Crowing Ram

Wednesday, January 08, 2003
Ambitious Beginners
I was speaking with Annie of Modeknit via e-mail this morning, and it came up that we'd both started our knitting experience with what most people would probably consider somewhat ambitious projects. It occured to me that it really wasn't all that ambitious, and that had I had even the most rudimentary guidance when I started my first project, it would have turned out delightfully well.
Let me back up a bit. My first knitting project was a very detailed Aran. I had just taught myself to knit by means of a little green book I found in one of my grandmother's crochet magazine bags, and I wanted to make something that I thought was pretty. [Those of you who know what a yarn snob I've become may want to skip this next part—remember that I was coming from a crocheted granny square afghan background.] I went to Rose's and picked out a few skeins of Red Heart, grabbed a cable needle, went home, pulled out a Workbasket, and went nuts. Between the little green book and the very detailed instructions in the Workbasket, it took me about a half-hour to figure out cables, and off I went.
Now as it happens, I hadn't yet figured out the concept of a gauge swatch, and I didn't know many linebackers at that point in my life (damn it), so the unfinished project eventually went to live on the Island of Misfit Projects. But I was operating from a deficit. I had no instructor. I had a wonderful cheerleader in my beloved and dearly departed Granny, but she was a tried-and-true crocheter who knew as little about knitting as she did about the Cordon Bleu. These days, finding a knitting instructor is like finding a Starbucks; throw a stone—if you don't hit one, try again... and throw harder.
My point—and yes, Rob, there really is one—is that too often, I think we tend to point our beginner's in the craft (before you flame me, read the notes) toward simple projects with the caveat that more advanced projects are well beyond their ability. I just don't think that's so. To me, it's sort of akin to watching a child fall. If you freak, they freak, and suddenly you have a crying child on your hands. If you stay calm and deal matter-of-factly with whatever bumps or bruises result from the incident, the child learns to suck it up, deal with the upset, and keep going without ever learning to fear the falling down part. If we molly-coddle beginning knitters, in some cases we really do hold them back. Some beginners learn to fly rather quickly. Others need more practice. It isn't an issue of better or worse; it's just a matter of learning styles.
Case in point: One of our local knitters learned to knit in the late spring or early summer. Later in the summer, she took a class with Rob and learned to make felted purses. Shortly thereafter, she started a Philosopher's Wool sweater similar to the one that I have pictured below. Now, even I would probably not have suggested a PW sweater for a beginner, but she's done exceptionally well. And when better to learn to knit with both hands? You're still relatively fresh to the whole knitting experience, so learning to knit Continental (left-handed) and English (right-handed) gives you the option of being able switch back and forth depending on the circumstances, allows you the opportunity to choose for yourself which one works best for you for your everyday-knitting, and develops a deeper intrinsic understanding of exactly how the stitches are being made. I think that's a pretty phenomenal instruction method.
Anyone have comments on the matter? I'd love to have them. Send me an e-mail.
Rose's was a discount/department store in the Southeastern US as late as the early 1980s. They often sported a cafeteria-style eatery somewhat more separate from the store than the McDonald's and other snackeries that can be found in present-day discount stores. Invariably, though, by the time I was a kid, they were old, a little delapidated, and all-together charming. They were my first entrée into the world of yarn shopping.
Granny was my maternal grandmother. My paternal grandmother lived over an hour away, and I didn't get to see her very much. But Granny lived in town. By "in town," I mean two things: first, that she lived in the same zip code, and second, that while we lived outside the city limits on a small fruit farm (no comments from the Peanut Gallery, please), she lived "in town" and had the cable television to prove it. So every Friday night, I packed a duffle bag, got in the car, and was transported posthaste to 1308 Murphy Avenue where I would watch The Incredible Hulk and The Dukes of Hazzard and eat fish sticks and crinkly fries on a little metal TV tray. Granny crocheted, and I crocheted, and her daschund and corgi barked at every car that went by with their stereos blaring. And when the time came for Dark Shadows and Night Gallery, we'd whisper conspiratorially and curl up for safety on the sofa while Papa snored softly in his recliner. Now do you see why I love this fiber arts stuff? There are one or two associations I've made with it over the years. Don't think for a moment that your own children and grandchildren won't.
Art v. Craft: I'm defining my terms like so. When I call knitting the craft, I'm referring to the learnable, teachable skill of making knit and purl stitches, increases, decreases, etc. I do consider myself a fiber artist, but that is because I have taken the craft to an artistic level by applying my own creativity to it. Comprendez-vous? Trés bien.
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