Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Valuable Skills for Knitters

When I first started knitting the simple act of completing a row felt like triumph, and for a long while I felt like completing a few rows in a day accomplished a lot of progress... until I heard other knitters talking about how many inches they knit each day. Boy, did I feel slow. And then I took on my first adult-sized project. It was one of the patterns that first drew me to knitting- the famous February Lady Sweater.

I started to work on it and got through 90% of it over a few months- why didn't I finish? Well, I'd made so many mistakes on it that I just couldn't bring myself to complete it. I know now that I'm not the sort of knitter that can make a quick fix and ignore little mistakes, but working on that first sweater that was the advice I was given and it made me never want to work on the sweater again. It sat there with 1 sleeve left to go for a LONG time before I did the right thing and ripped it out. The yarn is washed and waiting in cakes for that sweater to be re-knit (and it will be, because I love it so much!)

I thought I'd share some of the things I learned in knitting that failed sweater that have proven to be incredibly valuable to me in my current knitting.

1. Know who you are and where you're at.

I'm the sort of knitter that would rather rip back and fix mistakes than move on with a quick fix. Call it perfectionism if you like, but it's certainly not the crippling kind. I just don't like to be stared down by mis-knitted sweaters. A friend of mine is quite the opposite. If she discovers that she's off by a stitch at the end of the row she looks back through to make sure she hasn't actually dropped something that's going to pull out and then she'll just quickly add those missing stitches and move on like nothing happened. The thought of ripping and reknitting a few weeks of work makes her ill.

It doesn't matter what type of knitter you are, but take the time to really know and embrace your true identity so that you can move forward taking advantage of your natural strengths. This knowledge is liberating! Even though plenty of knitters speak with bitter anguish about trips to the frog pond I don't feel bad about ripping out because I know I will be happier with the finished product. That doesn't mean that I don't sometimes banish projects to UFO timeout (sometimes it's healthy to take a break from misbehaving knitting) but ultimately I know that I'll never finish that item if there is a glaring mistake and even if I did finish it I would NEVER wear it.

2. Learn to "read" your knitting.

This radically changed my life. Remember those glaring mistakes I told you I made on my FLS? Yeah--- part of it was due to not really knowing the difference between the front and the back. When it was time to divide for the sleeves I did, but then I was confused- which was the front and the back? I threw a flippant "it kind of looks all the same" out there and moved on only to understand later that it DOESN'T look all the same, especially not in the lace repeats...

So what is reading your knitting? It's knowing what each stitch looks like after it's made so that when you look back you can "read" it and know that you did a knit stitch or a k2tog so that you can find your place again. This skill is what allows me to stop in the middle of a row even if I'm knitting lace. I can always read back through my knitting to figure out where I'm at again.

Great pictures of different stitches are available at Techknitting and videos for each stitch are available at knittinghelp.

3. Keep track of your progress.

Keeping track of each project is one of those little admin tasks that many people agree is a good idea but most of those folks never actually do. Have you ever had a project you started and had to set down for some reason- only to come back a few months later totally unsure of where you left off? Um, yeah. That used to be me.

I got tired of that though and started keeping notes. This looks different for everyone, but I mostly mark up the pattern. If it's printed I mark off rows on the pattern or write in the changes I've made to a portion. If the pattern is in a book I generally have a big post it note on the pattern where I mark rows and changes.

I also have a notebook that holds my life (not just knitting) and I frequently jot down a quick note in that notebook about what row I'm on in a project for easy pick up later.

You can also use the notes section of the project pages of ravelry. All you have to do is type up a quick sentence or two about which row you left off on  or how your project is going. I try to put all my notes about changes and pattern likes/dislikes into the notes section by the time I'm finished with a project, because those noted have proven so valuable to me when other knitters include them on their projects!

4. Read your pattern all the way through before you start.

This was my number one mistake in the beginning of knitting bigger projects. I would get part way into a project only to discover that it was FAR more complicated than I was capable of accomplishing at the time, or I would discover some tool or needle size that I didn't yet own.... yes, a lot of patterns come with a list of skills used and a list of supplies needed, but it's super easy to accidentally leave one little thing off that list that makes it difficult for you to complete the project.

Save yourself a little bit of trouble and read ahead.

5. Do projects you love- you won't regret it.

I'm just going to say it- your first project does NOT have to be a scarf! It seems to be a popular first item, but I'm not a scarf person and probably never will be. In three years I have knit precisely one scarf - the lovely Kernel- for a Christmas gift for my mother-in-law last year. I started out knitting nothing and moved on to baby-sized things- they're small so you finish faster and you still run into skills like grafting, seaming, lace, and shaping.

You *can* start with a scarf, but you can also start with a baby blanket or a sweater or a simple shawl. What's important is to choose a project you really love. I don't spend my time knitting things I "should" knit- I only knit projects I really like (or special requests from my boys, because who can resist a request from your kids for something handmade???).

What have you learned in your knitting journey that has been valuable to you and your progress as a knitter?

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