Blog, Sweet Blog

Knitting gon be the death of me

Posted on: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Mood: toil and trouble
Music: tUnE-yArDs – Hatari

Your hostess, bearing the fruit of her needles.

Ed. This is a long essay about knitting, you guys, but please try to read it…for me, ok?  Think of it as a Gumpian chocolate box filled with some hot knitting action, a few funny bits, a couple of life lessons, a magickal shout out, and delightful animal photography.  In other words, there’s something in it for everyone!  Enjoy!


I finally finished that beret.

I feel…well, not as great as I thought I would.  Yes, do go back and look at the date of that post in the link above.  I started this accursed head covering in January and finished it in April.  To those of you who are unfamiliar with knitting, three months is kind of a long time to work on one hat.

I chose the lace grace beret for my second project because I thought it was cute and it seemed like a challenging, though reasonable way to increase my knitting skills.  How wrong was I?  So very wrong.

I felt qualified to  begin this non-beginner-level beret because I had completed one scarf and a few, small practice swatches for learning different beginner techniques (ribbing, increases, decreases, etc.).  Those tiny projects left me feeling powerful and crafty, as if possessed by the very spirit of Athena (goddess of crafts, y’all) herself.  I took my Athenian confidence  down to the local yarn store (LYS) in search of new yarn for mah new project.

The pattern called for a DK weight yarn, so I bought two skeins (on the shop’s recommendation) of a pretty blue-grey baby alpaca.  It also called for use of a set of five double pointed needles (DPN) or a circular needle in a gauge I didn’t have.  “Huzzah, new skills!” I cried as I left the store with my new yarn and a set of 5 bamboo DPNs.

I couldn’t wait to start!  I checked the pattern and immediately got stuck at the cast- on part, a.k.a “the beginning”…

With crochet hook and waste yarn, chain 65 stitches. With working yarn, and US4 needles, pick up 60 stitches from back of crochet chains. Distribute stitches evenly over dpn’s and join in the round, being careful not to twist.

…which, given my extremely limited experience, might as well have said…

Place the platypus paw in the colander with 15 parts unicorn tears,  three silver bells, and the scrapings from an old woman’s shoe.  Agitate the solution by alternately telling knock-knock jokes, humming the chorus to “Midnight at the Oasis”, and petting the auxiliary kitten for approximately twelvyty-two quartons.

The Rosetta stone for the “modified crochet cast-on” wasn’t included with the pattern and I only knew one cast-on method (long tail).  I spent hours asking the Internet until I found an explanation.  I finally figured out how to do it, but, as the following comments show, many of my fellow beret knitters weren’t as lucky…

Love the look. NO CLUE what you’re talking about with the whole cast on method you use here. I’m giving up and moving on to another pattern because of it.

Hi i’ve just started knitting and this pattern completely boggles me.

Spent 2 hours trying to figure it out and ended up with just a massive knot.

Maybe it was just me, but I could NOT figure out the ’simplified tubular cast on’

So, off to a rough start, but still hopeful.

The next step was to join the ends and start knitting an increase round, then a knit round, then a purl round.  I can’t even tell you how long it took me to get past these first three rounds! I must have started over AT LEAST ten times.  The problem is the knit and purl rounds had an extra step that I didn’t know how to undo.  So, when I made a mistake, I couldn’t unknit them and had to start from the beginning.  The DPNs complicated things as well.  Knitting projects can be a bit, how do you say, unruly for the first few rows and it’s even worse when you’re trying to hold four different needles in one hand and knit for the first time ever with the other needle while not trying to drop stitches or get twisted.

I like to call this period of the project, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.  It was an awful, crushing time.  I daily doubted my love for knitting and often wondered if I was going slowly mad; I would fail at the same task, over and over again, yet expect a different outcome, every time.  And I couldn’t stop for the night until I failed again or made it past those three rounds…just like an obsessed crazy person!

