Friday, January 22, 2010

The Deconstruction

I was watching a preview today for a knitting dvd, and the clip was showing the basics of knitting. The directions were pretty standard, so I don't mean to be calling out this video in particular, which is why I haven't named it. The problem I spotted was that all of the directions were framed in "knit-speak". You know, "insert the needle from the front to the back, pick up the yarn and pull it through." Some variation of these words are told to every novice knitter, but the directions make no sense to people who do not already knit. People who do not already knit could not tell you what the front of the stitch is - it could be the leg facing them, the hole facing the opposite needle, the side of the knitted fabric facing them, the right side of the fabric, etc. Things we as knitters could not possibly fathom being interpreted as "the front". I doubt that many new knitters would recognize that the right answer is the left side of the leg closest to the opposite needle. This confusion continues for each and every sentence in the directions.

This was hard for me as a new knitter. My mom showed me how to knit a bit as a child, but mostly I learned from books or videos on the web once good yarn became available again. I constantly ran up against the underlying assumptions, as we all do. I've only shown a few other people how to knit, but as with math, programming, English, and all other things that people think are hard to both teach and learn, the more ways you know how to explain it, the more likely you are to reach the a-ha moment where it all clicks. I thought I'd share what I'd learned so that you could pass it on. It's all just a matter of breaking down what we are doing into explicit instructions. So here it is, my (slightly cerebral) explanation of how to do the knit stitch.

Note: I am just showing the knit stitch here, so this isn't a complete starting-to-knit guide. I haven't included instructions on how to get stitches on the needle in the first place. If you need help with that, I can certainly do that, or I can point you to some great videos for casting on at

How to Make a Knit Stitch ( (mostly) Continental Style)

In the interest of making this as simple as possible to explain, I am going to assume that we are all working right to left, with stitch orientation common to the dominant teaching styles in American knitting. It's not necessary, but since I don't have any experience with other styles, it makes it easier for me. Also, generality sometimes adds complexity. ;-) And to illustrate that, here is my general explanation of how knitting works:

General stitches: Each stitch is part of a continuous stretch of yarn that goes from one side of the row to the other. You have to pick at it a bit to see it while it's on the needles, but it's true. The stitch itself is a loop around the needle, then that yarn continues on either side to connect with the rest of its row. Yarn is brought through the center of this loop to create a new loop, and the old loop is dropped off the needle. When this is done for an entire row, the fabric grows in length. (As a complete aside, in the knit stitch the old stitch falls away from you; in the purl stitch the old stitch falls toward you.)

Here's the reason I gave you that explanation: take a look at the stitch you are about to knit. It might look a little less like a loop and a little more like a horseshoe, and the bottoms of the horseshoe are called "legs". If you are in the center of the row, one leg will connect with the rest of the unworked stitches, and the other will continue between your needles. If you are at the beginning of the row, one leg will connect with the rest of the stitches, and the other will connect with your ball of yarn. To start the stitch, insert your right needle below your left needle from the left side, into the middle of the loop, so that the leg that connects with the stitches on the left stays on the left, and the leg that connects with the stitches on the right (or the ball), stays on the right.


Yay! You have gotten the hardest part done, if you can believe it. The next step is to start constructing that new loop. This involves wrapping the yarn clockwise around the right-hand needle. If you are knitting continental, as I am in the pictures, you can take a look at how I do it. Also in the pictures you can see a piece of yarn that spans both needles in front of the working yarn. This is the old loop.


Since the yarn is starting from either the previous stitch or the row below, you can see that you are wrapping the yarn clockwise around the right-hand needle from about 6 o'clock to around 1 o'clock. (Any additional work gets done for you in the next steps.)


In the last two photos you could see that the old loop got pulled out quite a bit while we were manipulating the new loop around the right-hand needle. This was exaggerated for the photos, but useful for illustration purposes, since that hole is where the new loop is going to go. You want to pull the right-hand needle through that old loop. You are essentially pulling the right-hand needle back the way it came, with the addition of the new loop of yarn. Here is how it looks after you pull the yarn through:


The only thing left to do is to pull the old stitch off the left-hand needle. Slip your right hand and needle up the left needle until the old stitch falls off the needle. The result is that the new stitch is on the right needle, the old stitch is below and wrapped around it, the working yarn is coming from the left side (leg) of the new stitch, and the right leg of the new stitch is connected to the rest of the row you are creating.


