Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Problem with Knitting

I was cleaning up my knitting supplies the other evening and decided that there is real problem with knitting.  Not so much the actual act itself but the amount of stuff you can accumulate in the pursuit of knitting.

To knit successfully all you need to is a pair of sticks, a length of string and the knowledge of six techniques - knit stitch, purl stitch, casting on, binding off, increasing and decreasing.

Everything else is a variation on the basics.

Let's take those sticks as an example.

Most beginner knitting books suggest that a beginner purchase a set of needles and a skein of  yarn.  Already the beginner is in trouble.  There are a huge variety of knitting needle sizes depending on the tradition you are following or where you shop.  There are US sizes as well as needles sized based on millimeters.  There are little gadgets that help you determine which size needles you have.  I have one that shows US sizes, millimeter sizes,  Canadian sizes, UK sizes and French sizes.  The typical beginner size of needles is a size 8 US.

Once you have determined that you have the right size of needles you need to determine the right type of needles.  Needles come with single points and double points, can be long or short, with long or short cables and made from plastic, celluloid, metal or wood.  Heck, even your figures can be used as the sticks for a knitting project.  Typical beginner's sticks are single pointed and short (about 8"long).

(While cleaning up my knitting needles I came up with about 100 different sets of needles, some that I have purchased, some that I have received as gifts, some that I inherited from my female relatives and some, I am sure, were created by little knitting elves.  I whittled it down to only one size of each needle in each type which took it all down to about fifty sets.  The discards have been further whittled down to those that are actual sets, which will be donated, and those for which I don't have a whole set. Not sure what to do with those but I am looking around for ideas.)

Then we come to the yarn.  Some skeins of yarn are called worsted weight in one region, can be called DK (double knitting) weight in another.  The amount of yarn, in yards or meters, varies by the total actual weight of the skein which may be stated in grams or ounces.  A combination of the actual weight of the yarn with the length of the yarn in that weight determines what you call it...lace, DK, worsted and many others. Over and above this yarn can be made out of anything that can be spun.  Cotton, linen, wool, acrylic, silk, rayon and bamboo are all on the shelves these days.  Each fiber has different characteristics as to durability and cleaning. There are many weights of yarn from lace weight to super bulky.  The typical starting weight of yarn is worsted weight and made out of acrylic fibers.

(My yarn stash is in better shape than my needle stash as I have a use for each skein, no matter how acquired.  I do have a little problem with bits left over from completed projects but they are slowly, very slowly, making it into caps for the pre-schoolers at the local Head Start program this coming Christmas.)

So here is our poor beginner with six sets of needles called size 8, twelve skeins of worsted weight yarn and they have not even read the first page of instructions.

There are also lots of other tools you can purchase, like stitch markers, yarn needles, cable holders, rulers, scissors, yarn barns and a million other tools but sticks and string get you started.

Once you actually decide to learn how to knit, you then need to determine your style of knitting.  There are two basic types, picking (also called Continental) and throwing (also called British).  There are also many variations depending on the local tradition.  Before you even take your first stitch you need to build your foundation row by casting on.  Every teacher of note has their own favorite cast-on from simple to complex and I am sure there are whole books discussing the merits of each style.  The complexity of such a simple activity as knitting, can turn off the most dedicated student.  The most basic is called a Backward Loop Cast-on and even my middle-schoolers can master it in about ten minutes.

Do you see where I am going here?

I love knitting but I am getting overwhelmed by the stuff.  The stuff can consist of the tools and materials but it also consists of the knitting police who will tell you a better way to do something even if you are getting good results from your method.

How do we combat the problem of knitting?

May I suggest the following:

  • Buy only what you need and keep track of what you have on hand.
  • Use what you buy in specific projects not stored for 'something' in the future.
  • Learn to knit, and continue to knit with, people you like rather than with 'experts'.
  • Take a class or two with the understanding that you will learn only a few new ideas per class.
  • If it works for you then it is right, if it doesn't, ask a good friend for their method.  It might work or it might not.
  • Discard the stuff you hate...donate it, un-ravel it or just chuck it.

I have all my knitting stuff under control right now, even to ignoring expert advice with a smile rather than a scowl.

Don't let your knitting stuff get you down.  Just sit back, turn on a movie, pick up your sticks and string and make something.

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