At some point, the stars aligned and I managed to finish those three rounds from Hell.  The next step called for an inch-long band of purl  1/knit 1 ribbing, which I actually knew how to do.  It was loads easier because I knew how to back to a problem in the round.  For that one inch, I felt like a knitter who knew what she was doing.  Knitting was fun and satisfying again and I couldn’t wait to start the large, final part of the beret, the lace pattern.

If the weird crochet cast-on was a difficult puzzle, the lace pattern was learning Mandarin Chinese in a long afternoon.  I screwed up, lots.  I started over from the very beginning, lots, again.   Are you beginning to see a pattern here?  Every new knitting thing was another exercise in doing the same thing over again ten times.  Nothing came easily, everything was a struggle.  The good news about starting over so often is that it took much less time to complete the previous steps; just like I was human being in possession of the capability to learn.

I had one more giant meltdown when I was about 2/3rds of the way through it.  I’m not going to lie; that one was hard, you guys.  I let it sit in a sad heap of failure and silent mockery on the kitchen table for over a month.  Ripping out hours and hours of hard work loses its luster after a while, and I was too tired and beaten to keep fighting.  I had convinced myself that DPNs were the root of evil and the source of all my problems.  I would continue, but not until after rewarding myself with a shiny new set of Addi Clicks.

I started over again from the very beginning for the last time and it all seemed so effortless, like I actually knew what I was doing!  I flew through the pattern at three times the speed and finished late one night, et voila!

Another view, on jack-o-lantern pottery

So, where are all these “life lessons”, you ask?  Mellow out, Betty, I’m getting there.

With a very few exceptions, every part of this project involved learning some new technique.  My mother had bought me a copy of Debbie Stollers’s Stitch & Bitch for my birthday last year and it has been my constant companion.  I read (ok, skimmed) a lot of it while working on those first projects, but there’s so much that didn’t sink in…

-bring the yarn in front before you purl

-make sure it’s in the back before you knit

-use round markers

-round markers go on the needle cord, not the yarn, dummy

-don’t believe them when they say you need two skeins of yarn to knit one beret

-make test swatches…they’re boring, but important

-check your work, count your rows

-television and complicated knitting patterns don’t mix

-drinking and knitting is a bad idea

-you get better results when you pay attention to what you’re doing

-little mistakes shouldn’t keep you up at night

-persistence and hard work pay off

-the people that say knitting is easy are not your friends

-it’s ok to ask for help; challenge builds character

-we only truly know ourselves in the face of adversity

…and on and on.

I finished it two weeks ago, but I wanted to block it and take some decent pictures before posting this.  In case you were wondering, there are a few major mistakes in it, but they’re something only other knitters would notice.  Here the crazy thing about knitting, you guys: I wanted to start work on a new, mistake-free version the very next day.

The mistakes don’t matter though, I’ll love it and cherish it forever…or I’d better keep it forever. I told a friend that this simple hat had become a sort of Horcrux for me.  Like, I had invested so much of myself in its creation, that it felt like a piece of my soul would be lost if something happened to it or it fell into the wrong hands.  Knitting just might be the secret to immortality!

So there it is, knitting (and crafting) can save the world and make you a better, smarter, more attractive and successful person, but you might have to suffer through months of desperate living before you get there.  Mileage varies, but my learn-to-knit experience has seemed closer to and nearly as profound as crossing the Abyss.  I still have so much to learn, but I feel like I can finish any project now…and I’m def pro at making berets.

So, what should I make next?

12 Responses to "Knitting gon be the death of me"

Your finished beret looks great! I’ve never had the patience for knitting — I know that, logically, if I could just push past those first 4-6 sloppy rows, I could get myself to keep knitting to the point where I start to know what I’m doing and things start to tighten up, but instead I knit a few bad rows, get mad because they look bad, unravel them, and then knit the same bad rows all over again. Then I repeat this process 10-15 times, declare that I hate knitting, and give up. But I love doing things with my hands and being able to look at something and say, “I made that,” etc., which is why I’ve taken up embroidery as a craft confidence builder. Anyway, your beret looks amazing & it’s so encouraging to know that someone out there can actually persevere & see a challenging project through to a beautiful end.

