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A Decade of Knitting Backstory Deserves a Post

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I have been knitting for years. For reasons mysterious to all but my 13 year-old brain, I woke up one day and decided I was going to figure out how to knit. This was well before the upsurge in knitting popularity, and previous yarn-based activities did not give reason to hope for success. There was a brief flirtation with crochet that ended in disgust when the resulting scarf was A) stiff and scratchy beyond any hope of wearing and B) wavy edged and sloping wildly.


Don't lie; you wish you had one.

Whatever madness inspired me, I managed to acquire a Leisure Arts “Teach Yourself to Knit” pamphlet from a craft store(“All New” in 1988). Looking at the pictures and armed with a pair of size seven aluminum straights, some surprisingly nice wool, and more determination than sense, I produced a shockingly even and attractive garter stitch scarf. The garter stich scarf was safe territory I happily inhabited for a couple years. The knitting disasters didn’t come until later.

The less said about my first attempt at a sweater the better. It was my first encounter with circular needles, gauge was a foreign and mysterious concept, and the yarn was a dark purple with variegated fluorescents. I have no defense. 


The purple monster was never properly finished because even then I could tell it was a monstrosity. Fortunately its progress was interrupted by a shiny new project: a pair of thrummed mittens.  Clearly I knew no fear. These mittens required me to figure out how to knit in the round with a set of double pointed needles with only the presumption that it was, indeed, possible. The thrums, meant to add extra insulation and warmth to the mittens, required knitting hunks of unspun wool together with the normal stitches periodically. The poor mittens were eventually finished and were even wearable by humans… after a fashion.

You must understand that at this point I still did not have the foggiest idea of how gauge worked; I was just coming to the suspicion that it was very, very important.

It is also important to note that I still could not identify a knit stitch or a purl stitch. I could work both of them, and did regularly, but had no means of telling which was which. You see, they are the perfect reverse of each other. You can entirely purl a garter stitch scarf as easily as you can entirely knit one.  You can work stockinette stitch in the round by purling as easily as you can by knitting. The only benefit I can see in this confusion is that I never acquired the pathological disgust which some knitters associate with purling.

I merrily worked around this difficulty by trial and error – looking at pictures of the desired result  and figuring out what I needed to do to get there. I purled entire sweaters in the round. One day after knitting for maybe five years I finally broke down and asked someone in a yarn shop whether I was actually knitting or purling my rather advanced, stranded colorwork sweater. Awkward.

I suppose the point of this ramble is that I taught myself to knit, entirely in a vacuum, using vague, poorly illustrated directions and patterns from the late 80s/early90s. This was a pre-Ravelry, pre-youtube tutorial era when a girl figured things out with some yarn, a goal, and stubbornness. I love and enthusiastically use the many resources available now, but there is something to be gained by brazening out knitting problems on your own. I understand how to create the knitted fabric I want on far more instinctual level than I would without all the grasping in the dark. It taught me many important knitting lessons, and some important life lessons too, but that’s a post for another day.



About autumnyarn

I am a graduate student who sews and knits to satisfy the creative urge, makes clothing to keep the creativity useful, and writes about it to de-stress.

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