There are a lot of refinements you can (and will) make to this if you continue. You will want to work out your own way of holding your yarn. There are adjustments to make on how you move your stitches around on your needles. There are *lots* of variations on these stitches, both basic and fancy. There are multitudes of clever ways to go about making knitted fabric, and there is always going to be someone out there that thinks that the way you are doing it is wrong. Find what feels comfortable.

<rant>And remember, there may be times that what you are knitting is wrong for a particular project, but that doesn't make it "wrong". </rant>

Monday, April 27, 2009

11 Days of Star Trek!

In preparation for the new Star Trek movie, Orion and I are celebrating the 11 days of Star Trek, and watching a movie a day until we go to the first showing in our area on the 7th. Many of these I have not yet seen. Last night I saw Star Trek: The Motion[less] Picture for the first time. I'm pretty sure that our enthusiasm for this whole business means that we must be forever labelled incredible geeks and shunned from all decent society. But then again, I'm pretty sure that was concluded long before now.

On to Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan!

(In knitting-related knews, I got an invitation to the Hello Yarn fiber club today.  Hurray!)

Friday, January 9, 2009

They are the outsiders

I was reading a post by the estimable Wendy Bernard this morning over at her blog at She's more eloquent than I, but said something to the effect that it's no wonder that non-knitters don't get what we do, since they only see the works-in-progress.

This gave me a moment's pause, I have to say. Since awareness of knitting in the outside world is so rare that we hold Knit In Public days just so that people actually see people knitting and know that not all knitters are grandmothers (though all the more power to the ladies who are), it hadn't occurred to me that we might be being judged by our unfinished works. It's an appealing thought.

The pessimist that I am, I had always assumed that it was due to the glaring problem that so many of the handknits do not flatter the wearer. I still won't buy several (unnamed) knitting magazines because so many of the sweater patterns they offer are cropped boxes with tea-length sleeves. They make the model look short and fat, what are they going to do to someone who isn't 5'10" and 130 lbs? You can see the evidence at many a knit night, unfortunately.

Do I need to mention color choices? No? Good.

Shall I point out some knitting weirdness?

To be fair to the knitters, the problem is compounded by the fact that there are also a lot of designs and garment types that are extremely popular in the the knitting subculture but are not so popular with the broader community. I have seen not one single non-knitter wearing a cowl (at least not since I moved out of certain goth circles), but knitters are whipping them up like there's no tomorrow. And I don't know many twenty-five-year-old non-knitters who wear lace shawls. Or adults wearing mittens. Yet these are often beautiful garments impeccably made.

I know that this isn't helpful, but we might all just have to accept that we are part of a subculture and embrace it. Along with the gamers, the golfers, the trekkies, the car enthusiasts, the football fans, and the followers of haute couture, we have to recognize that we have different opinions of what is valuable/interesting/good than outsiders do. We have different costumes, we have different rituals, we have different vocabulary, we have different ideas about what is acceptable. Outsiders will always think we are weird because of this, often for no better reason than that they are outside our group. I sure think that Chicago Bears fans are weird for going out in 10 degree weather wearing little more than body paint, but that's because I don't understand why they do it. And why don't I understand? Because I'm not a crazy football fan. All the other crazy football fans understand. So when my sister dons her blue wig and face paint to head off to a Seahawks game, I'm sure she's got the same sort of thinking going on.

I think Wendy may be a little outside this particular problem. Have you seen her new book? I got it for Christmas and I love it to death. She makes some of the cutest, most wearable designs. No fair.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

So this is the new year

Orion got me a spinning wheel for Christmas, and I've made my first yarn.

My new Kromski Sonata

Every new spinner and their mother have waxed poetic about the beauty of their wheel, their sense of connection with generations of fiber craftsmen and women before them, the joys of creating yarn on their own. I don't really have anything to add there. I second their emotion.

First two bobbins

All us knitters have gotten sick of hearing about how knitting is the new yoga. I've always thought that was a bunch of crap. I think a serious case could be made, however, for spinning as a new form of meditation.

Plied and pretty

I'm seriously needing that meditation right now. For no good reason that I see, I can't seem to find a happy. I feel like I'm living an indie album. What's up with that?

