Learning to Knit
I learned to crochet when I was young–I think I was maybe 8 or 10. (Frighteningly enough for someone who is fairly sure I’m still 17 and this whole “being a grown-up” deal is some gigantic cosmic joke in which all us “adults” matured to (hopefully) some point in our teen years and we’ve been faking it ever since– this means I’ve been crocheting for around 20 years.)
I learned to sew and do cross-stitch about the same time, as well as trying to learn how to knit…but knitting was the one craft that just didn’t stick. Not that I didn’t want to learn how, I just never felt comfortable or relaxed doing it, while crochet just “sang” for me and felt natural.
About 2 years ago, I decided to give knitting another try. I looked through all my craft books for instructions…I dug out the “Things To Make And Do” book from when I was a kid…I looked through my mom’s craft books. I still felt really awkward holding the needles and was having problems with tension. I struggled with it for awhile, and put “learning to knit” aside for several months during a move. When I picked it back up again, it looked to me like maybe some of the tension problems might have been caused by the cast-on method I had used. While looking for a different cast-on method, I came across a reference to “Continental” knitting, with the implication that for left-handers who couldn’t learn to knit “the normal way”, it might be an option. So I went back and searched through all my craft books again, but came up with nothing…all of the books (mostly published in the 70s) showed only one way of holding the needles and yarn. Even the basic instructions section at the back of current knitting magazines only showed one way of holding the needles and yarn. I vaguely remembered seeing people on a messageboard talk about “picking vs. throwing” when it came to how they knit, so someone must be teaching this “secret second method for knitting”…right?
So one night when the littles were out (of my hair) with HunnyBear, I turned to the internet. Within a few minutes of searching, I discovered the TECHknitter blog, with wonderful videos demonstrating the “Continental” method. I grabbed some yarn and a pair of needles, and within a few rows…the lightbulb came on. I was knitting, without feeling completely awkward or wanting to throw the whole thing across the room! HunnyBear and the littles came home about 45 minutes later. “So what did you do with your quiet time?” he asked. “I taught myself to knit!” I proclaimed proudly, holding up the swatch I had been practicing with.
So far, I’ve made a garter stitch scarf, some cotton dishcloths in a combination of garter and stockinette, and a seed stitch scarf. The seed stitch scarf is my favorite so far, because it looks so much more complicated than it is 🙂 hence the picture in this post.
I’ve done a little research on this whole “English vs. Continental” thing so far as knitting…I can see how some people would find a different way of holding the needles and yarn to be comfortable or natural. There is a similar debate in crocheting which has to do with how you hold your hook (“knife hold” versus “pencil hold”). But I often wonder how what should really be a matter of preference becomes “the right way to do it” to the point of being the only method taught by 90+% of sources. (Many “learn to crochet” books teach only the “pencil hold” and some go so far as to call it the only correct way to hold the hook…some even toss in an implication that if you hold your hook in some other fashion you are a morally deficient human being…I have some theories and opinions on why this is, but the origins and stigmas of crochet is a topic for another day 😉 ).
What I found in this case is that “Freedom Fries” weren’t the first thing to be stupidly renamed or avoided because of perceived national insult. During the World Wars, “English” was our allies, and “Continental” (also called “German knitting”) was our enemy…so obviously only one of these methods could be correct in a state of nationalism and fear. The fact that books written 20, 30, 40 (and more) years later would be influenced by that prejudice is a little frightening to me…how many potential knitters never made it to “the lightbulb moment” because her mother’s or grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) generation wanted to show how patriotic they were by not holding their working yarn in their left hand? How many other crafts or techniques are in danger right now because of a prejudice that has nothing to do with the value of the method itself?
As humans, it can be hard not to be swept up in whatever the current “movement” is without carrying the thought all the way through. Hence cafeterias renaming strips of potatoes fried in oil (which also has nothing to do with the country which was being protested against and is just as silly as refusing to do/teach a method of holding yarn and needles because it was called “German”). Luckily, “french fries” are popular enough (and the protest was silly enough and not heightened by an all-out world war) that they’ve survived…but when we apply that sort of thinking to art and crafts, we most certainly do it at the expense of ourselves and future generations.