Who Taught You to Knit?

Its a common question for knitters, and one that Michele just asked over on her blog.

For me, it was kind of a process.

First and foremost, there was my grandmother. I really have to give her most of the credit, because I don’t think I would have been so interested in the craft if she wasn’t constantly doing it.  I can’t picture her sitting in her chair, watching her shows, without yarn working between her hands.  I have her knitting needles now, and it took a lot of thought before I was able to transfer the needles I use (along with the newer needles I have bought on my own) into a new case.  I think of her a lot while I’m knitting.

When I was young, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house. My parents would drop me off and I would spend the night (or a few nights).  She was my favorite person in the world, so of course I wanted her to teach me. She tried crochet first. I think that was because she was working on granny squares when I asked.

She sat me down with an aluminum crochet hook and some yarn scraps (Red Heart Super Saver, all the way) and started showing me how to make a chain, join it into a loop, and make the double crochets that formed a granny square. I couldn’t get it. It didn’t matter how much she broke it down or moved more slowly, I couldn’t get it.  (We won’t talk about how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes.)  Her solution was to move on to knitting, and to this day I think its easier to teach knitting than crochet. She cast on twenty or so stitches for me, showed me how to knit, and off I went. Over the course of a summer, I eventually also learned to cast off (interesting, since I have no recollection of actually finishing anything), but that’s all I could do–knit and cast off. I never really got the hang of starting things, and I guess I was never ambitious enough to figure it out.

Fast forward about twelve years, and my best friend Christine crocheted something. I mentioned that I’d wanted to learn as a kid, but never got the hang of it. She told me to get a hook and some yarn and she would teach me. What I got was a hook and enough yarn to make an afghan. (Again with the Red Heart Super Saver.  No one ever taught me any better.) I decided that I was going to give it to my father for Christmas. This was at the beginning of October. I actually did finish the blanket in time, thanks largely to a number of weekend-long LAN parties and Dungeons & Dragons sessions during which I would crochet.

(It bears mentioning that this was the project that taught me about gauge. I used the same hook I think and the same yarn for all of the squares, and followed the same pattern. Still, when I went to stitch the squares together…they were not the same size. They were so very much not the same size that some of the rows have 5 squares and some have 6, and the thing didn’t lay flat and smooth at all. I didn’t know about blocking back then, either, but all the blocking in the world could not have saved that blanket.)

Once that was over, I tried to knit a few scarves, but I always had a hard time keeping the edges straight. When I complained to Christine about it, she said, “Who told you it was a good idea to crochet a scarf? You knit scarves.” And when I told her that I didn’t really remember how to knit, and that I never learned to cast on, she told me that if I got some yarn and some needles, she would show me. (Evidently, dealing with my bringing every crochet problem to her for two months didn’t scare her off. She’s awesome like that.) I bought a set of aluminum needles, like I remembered my grandmother using. Instead of Red Heart, I found some ribbon yarn to make a drop stitch scarf, brought them to Christine’s that night, and I was off.

I still enjoyed crochet more than knitting, but it did keep the edges of scarves straight, and it used a whole lot less yarn. Also, the swooping motion of hooking the yarn and pulling it through the loops had started to irritate my right wrist, so it wasn’t something I could do for any extended period of time.  Over the next few years, there was a knit hat and a few scarves, and there was an unfortunate extended fling with novelty yarns, but that was really as far as it went until I moved to DC and met Joye.

Joye was a Knitter, probably the first I had met since my grandmother. If she was sitting still and not behind the wheel of her car, she was knitting. She knit sweaters and socks and used the most lovely yarns, and she–and this floors me even now–just made things up. She has a small library of pattern books, but mostly, she just decides how she wants something to look, and figures it out. Joye has never really showed me how to do anything (though she would if I asked), but when I worked for her, she was constantly telling me, “Well, you could make that,” when I wore a sweater to the office, or insisting that I could easily make socks. There was nothing to them. I figured out how to purl, and made another hat and a scarf.  They were as simple as could be, but she acted like they were exciting.  She would bring pattern books that she decided she wasn’t going to use and leave me piles of magazines when she was finished looking through them. And did I mention that she was always knitting? I am of the belief that you cannot spend that much time in the presence of a Knitter and hold the vaguest interest in knitting without picking up the needles and giving it a good, honest go.

So one day, after she brought me her favorite basic sock pattern, I decided to try it. Those socks weren’t wearable, but they did teach me that I could knit socks.  I love fun socks, so this was a Big Deal for me, as was the accomplishment of knitting anything that wasn’t just straight lines.

I’m still learning to knit, as is evidenced by the three projects in my living room that need to be frogged because of silly mistakes or my not knowing what I was doing, but I’m much better now than I was even a year ago.  Colorwork still intimidates me (I would say that I’m afraid of it, but Christine tells me that I’m not allowed to be scared of knitting and she’s usually right), and the math involved in calculating size in pattern recipes can go right over my head, but I can turn out a perfectly serviceable pair of socks with lace and cables, even, and a sweater that I’m not embarrassed to wear out of the house.  Without those three women, I never would have gotten there.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pdxknitterati
    Aug 22, 2009 @ 05:16:36

    Thanks for lifting up the knitting mentors in your life. That’s so cool!

    The thing I like best about knitting? No one dies if you make a mistake. It’s so non-threatening!


  2. Alexis
    Aug 26, 2009 @ 19:50:13

    I didn’t know you’d learned how to crochet before learning to knit. Awesome! I happen to love my crocheted scarves, though. ;D


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