Thursday, August 30, 2007

I have a dream....

Absolutely typical spring weather we’re having today – pours with rain, blows with wind, sun comes out, everything goes still, warms up, buckets down – repeat the above in different order. Couldn’t be more typical spring if it tried. This means the children are housebound (at least in the cold, rainy, blustery bits) so they have been fighting.

In addition, there have been up to 7 children in the house today at varying times. I love drop-ins – and because our house is big (and my standards are low) it’s a pretty good place for kids to play on rainy days. The children weren’t here alone – their mums dropped in as well – an excuse for coffee and a gabfest. One of the mums is an import from the USA – her DH is working at our local (frequently under threat and much maligned) hospital – this hospital has rather become a political issue recently – personally I don’t care who pays to run it – they’re my taxes and I want a local hospital – politicians certainly don’t have to travel an hour to their nearest hospital!

I’m teaching her to knit – I tried to get her started on dishcloths – and that’s what I’m encouraging her to practice on, but she’s currently just practicing the knit stitch with a ball of nice wool and some bamboo needles I gave her. I believe that learning knitters should have nice materials to start with – I also believe that scarves and novelty yarn are things that novices shouldn’t have to start on.

While I now knit scarves with aplomb, for new knitters they are an often insurmountable endurance test. Why do we make new knitters start on scarves? Start on something small and achievable – like dishcloths, or hats or even mittens. Small, achievable and providing an enormous confidence boost when finished.

Let’s not even talk about novelty yarns and the beginning knitter – whose great idea was it to give new knitters something impossible to see the stitches in? The only advantage is that if a stitch is dropped you can’t see it and the knitting doesn’t particularly unravel.

It’s as if we say, ‘In order to join our Illustrious Order of Superior Knitters, you must complete this endurance test. Here, knit this scarf, which will take you forever (or at least seem like it). Knit it with awful, horrid feeling wool, on yucky plastic needles. You will not be able to see your stitches, so you will never know where and when you are succeeding and when you have difficulty. Do this thing and we will allow you to knit with yarns which feel lovely, on beautiful needles and make superb easy things which will boost your confidence a give you a sense of achievement. But only after you have been completely put off the whole idea..’

And we wonder why many enthusiastic learners never get past the scarf!

Since I have become a born again knitter, I am extremely evangelical in my approach to this knitting stuff. I love to spread the word about the wonderfulness of knitting. So I try to start beginners on lovely yarn, with needles that feel nice in their hands. I try to pick easy projects and stay away from scarves (other than for teddy).

My newly knitting friend hadn’t brought her knitting around for a while. In the middle of her practice bit was a section which looked a little odd. I examined it closely and realised that in that section she had knitted through the back of the stitch – so 2 inches of her knitting was twisted stitches. It looked nice, but different to the rest. She said she thought it felt strange while she was knitting it! We’re back on track now. I’ll get her onto purl soon – and then the world is her mollusc!

It still amazes me that all knitting is just those 2 stitches and some pointy sticks. Lace, cables, aran, colour, fairisle, intarsia, tank covers, clothes, seat covers, tea sets, art works, hats, afghans and booties. All 2 stitches. Incredible. Unbelievable. As Elizabeth Zimmermann says – ‘If children and people of limited intelligence can master this, how much easier must it be for us, with our superior intelligence’, - or words to that effect.

So take your life in your hands. Liberate some nice yarn from your stash (thickish is good), buy some nice needles on sale or from the op-shop. Prepare to be a missionary in the name of the yarn. Be evangelical. Spread the word.

Teach someone to knit something today. But not a scarf!


Rose Red said...

Oh I am so with you - nice yarn, nice needles, start on something small!

MadMad said...

I was just having this same lament with someone over the lack of good beginner projects - something you can explain/teach in one sitting, but not as insurmountable as a scarf. We came up with headbands... which I suppose works if you have a daughter, but otherwise, not so much.

Five Ferns Fibreholic said...

AMEN Sister....but then you are preaching to the choir.....
Let us now go out and convert as many muggles as possible.

Kate_knits_a_bit said...

hee hee!
I'm going to snb today - maybe we can infect cafe customers by the sheer volume of knitting fabulousness radiating from our gathering???

And I think my first ever project was a jumper for me. Huge, thick, warm, made for and worn on a holiday to Japan for New Year's about 10 years ago. Scarves didn't happen till much later on.

Raven said...

Before I became a born-again-knitter (like you) I had a scarf that I was knitting for myself on cold mettle needles with scratchy acrylic yarn in every colour of the rainbow. Every year, when I caught the inevitable flue or cold, I would dig out this scarf and knit another few feet. My shoulders would get tight, my teeth would grind. It would really stress me out.

It wasn't until the 6th year that I finished it. It was also that year that I became a real knitter. Now, when my friends ask me to show them how to knit a scarf, I tell them, lets knit a cozy for your cell phone, or a nice (very small) hand bag. Something rectangular that can be knit quickly and sewn up to have a specific function. Yet, they always seem to think that scarfs are what they should knit, and it's darn near impossible for them to see differently.

I'm glad you've had more luck.

Bells said...

yes! yes! yes! Teaching a friend recently who INSISTED on novelty yarn and a scarf was downright frustrating, as I'm sure you can imagine. I tried SO hard to change her mind but it wouldn't work.

I heard someone say recently that the whole novelty yarn and a scarf concept springs from the fact that scarves can be boring so why not make it more interesting for the new knitter by giving them something ugly and difficult to work with.

Well, if scarves are that boring, do something else.

Nuff said.

That's YOUR hospital. Well, there you go. Small world.

Nora said...

Hmmm, I'm teaching my neighbour to knit this weekend and I was actually thinking to start with a garter st scarf... I do see your point though, so dishcloth it is! Thanks! :)