Friday, January 23, 2015

The Zen of Knitting

I am learning to knit, mostly on my own, with a book and a Craftsy class and a multitude of YouTube videos and the help of my friends—so really not so much on my own, just without a conventional class and teacher.

I started with a hotpad, then I found a simple mitten pattern. My friends gave me a hard time about making mittens. "What—mittens ALREADY!" They were very simple mittens and I made many mistakes and they aren't exactly the same size, but I learned from them. Then I made a scarf, which, it seems, is an appropriate project for a beginner.

My theory of learning a new hand skill is that you make something that interests you, not something dumb and boring; make plenty of mistakes, which you learn to analyze and not make again, and just put in a lot of time. Oh, and don't use materials that are too precious. You don't want to end up guilty about messing up $100 worth of beautiful yarn. That defeats you. Not a good start on something intended to make you happy, ultimately. So, back I went to the cheap yarn store with discount coupon in hand and got stuff to make myself a hat.

It turned out not bad. See that band around the bottom? I had to pull that out and start over three times and it still has a few problems. ( Don't look too closely at the right edge...) but I learned about decreasing, and my stitches are getting more uniform and I am getting the feel for the rhythm of the whole thing. And I will actually wear the hat.

Now I may have bitten off more than I can chew. I am making a sweater.

I bought (cheap of course) a big cone of cotton yarn on EBay because I simply cannot wear a wool sweater. Allergic, I guess. They just itch unmercifully. My friend Gale told me that cotton knits tend to stretch and combining the cotton with a thin acrylic yarn would mitigate that, so I found a deep purple acrylic to knit with it. I really like the mottled effect the combination creates.

I started knitting the neckband first and it looked just awful. I started over three times and finally got the hang of the ribbing and it looked pretty great until I got to the end of the neckband and discovered I had knitted a Möbius strip, despite being careful, I thought, not to twist it. Ray got a good laugh out of that. I pulled it all out and started over, yet again.

Möbius strip

I keep reading about the benefits of knitting. One article called it a form of meditation, and I get that. When I am working in those stretches of repetition, the rhythm and mindfulness puts me into that very satisfying mind space of "flow". Another article talked about how learning a new skill, later in life, keeps one's brain healthy and agile. As it stands, my knitting takes me from "flow" to frustration and anxiety in equal measure.

I am making a lot of mistakes with this sweater. I cannot seem to keep the stitch counts consistent. The front and back should be the same. The two sleeves should be the same (duh!). I have a feeling that simply adding or subtracting a stitch isn't really the correct way to address inconsistencies, but I can't seem to identify where and when the problems are occurring. Oy. This may turn out to be a clown sweater. But now that I know what is happening I will be more alert to finding out why. Offer suggestions if you have them. Meanwhile, I am moving forward, determined to put in my 10,000 hours and become a knitter. Serenity and flow await.





  1. Sounds like you are well on your way to the serenity and flow part!

  2. Terry, I just laugh...thanks for the humour. I can do just about anything. But I can't knit. I can crochet. but not knit. The needles squawk against each other. I never got to the instruction stage, but looking at them does my head in.
    So have fun!
    Sandy in the UK

  3. Good for you, I find knitting so calming. It is my go to after a long day. You are doing great Terry, love the wool in your mitts and scarf. Nicely done.

  4. Beautiful! I understand the learning curve. Patience is the key :) BTW, I smiled at your quilt at the PDX airport once again. Gave her a little wave.

  5. I think your scarf and mittens are really pretty and they look like they would be soft to touch. I've done a little knitting - just scarves - and that went very well for me. Unlike Sandy, I can't crochet. I know how but it makes me crazy to do it. Knitting, I found more zen like. :D Haven't done it for 30+ years though so maybe I should give it another shot. Thank goodness for Craftsy!! Keep up the good work.

  6. The best advice I ever got was "ENJOY EVERY STITCH." When a project seems to go on forever (and I like small needles), it helps to think of it as meditation………one stitch at a time. You'll get there, Terry! And it is wonderfully relaxing, mostly; and when it isn't relaxing, it sure can take your mind off of other problems!

  7. None of the knitting books tell you, but an important part of successfully finishing a knitted item is ripping out and starting over.

    With beginners, a frequent reason for increased stitch count is the way the yarn is moved from front to back after turning to start back. If you pull the yarn straight up and over the full needle, you stretch the last stitch knitted up and over the needle so that it now looks like two stitches. If you knit both of those, you will have increased without meaning to do so.

    As for a reduced stitch count without any dropped stitches, chances are that you inadvertently knitted two at once.

    How do I know these things? 60 years of knitting and a bazillion errors made and, eventually, corrected. No, experience does not prevent the making of mistakes. What it does is enable one to more quickly 'read' the stitching and recognize the errors and fix them - nothing else.


  8. Anonymous6:41 AM

    I knit a little, mostly cotton dish rags which I love. However, I've heard that if you knit both sleeves of a sweater at the same time (I think that takes two balls of yard at a time) that they will then end up the same length. Seems logical to me.

  9. I think you are doing splendidly for a beginner, Terry...very brave. I learned to make garter stitch hanger covers at my grandmother's knee many decades ago. My mother knit skirts and tops (on small needles) and Barbie doll clothes. I have knit quite a few things over the years but recently, I've quit making things that have to fit...not patient enough to figure out how I need to change things for it to fit me. But I still like to do scarves and baby blankets...I like the rhythm of knitting.
    As far as advice, Jessica-Jean is spot on, and Synthia's comment about sleeves was my Mom's technique...not only the same length, but increases are more likely to match. Keep up the good work, and thanks for taking the time to share!

  10. What a joy to read this. When I was in college, home for the summer, I knit a brown acrylic scarf. When I had used up all the yarn--the scarf was yards long--I pulled it apart and wrapped it all back into a ball and started over. didn't want a scarf--I wanted to knit. No planning, no counting. Just knitting. What a lovely summer it was.

  11. Great job! Keep it up

  12. Anonymous5:53 PM

    I have knitted for 40 years and your new things look marvelous! And since you now know how to knit a mobius strip, it is time for you to make Cat Bordhi's Mobius scarf. And don't say I didn't warn you! See you on Ravelry! I'm dvitola there.

  13. Yay knitting! Sweaters are big when there's ripping g out to be done. Perhaps try littler ones? Know anyone with a baby? They don't care what their sweaters look like and the parents are too sleep deprived to care either. :)

    Regarding stitch count: I can tell you from experience that if you are knitting lace, and your stitch count is off, just adding another stitch at the point where you figure out its wrong is NOT the optimal solution. Trust me on this. Stockinette on the other hand will be fine. Plus it's your sweater. It's a design feature if you say that it is. :) Happy knitting!!!

  14. Maybe you could try a möbius scarf!

  15. I learned how to knit as a kid, just didn't learn how to enjoy knitting till recently. One year I knitted everyone hats for Christmas, that was fun. I've knitted rags and baby blankets but haven't tackled a sweater since the yellow monster that my mother reknit for me.40 years ago.I love to have a project to knit in the car for long trips. It is a lovely thing to give gifts of knitting.