I have been knitting, on and off, for the better part of 52 yrs. I started when I was eight. I asked my mother, who always had something on her needles, to show me how and somewhere between learning to cast on and learning to cast off I had made myself a lace scarf. I even remember the colour, a sickly yellow/green. It was polyester. I have no idea what my mother was doing with that yarn but I liked it and I liked my scarf and I wore it with pride even though it was as scratchy as all get out.
Since then I have knit a lot of different things from sweaters to rugs to dog coats. Some things have turned out better than others but when you are looking at a 58 year career it’s not surprising. Some things I knit for myself and some things I knit for others. And once or twice I actually got paid to knit something for someone. I felt very odd about accepting money for something that I considered a hobby but I took it nonetheless. I’m not stupid.
And now looking back at all the things I’ve knit, and all the things I’ve frogged, and all the things that are half knit and are still on the needles and those that aren’t, I’ve decided to write down the things I’ve learned so that I can have an easy reference guide for my next project. I know that during the process of knitting a sweater I am going to encounter most if not all of these.
1. Swatch, swatch, swatch. I know everyone keeps saying this and I ignore it every time. Oh, I swatch but I swatch as I knit because the one thing I have learned to be true and a lot of experienced knitters will tell you is that a swatch can lie. In fact, they are better liars than almost any politian. I swatch as I knit because a) I hate wasting yarn and I look at those little four inch squares and think that I could have used it to add an interesting detail to the project, a pocket, a bow, a belt, and b) it’s a pretty big swatch you are talking about and you get to see exactly what the fabric is going to be like. A small square doesn’t really tell you how drapey that silk is going to be. So for me the bigger the swatch the better and since I’m knitting it I may as well just knit the whole back while I’m at it.
2. If it feels wrong, it is wrong. Sometimes you cast on for something you think is going to be perfect but somewhere between the hemline and the shoulder you start to think that maybe it isn’t going the way you thought it would. Even if you are working from the neck down and you are trying it on as you go, somewhere around the armhole shaping a little voice starts niggling at you. Always listen to that voice. I routinely think that the little voice is wrong and that if there are problems they can be dealt with during blocking. Wrong, wrong, wrong. If it feels wrong, it is wrong. End of story.
3. If you have a cat said cat will run off with your yarn or play with your needles or generally become a nuisance of some sort. There is a rather dark but hilarious day in my knitting history where I had been knitting something, I can’t remember what, and had lain it down on my chair while I went to work. What I found when I came home was something out of an America’s Funniest Home Videos episode. I opened the door and saw my knitting laying on the steps into the kitchen. I picked it up, followed the yarn trail down the hallway, halfway up the stairs, around the handrail, down the stairs, onto the couch, around the couch leg, over the chair, down the hallway and back again. All without losing a stitch. The cat I had at the time, Duke, was lying at the end of the couch looking all sweet and innocent. Now I have a cat, Eric, who can open boxes to snatch a ball of yarn so now any projects I’m working on go into a zippered bag and onto a shelf. I expect that at some point I will find it wrapped around a chair leg or something. It’s only a matter of time.
4. No matter how much ease and give a sweater may have, a size small is never going to fit a size medium to large.
5. Charts are made to torture me. I come from a generation of knitters where most patterns were written out, a chart was for the most complicated of colourwork patterns and even then written instructions were also given. Invariably, despite my best efforts, I will lose track of where I am and knit the same row twice. Now in colourwork that usually is noticeable right away but in lace knitting you won’t always discover that mistake until it’s off the needles, blocked, and you are wearing it at your mother-in-laws for Christmas. Suddenly you see her look at you funny, pluck at your sweater and say those words that make every knitter want to cry, “I think you made a mistake here.” Now written instructions won’t stop you from doing that either but I have made far fewer mistakes following the written word than I have following a chart.
6. Knitting can be boring. Even the most intricate pattern can get boring after a while and after several repeats. That’s why I hate lace. It’s too complicated to really turn your attention to watching TV while you knit but it gets pretty boring pretty quickly. I mean, seriously, after you’ve done a row or two of yo k2tog’s what else is there. Oh sure sometimes you might get the exciting nub or bobble or whatever you want to call it but even then once the novelty has worn off you are stuck with ten more inches of the same thing over and over again. Same with cables, once you’ve done a couple it’s the same old same old. This is why I like stockingnette stitch. I can watch a show and knit at the same time and never take my eyes off the tv. Well maybe occasionally I will glance down to be sure that I haven’t knit when I should have purled but mostly it’s mindless process knitting. This is why I knit socks.
7. At some point I will frog the whole thing and start over with a different yarn in a different colour. Why? Oh, because I changed my mind and decided I don’t like that pattern in that yarn or that colour hides the stitch pattern or I’m bored with it and want to do something else but can’t justify abandoning it so I make up an excuse.
8. I will finish the sweater and wear it. And I will have people say things like, “Did you make that?” in a condescending manner that is meant to convey that they think making your own clothing is tantamount to foraging in the forest for nuts and berries. And I will say, “Yes, I did.” and I will mean it. There is really something satisfying about making something that didn’t exist before. And it really is quite amazing that two pointy sticks and a bit of string can actually be manipulated in such a myriad of ways that even if a hundred people made the same sweater each one would be slightly different. Kind of like snowflakes. To me it is right up there in the awe-inspiring category with airplanes and space travel and brain surgery. I mean, imagine way back in the past one of our ancestors looked at a piece of thread being woven into a cloak, looked at a couple of pointy sticks and thought to themselves that they were going to make themselves a pair of socks. Pretty darn amazing if you ask me. So whenever someone says that my knitting socks, or a sweater, or a hat, or a pair of mittens, or a tea towel seems pointless since you can just go to a store and buy them I just smile and agree and then think that when the apocalypse comes I know who I will stab in the eye first.