Friday, February 17, 2006

Paddling through the confluence

A confluence of events has had me for the past couple of days reflecting upon my knitting career – where I've been and where I'm going to. Let's start first with where I've been.

I first learned how to knit back in the mid-80's as a teenager. My mom, who taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to, instructed me in such crafts as counted cross stitch and crocheting but knitting always looked too complicated to me. Until I wanted a particular sweater made for a graduating-from-high-school social event. I picked out a great pattern for a lightweight sleeveless sweater with a bateau neckline (remember this is the 80's!) and chose a deep fuchsia cotton yarn for the fiber. Mom got started on the sweater but, for some reason I can't remember now, only made it up a few inches on the back piece before having to set it aside. I decided that I would finish the sweater instead. It was a simple stockinette stitch with no shaping whatsoever. A little ribbing at the bottom, knit straight up to the neck, rib a little more and bind off, repeat, sew together and voila! Instant sweater. In lovely deep fuchsia, I might add. And that was the end of my first foray into knitting.

Fast forward to September 2004. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it now, given that I'm a complete and total fiber snob, but fun fur got me back into knitting. My mom (sense a pattern here?) bought some fun fur to make a garter stitch keyhole scarf for my daughter. It looked like fun so for kicks and giggles I went to Michael's, bought myself some fun fur and a set of size 6 needles, and cast on while watching The Moonspinners starring Hayley Mills. Mom had to show me how to perform the knit stitch again because I didn't remember after almost 20 years. I finished the scarf overnight and began searching the internet for a sweater pattern I could knit up for my daughter. Oh, when I think about how innocent I was when it came to internet knitting patterns...

Well, I found a pattern that I thought was fabulous. Mom, knowing that she had raised a compulsive overachiever, didn't say a thing. I went out, bought some yarn and size 3 needles, cast on, ribbed for the appropriate number of inches, then hit a snag. What the hell is a seed stitch?? If I had only known when I found the pattern what it meant to knit a whole sweater, sans the center cable pattern in front, in seed stitch, I would have laughed and gone on to the next pattern. But alas, I didn't, and after a few days my shoulders were really buff from all the yarn switching from purl to knit and back again.

In the intervening year and a half, I progressed from that first scarf and sweater to a whole panoply of objects: a clapotis in Mountain Colors wool and mohair blend, two felted French Market bags in Plymouth wool and Eco-Wool, hem-down socks in Dale of Norway Heilo, toe-up socks in cashmere (for wintertime sleeping) and Socks that Rock wool and Knit Picks wool, a sweater in Maggi's Linen without a pattern (just followed the shape of a favorite summer t-shirt), two Birch shawls in kidsilk haze, currently a sweater in cotton and a silk/wool blend, and a few other projects that have slipped my mind.

All during this time my mind would wander into my genealogical past, thinking about how many of my ancestors didn’t knit for pleasure but rather out of need. Whereas I marvel over the magic of turning a heel, knitting a few short rows just meant warm toes when the weather turned cold. Whereas I revel in the sensation of a high quality wool slipping through my fingers on the way to becoming a loop on my needles, they reveled in knowing that fiber would keep their children from feeling cold when it snows. How lucky am I that I can call knitting a hobby rather than a necessity?

My mental wanderings turned a corner this week due to a confluence of three events: the Knitting Olympics, Eunny's blog posting of February 13, and the Knitting Curmudgeon's blog posting of February 16.

I took up the challenge of the Knitting Olympics (I was somewhere in the 500- 550 range of registrants) on a lark. I'm a Winter Olympics junkie and I knew I would be spending a lot of time in front of the television watching the games. It seemed like a fun idea to knit a project specifically for that 16 day period with the added challenge of starting and finishing it in concert with the Olympics. At the time I didn't realize that there were lessons to be learned here. Earlier this week, some Knitting Olympians were discussing their projects and some have actually completed theirs already. I was shocked! Didn't they set a big enough challenge for themselves? I myself will finish ahead of the closing ceremonies so I turned that question back on myself. Could I have picked the Torino 2006 sweater instead of the GarnStudio crossover sweater? Working full time and being the mother of a nine-year-old suck up a lot of my time...but apparently I am capable of faster knitting than I thought I was. I thought the shaping of the GarnStudio sweater would be time-consuming. Don't get me wrong, I love the sweater I am knitting and will love wearing it but it is officially not a challenge to my knitting skills in duration or complexity.

Then Eunny spoke about her own knitting speed. (Can I just say how brilliant I think Eunny is?) Two sentences in her posting struck deep chords with me: "I really think the single biggest factor in speed, whether in colorwork or lace or cables, is understanding exactly what you're doing with every stitch - making it a point to understand the way the motifs build on each other and the basic rhythm behind the pattern as a whole." and "Understanding why a YO belongs there, and what it sets up for ten rows up, and where this decrease meets with it, and what part of the petal or leaf or wave or whatever that forms, makes knitting faster, yes, but also a lot more interesting, which makes you knit more, which makes progress happen before you know it." Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

My mind had begun working on this concept prior to reading Eunny's words. I've knit a sum total of two lace projects in my knitting career: Birch in black and Birch in toffee. The first time I knit Birch, it took a few repeats for me to memorize the pattern and then I just went through the motions until I reached the final three stitches. I cast on the second Birch almost immediately but this time I knew what I was doing. Instead of doing the pattern by rote, I started thinking about how the stitches built on each other to create the leaves. Eunny captured my thinking and gave it the words that I hadn’t yet formed.

Yesterday it all gelled when the Knitting Curmudgeon, in her own inimitable fashion, challenged the worth of the Knitting Olympics. I'd already been thinking long and hard about why I like to knit, what I like to knit, and what my knitting future will hold. Her challenge had me putting my thoughts into words several days before I'd expected to do so.

Up next: where I’m going with my knitting.

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