Thursday, July 13, 2006

Knitting: Complexity and Dependability

For years and years, I knitted the most basic items: plain seed stitch scarves, simple drop-shoulder sweaters, perhaps the odd horizontal stripe. Although I had years of knitting experience, I had no interest in staring at a pattern for every stitch I had to make. I wanted knitting to do at conferences, knitting to do while studying in the library, stitches to make while reading subtitles.

When my son was little, everything changed.

When I was writing my dissertation, everything changed.

So which is it? Kid or book?

Book first. I wanted a challenge that would completely absorb me when I walked away from the dissertation. I craved not background knitting but stitches that would not allow me to stay in my frantic academic mindset. The academic in me still needs something that brings out my perfectionist streak just as much as writing does--just so ALL of that streak doesn't get put on the writing.

Change story.

I sat next to my child, too young to play interactively but old enough that he was happy playing with me nearby. I could not read on the couch, for that took me too far away from him. As I discovered, I could knit--knit and watch him play, knit and sing, knit and tell stories. When I could be silent and just be present, I felt the need to knit small little complex things. And I wanted to knit things that would appeal to my son.

And so I began to learn to knit little toys. I started with the bear in Kids Knitting. Seaching for more patterns, I found Toy Knits, Teddy Bears, and World of Knitted Toys. Now there is Knitted Toys and The Knitted Teddy Bear. Although the patterns were not always obvious, they were well explained. The knitted pieces were small and usually had extremely short rows. A row counter allowed me to free my mind of counting larger sections.

Quite recently I've begun challenging myself more. Now that my dissertation is long finished and its book is published--and a second manuscript is at the publishers--I have the drive to make larger projects.

I cast on. I start my first cables, my first lace.... At first I rip it out again and again, wondering how anyone ever does this stuff. And then, after a repeat or two, suddenly my eyes open and I see how amazingly obvious it all is, how regular, how symmetrical. The knitting tells you what to do next. The chart starts seeming superfluous!

And then I get to the edging, or the button band, or...

Don't get me wrong. I very much do not have to make deliberate mistakes since my knitting is always full of them, no matter how easy or obvious the pattern may begin to seem to me. But errors when we deeply understand are so much more fascinating than errors when we feel like we are faking it all the time. When we make mistakes at things we want desparately to learn to do, we feel embarrassed and disappointed. When we get it but make errors anyway, it teaches us more about the flaw of our perfectionism and the need for acceptance.

So here I am, now at the end of Chart 2 of Icarus and loving the lace--and feeling, somewhere between joy and relief and disapointment, that I KNOW how to do this. The knitting is showing me. "You see that little right-side purl? Keep doing it, even on the wrong side. See that fan-like feather? Make it widen by one stitch on each side as you progress.")

I guess it is weird that I am surprised by this regularity, over and over. Is it only true of well-written patterns? As I begin to design my own pieces, will I have to work the essential simplicity in, or does it happen naturally?

Now the real question: will I find this peace in colorwork? Yikes!

7 comments:

alliesw said...

I agree about finding peace in lace...although I am still finding it in much smaller lace pieces, like socks! Beautiful work you are doing!

beadlizard said...

Congratulations on learning to read the fabric! Next challenge is to take something a friend has knit and see if you can figure out the pattern by analyzing the fabric.

Colorwork is peace-inducing for me if I knit it two-handed. I have to achieve a certain speed before I feel good about what I'm doing, if that makes any sense. --Syl

Lisa said...

I think in time you will find peace in whatever you challenge yourself to (at least in knitting :-) ). You seem to be a "thoughtful knitter", which to me means you arn't just plodding along, "producing stiches", but are adding to the established work to create something which you can envision. This will come with colorwork too, I suspect. I envy your progress on Icarus. I'm trying to clear my slate of a few WIPs before resuming the poor neglected shawl.

Ruth said...

I find colorwork and lace equally fascinating, because I love to watch the pattern flow off my needles.

Last winter I made a lace scarf which I first knit the year before, and was delighted at the change in my perspective as a knitter ... from teeth clenched concentration on each individual stitch to being able to see the big picture and how it all fit together. It thrills me to the marrow.

Shanti said...

Icarus is looking lovely! I really should pick mine up again...must finish nephew sweater first, but I don't want to wait!

Amy O'Neill Houck said...

wow, what a wonderful essay--I love hearing your knitting history!

Leslie said...

Wow, I just read this post and it's so timely. I just spent a day alternating between dissertation writing and lace/cable knitting. I've been telling myself that I've completely lost it, but the more complicated knitting actually "felt" better than the mindless knitting I've been doing during writing breaks. Your explanation made perfect sense. So there's hope that the dissertation AND the lace will actually be finished some day? A girl can dream...

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