Friday, May 9, 2008

I guess I'd been knitting a lot of socks

Life always seems to get in the way of knitting. I guess that's why I like knitting so many stockinette socks. That, and I have a penchant for hand-dyed yarns, which are best displayed by very plain stitch patterns. But I can make stockinette while reading, watching tv, or working. *Nothing* gets in the way of my stockinette socks.

Except driving, but I don't think I should try to change that.

There were a lot of socks in that last post. There are a few more here. Sorries!

Autumn Socks


For the Mystic Light shawl, I swatched with a yarn I had picked up while out of town. I liked how it was looking, but didn't really have enough yarn for a shawl. I called my favorite yarn store to see if they had my yarn. I was looking for Classic Elite Alpaca Sox. "You can't make socks with alpaca yarn." At the time, I didn't even *want* to make socks with alpaca, but I got a diatribe about how you *can't* make socks with alpaca. Needless to say, they did not carry my yarn.

I went on a Milwaukee yarn crawl with Orion a little while later. Misti Alpaca makes a beautiful hand-dyed worsted weight yarn, so soft and vibrant. I wanted it, loved touching it, but couldn't imagine what I would make with it. It was somewhat expensive, and I don't generally like multicolor yarns. Just for socks, but this was a worsted weight alpaca yarn. Orion pointed out that I didn't have house slippers like I'd made him. Alpaca slippers it is. You *can* make socks with alpaca yarn, you just can't expect them to hold up to hard use. These socks are a comforting luxury to come home to.

The Tragedy


These were socks I cast on a while back. I brought them to the yarn harlot event in case I finished the project I was working on before the event was over. I handed them over to Anna so that she would have something to work on. I brought them with me on the trip home to Seattle last weekend. These are socks with history.

They were made with yarn with history as well. I used this yarn to make a heart sachet for Carrie's 3-year bag. I didn't remember that until I ran out of yarn, about 3 inches from the end of the second sock. Ouch.

I've picked up some yarn in a coordinating color for toes, heels, and cuffs, for when I go to remake these. I just don't know if I'll have the heart to start on that any time soon.

Sorries to Sher


This is a poncho I'm making for my Aunt Sher, both as an apology for an insensitive conversation on my part, and because I want to make her happy. I think the purple color is happy and very Sher. I'm also hoping that the poncho will be easier for her to put on than her sweatshirt, but still comfy. I obviously haven't gotten very far with it, though.

Every time I work with cotton, though, I swear never to do it again. And then I do. I wish it didn't hurt my hands so much.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Take your knitting to work day

Work has been weird this week.


On Sunday night, one of the urinals on my floor overflowed, then continued to run water until half the third floor was flooded. Then it continued to flood the second and first floor as well. It's been pretty wet. We've gotten some hard-core equipment in to deal with the problem.


Those red things stacked to the left are all of the fans that were in the offices and hallways. There were also dehumidifiers everywhere. My office was apparently hard hit, because it was one of the last to get the "dry" signoff, and it got its own fan and dehumidifiers. I wish I'd gotten a picture of that. They did have to tear out the baseboards in much of the offices. The following picture is typical:


We hope to have our offices back by next Friday.

Fortunately, I work in a place which can take such things in stride.

I can't tell whether this makes legal seem more or less scary.
Please wear hazmat sandals.
Just so you know, eating brains does not, apparently, make you any smarter.  In case you were wondering.

So I decided to go to work and take a bunch of pictures of sock.


Now you have a glut of socks. Stop complainin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mystic Lights KAL

I've been working on the Mystic Light KAL. It's on clue 3 now, but these are the first pictures I've taken of mine. I think mine looks a lot different than everyone else's. I'm guessing that it's largely because I used a different double decrease than was called for and the yarn I used gives a lot less definition than most the others used.

Mystic Light shawl after clue 3

Close-up of Mystic Light shawl after clue 3

The pictures aren't the greatest, since Kitty kept attacking the shawl while I was trying to pin it out. She was trying to eat the shawl. Then she tried to use it as a scratching post. I had to lock her in the bathroom just so that I could get this. She has been a big brat lately. I didn't want to leave her in there long, so I just pinned it out as fast as I could on the floor and stuck a couple pieces of paper under it to show the lace better. High quality, high class, no? But Kitty thanks you for forgiving me. ;-)