Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I am not a process knitter.

In my beginning knitting class tonight, my students were asking a lot of questions about how I learned certain things. One of the students was especially frustrated with herself, even though I continued to remind her that mistakes are easily fixed. I can understand the impulse to feel so frustrated you feel stupid. My theory is that we forget how to learn HOW to do things. Almost everything we learn once we've learned to read and write builds upon something we already know. Learning something like knitting makes us feel like a kindergartener all over again. We're unsure of what to do with our hands; we can't see ahead to know what's happening; and we don't yet know how to recognize our mistakes. It is like learning to write our name: shaky, backwards letters all over the page, out of order.

I taught myself, largely through trial and error. I was building upon something I knew, though, since my aunt had taught me when I was nine or so. I didn't really remember how to knit, but the cast on and knit stitches were pretty easy to pick up. Purling was another matter. It must have taken me a year before it clicked. I tried and tried. I read as much as I could. I even asked a stranger in Joann's yarn section once. She was a continental knitter (no clue at that time) and purled differently than all the ways I'd tried. At the time, I didn't know any knitters and was living in Vermont, so my aunt in Michigan couldn't tell me. But one day I had that "Aha!" moment. It took another two years to learn that I had been twisting my purls all along (I was throwing the yarn clockwise).

Everything I've learned since then has been through trial and error and watching other people, though nobody has ever sat down and walked me through the steps of something. Sometimes the fact that I've learned this way makes it hard to describe the process of knitting to others, though I love to teach, because I just know. I also believe that knew knitters will someday just know, too.

I am always so proud of my students. It is a challenge for all of them, even the ones who pick it up as if they've been knitting for years, because they are doing something completely new to them. Most of them stick it out for the entire two-class session. Some continue, some don't. Some struggle for a while before it clicks, some just give up. But they all have made the effort, and that counts for a lot.

I started this post to talk about the progress on my sweater (not one stitch has been added to the shawl, by the way). Why I'm not a process knitter is going to have to wait.

Blogger still isn't letting me post pictures. Not happy. Not happy at all. The spirals on the hat are so good.


aimee said...

annnnnooying blogger.

i love that post. and i can barely ride a bike (how that relates, i can't explain, b/c my brain is fried, but it's related.)

Carrie K said...

I want to see the spirals! Annoying Blogger.

Me and my best friend were talking about learning last night (re: her 13 year old daughter) and how we expect to be soooo good right away, even though it's a brand new skill as if age should download it or something. Practice, practice, practice. Nice post! Looking forward to your process knitting thoughts.

guh! said...

Eureka! That (clockwise yarn) is why I have had so much trouble learning to purl! I picked up needles for the first in a long time yesterday and tried it again, this time I think I am doing it right. I'm inspired enough to try a simple washcloth pattern to test my new hopeful knowledge. Thanks!

TK said...

I hope it works. And you'll have a handmade washcloth as a bonus! Those Aha! moments are the best, aren't they?