O hai! Thanks, I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I just replied to ladyhazard about this, but the real secret to success in knitting is making a peace with insanity 🙂 Anyone can knit, they teach six year old girls all the time (funny, I’ve heard this so many times, I think I’ll never stop screaming if I ever hear it again, but it’s true). However, not everyone wants to suffer through a solid 100 hours of just.learning.the.basics. It’s easier if you have a friend teach you and a support system (like most things in life) for when things get bad, but it’s not for everyone…and that’s ok! You could pick it up anytime you want and you’re into embroidery and have amazing taste in music, you don’t need any more cool points!

For me, it’s no different than making art. I also like to look at my work and know that I made it, but I also feel like it gives me a connection to my mother and aunt. Embroidery is my connection to my grandmother.

Um, this is awesome:
“Place the platypus paw in the colander with 15 parts unicorn tears, three silver bells, and the scrapings from an old woman’s shoe. Agitate the solution by alternately telling knock-knock jokes, humming the chorus to “Midnight at the Oasis”, and petting the auxiliary kitten for approximately twelvyty-two quartons.”

And you are a braver woman than I! I will stick with my unfinished scarves, thanks. They look pretty in the neat wooden bowl-thingy on my mantle. 🙂

Hey Lady! 🙂 thanks, high praise indeed. I’m just glad I got the chance to use the twelvety number system.

You know, I’ve heard that from so many people (not the wooden bowl part, that’s awesome). I know all of you could do the same thing, and knit as well as I do (more likely better); you just have to really be into masochism 🙂 Like I’ve told the rest of them, it’s totally ok that you don’t knit. You have a great website filled with super-talented, funny writing. As long as people are creating something, they’re good in my book.

Hahaha, I agree, your translation (or understanding I guess) was pretty much what I got out of that. Have you tried crocheting at all? I’ve found that it’s a lot easier than knitting. But then again you can’t make super awesome cute berets like the one you dominated! And adorable pic btw!

Thanks for commenting! 🙂

Apart from the chain stitch, I don’t know how to crochet. Anything beyond that looks super complicated. Knitting was the same way at first, but now I kind of know what the yarn is doing on the needles; crochet just looks crazy to me. I would like to learn someday because I love these granny square blankets and these slippers. Do you crochet?

Just want to let you know, before I call it a day and go to sleep in my Middle European night, that I thoroughly enjoyed this post! And I admire your persistence. I probably wouldn’t pick it up again – or I would, but years later!

Aww, thank you! That’s the thing about knitting, it gets to be a kind of sickness after a while — an enjoyable, productive sickness, mind you, but a borderline obsessive sickness nonetheless.

I love your platypus paw/colander/auxiliary kitten thing too – hilarious. That’s how I felt when I looked at the pattern too – way too scary! Aaaaaahhhhhhh! Decided to go for another one that I can understand, seems easier 🙂 But very well done for finishing it.

Hey Caren!

Aww, thank you so much! Which one did you end up working? I’m always on the lookout for cute, new patterns. I actually understand it now and think it’s a lovely pattern (and way to cast on), but it took a long time before I had anything nice to say about it. Is there something in particular you had a hard time with? Maybe I could explain it?

Well, I haven’t done it yet – but the plan is to try the Gwen slouchy beret:

I think it was just that cast-on method that made me hurriedly head back to Ravelry in search of something that made sense to me!

I LOVE that pattern! Good luck with it! Hmmm, maybe I should try that for a Christmas gift for my li’l sis? I think I might post a how-to for that cast-on because it’s actually really easy once you know how to do it, it just looks confusing. I saw something online that helped me, but I don’t think it was a definitive step-by-step or anything.

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