Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stitch and Bitch: Adventures in Knitting!

Mrs. Moon
sitting up in the sky
little old lady
with a ball of fading light
and silvery needles
knitting the night.

Mrs. Moon by Roger McGough

Okay, I completely suck at knitting.

World War 2 Poster- When knitting equaled patriotism.

Actually, I had a sneaking suspicion I might. Truthfully, knitting has always kind of scared me because even watching it, I can’t make sense of how those little threads get woven together on two sticks, and how it always seems to be happening at the top. And to top it all off, I’m left handed and so I’ve got to watch what’s going on and somehow make sense of it, then translate it into my own dexterity language by flipping it all backwards.

I have a new found appreciation for the woman who knitted this pair of socks- and probably knit them one handed as she breastfed and butchered a goat for her Cappadoccian family. And I bought them for a whole four bucks. Lets just be clear, that if I knitted these socks, they'd be priced in the thousands after the week of knitting hell I have had!

As a kid, I remember being the only left handed one in my class, trying to learn how to print. “Hand in the air! We are going to make a P! Make the line go down,” My teacher would demonstrate with a swoop of her hand, “And the bump goes awayyyyyy from the body!” Which would produce 23 beautiful P’s in the classroom, and a very interesting looking q from me- b’s for d’s and S’s for Z’s and so forth. Truthfully, learning to write was such a frustrating experience for me that it is one of the things I was very sensitive about when teaching Kindergarten. Lefties and righties got separate demonstrations. If I ever do teach knitting in the future I will have to learn the right-handed way. But let me get a handle on what I’m doing leftie way first.

Not your average grandmas knitting book.

So here I am feeling the same little kid printing anxiety thirty one years later. Except I’m sandwiched between two expert knitters. The one on my right, is knitting a giant tube and stops once in a while to breast feed and tend to her baby who is being bounced by her husband in the hall. The one on the left, is learning how to knit socks with three needles. They show me the basic stitch and twirl string slowly, trying to show me how a left-handed person should cast on, but it’s hard to sort it out. My teacher comes by and tries to make me knit right handed, but the truth is all, the dexterity is in my left hand. I can barely hold the needles straight (which I’m tempted to hold like chopsticks for some reason.)

Not your Mama's Yarn store-
but it is the one conveniently located right across the street from where I'm staying!

“I’m sorry, I can’t teach a left handed person.” She gives up quite quickly. So she jumps at my suggestion to watch left handed knitting on Youtube. But now I’m at the front of the class, with the Asian twenty-somethings wondering what I’m doing up there, watching knitting videos on the smart board. Uff. I want to be home with my computer where I can pause and start and muddle around without my audience. Eventually, I sit down and just start practicing, and I get some sort of stitch going.

Everyone gives me encouraging words. ‘That’s great for your first time!” “You are getting it!” “Wow, look at you go!” But I know it’s horrible. I’ve dropped stitches and picked a few up where I’ve accidentally split the thread. It’s lumpy in parts and loose in others. I feel like giving up, but the woman with the baby encourages me to keep going. It apparently gets easier.

Ooh It's in pain. it's running screaming for it's poor little stitched to hell life. Is it a fetus or a J? Either way, it's supposed to be straight and flat, and enjoyable to look at. Zero for Three!

Three and a half hours later, I put my weird tangle of threads down and look at my tablemate.

‘This is too stressful,” I whine. “My arms hurt.” I have to stop anyway, my stitches have gotten so small they barely fit on the needle anymore.

I start to look around the room at all the other “Beginners”. Their perfect right-handed little rows of perfectly taught little bundles of sweet goodness. I am easily the worst knitter in this class. And I don’t like being the worst. I can handle second to worst, but not the worst.

Attempt number two! Much Much better. Thanks, Youtube!

“Would you like to move to crochet?” My teacher asks with a concerned look on her face. “It’s often more forgiving for left handed people. “No thanks, I’ll stick with what I know at the moment,” I stare intensely at my tangle. I can’t possibly learn something new right now. This is frustrating enough.

When class is over, my classmates look at me with these, “I’m sorry your knitting really sucks, but it will get better with practice” kinds of faces.

“I’m sure another day you’ll be the expert at something.”

I pause for a moment and smile. “Block printing. I’m good at block printing.” (Hopefully they will all suck and I’ll be able to redeem my pride. But somehow I don’t think block printing is master science.)

Purl stitch! Commonly used for socks.

Our teacher lets us go early. She thinks our faces have gotten way too contorted as we work in silence like a Chinese sweat factory churning out little knitted things. Thank God this isn’t a sweat factory, because I’d be punished for sure with the crap I’ve produced. My little pink thing is curled up on the table, not flat and uniform like everyone else’s. Mine seems to be calling out for help. “Please! Put me out of my misery! I’m in deep pain!” It calls out. I’m not sure if it looks like a contorted J or a fetus.

When I get home, I show my knitting to Erin.

“Dude, that’s awful. That’s like, seriously messed up.”

So Erin shows me a left-handed way of casting on that blows Youtube and anyone in that classroom away. “It’s easy, over the thumb, under the thumb, and loop it over. Done!”

I watch a little more Youtube and realize I’ve been making things way to complicated. I try again, this time with green acrylic wool and bigger wooden needles. The new needles make all the difference!

And I practice knitting while Erin bakes cookies, and somehow this seems the way knitting should be learned. My stitches relax, I get into the swing of it so much that I can carry on a conversation with my pal and watch a movie at the same time. And when Youtube helps me cast it off my knitting needles in the morning, it’s flat and fairly uniform, except for one hole somewhere in the middle where I must have dropped a stitch.

If you alternated Purl, Purl, Stitch, Stitch, you can make ribs.
I did more like, Purl Purl Purl,what was I just doing? Another Purl for good measure, Knit, Knit, Purl Purl, Knit Knit knit, how many was that again? Uff.

But here’s the thing: It’s Thursday and I’ve been knitting solidly since Monday Night. Youtube has taught me the purl stitch, and if I alternated Purl Purl, Knit Knit, I can make ribs. If I kept going, I could probably become a fairly proficient knitter.

But I probably won’t. Because there are many, many other things I’d rather be doing than knit purl, knit purl, like improving my painting, cooking, block printing, reading novels, banging out blogs on my computer, getting a root canal, you know, that sort of thing. But I’m glad I had the opportunity to try knitting and know it’s not anything I personally really need to wonder about ever again.



  1. The wool shop across from where you live is FABULOUS. Cyn took Mom and I there for sock wool on our last visit. Although I find knitting very relaxing, I know that is not true for all. I'm so impressed at your determination.Good for you !!!

  2. It is a nice yarn store! I was almost sucked into buying more wool, just because the wool was nice! Not because I'll ever knit it! lol!