I have so many things floating around right now. A failed sweater, Stitches West, TKGA correspondence course, sleeve caps, new yarn and aspirations to go with it, the role of social media in my learning, and an idea for a clear heading. Well, first thing’s first.
Getting my bearings.
I came to this blog with the feeling that I was dissatisfied with my learning. I felt lost in the options of what I might attempt to learn next. So I started a blog about finding a direction hoping that would make it happen. I think the blog helped, but as with most things, it was only a matter of time. Really I had three things come together to give me direction.
- Cecelia Campochiaro
As you may know, Cecelia Campochiaro recently published a book titled Sequence Knitting. I attended a book signing/workshop at my LYS a few months back without knowing much of anything. I was attracted by the mathematical quality of the technique, and that it was a fundamental technique as opposed to a specific pattern. I had the sense that I would appreciate having the book and the experience of meeting the author as I became a full fledged knitter. I did not expect the workshop to have a large impact on me as a beginning knitter, but it really did.
In addition to being a knitter, Campochiaro is trained in science. I too am trained in science. So, when she discussed developing the idea and creating the swatches for the book, it made a lot of sense to me. I kinda dig the idea of knitting every permutation flat and in the round (well, every reasonable permutation). It’s pretty scientific. While she was talking about all these variations on sequences and having us knit some, she stopped to note finishing. I’m not talking sweater finishing, but scarf or panel finishing. She said, and I’m paraphrasing here, ‘We have the power to make a squared edge square. We should take the time to get it right.’ She mentioned using a provisional cast on so that she could come back and cast off along that edge, as casting off was easier for her to control. Later, as I asked her to sign my book and explained I was a new knitter, she asked me how my purl tension was. I had no idea how my purl tension was. I had no idea how to evaluate how my purl tension was. She kindly gave me a brief description of what to look for and wished me well on my knitting journey. Rocked. My. World.
I think I’ve picked up knitting pretty quickly. I credit that in part to starting knitting as an adult, and to a failed attempt at knitting when I was about 6. It never took hold then, but some sort of foundation may have been formed. Thinking of myself as a successful new kitter, I had the invincibility-of-youth thing going on. I’m not droppin’ stitches! My stuff looks pretty alright! I am gonna be the next Norah Gaughan! Well, maybe not that last one, but really I had no way of evaluating the quality of my knitting beyond “Did it fall apart?” As a beginner that’s a fine benchmark, but if we’re going to continue to grow we need better benchmarks, and now I had one. Purl tension. I was empowered – but still not well educated.
- The Knitting Guild Association Correspondence Course
I mentioned wanting to try out a correspondence course from TKGA. Given that I was starting a blog about finding a path as a new knitter, I wanted to look at various options for learning. When considering the course, it seemed really appealing to have someone critically evaluate my work while being able to complete the work on my own schedule. A correspondence course. It even has a kind of mystique to it. I thought these had died out before I was born, certainly now that the internet is in full swing, but I completely see the relevance of a correspondence course applied to knitting.
I signed up for the Basics course shortly after starting the blog, and so far I’m glad I did. I have yet to complete the first lesson and send it in for feedback, but already I’ve benefited from the materials. They’re giving me a structure to dissect my technique and pay attention to the things that will make my knitting polished. I may be dissecting it more than any Basics student is ever intended to, but I’m happy as a clam to give things some deep thought and experiment with different approaches to achieve the goal on the size of a swatch. I’ve just got to get my hands to catch up with my head, which is worth a whole other post.
Kristine wrote a book, The Modern Natural Dyer, and she discussed the motivation for her approach to writing the book. She makes a fantastic analogy with cookbooks. They look beautiful and appealing, you’re only committing to one recipe, and no one’s actually teaching you to cook but it becomes second nature over time. Her description was like a ringing bell. That’s exactly why I don’t like cooking and I had never realized it! Cookbooks have never taught me how to cook. It never comes out right because I’ve messed with something I shouldn’t have, and I gave up on second nature a long time ago. I think what she describes can happen for people. I don’t think it happens for me and it most defiantly isn’t the way I want to go about learning to knit. But think about it, cookbook style is the expected way to learn to knit. By the time you’re taking a special topics course, I think it’s assumed you will have knit a range of things already.
I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water on this one. If I decide to get into dying, I will be sure to check out Kristine’s book because she does amazing things and likely knows a lot of good stuff. Also, I think it would be very boring to try to learn everything about knitting before making something with what you’ve learned. We need achievements to keep us on track to our goals and resolutions. However, I thrive on structure. I don’t necessarily draw patterns and understanding from trial and error, and the number of variables in an entire project (or meal) is too large. I’ll end up changing 20% of them at a time and have no idea which ones caused the effects. I’ve got an entire failed sweater to prove it. (Not that I’m ashamed of that at all. I’m almost as proud as if it had worked.)
It would be lovely to change fewer variables with a project or a dish and learn by doing, but I don’t have time or resource to knit 5 copies of a sweater and see how each one was different. But on a smaller scale, a swatch or baby sweater scale, I can begin to isolate individual changes. I can try out different stitch patterns with different yarn types and colors. I can start to see how drape changes with needle size across a single yarn. Some things can’t be learned on a swatch, but I think swatching is going to be the best place to start systematically. Let this be my year of the swatch!
The photos: Canon Hand Dyes Bruce Yac Sock mini skeins picked up from Stitches West for my new swatch project, my copy of Sequence Knitting, some initial swatches to explore tension.