma-ness crocheted for me several gorgeous clothes for my dolls. While that is a story for another day, let me just say that these clothes are beautiful and complex, and are on the short list of my most treasured items.

When she crocheted, my grandma would often stick her tongue out. Was this intentional? Did she know she was doing it? Was her tongue an antenna up to the Gods of All Things Fiber to channel their energy? I never knew until I learned to knit and crochet myself, and realized that, unconsciously, I was sticking my tongue out.

It turns out that the tongue is not an antenna to the Gods of All Things Fiber, or if it is mine is certainly broken. From my own research, I have learned that it is a reflex that occurs when concentrating on something that pushes the boundaries of ones knowledge. There is evidence that this trait is genetic, but I doubt that it is contagious as I have yet to see any people at my local knitting group afflicted. This, of course, raises the possibility that tongue-out knitting is something not to be discussed or done in public. My fear on that score was relieved when David Reidy announced on his podcast, Sticks and String, that he too is a tongue-out knitter. Good. At least I’m not alone.

The reason I have sub-titled this blog “Perfecting tongue-out knitting since 2006” is simple. I have recently learned to knit (again, a post for another day). At this point in what I hope to be a long knitting career, the only thing I can do automatically, with confidence and consistency, is to stick my tongue out while I knit. I can’t pride myself on being born with needles in my hand (sparing mom in the process, of course). I can’t boast about finishing difficult pieces or knitting with speed and accuracy. The fact is, I knit, and that is good enough for now.

My main criteria for choosing a pattern at this point is not whether or not it’s easy or if I think I can do it. It’s just if I WANT to do it. Granted, a LYS owner might have thought I was crazy for wanting to do socks as a third project, but I embrace the challenge. I embrace the opportunity to knit with my tongue out.

I’ve quickly learned that setting up a knitting blog is also “aided” by sticking ones tongue out. Suffice it to say that I’ve wanted to start a proper knitting blog for awhile but in my own perfectionist way, I wanted it to be just right before going live with it. It’s not just right now, nor will it likely ever be. The fact is, it’s here, and that’s good enough for now.

My goal here in this blog is not just to post WIPs and FOs (Works-In-Progress and Finished Objects), but also to post mini-reviews on other things that a knitter might enjoy or that might make their knitting life more enjoyable. Essays as the inspiration strikes, but be forewarned that I’ve never professed to being a writer.

Finally, because I want to start this blog properly, here is a picture I’d like to share. This is my grandma holding me. Yes, I’m sticking my tongue out. No, I didn’t choose the hat.

Feel free to drop comments, hints, tips, suggestions, great recipes or whatever else might inspire you. :)