Monday, December 2, 2013

Day 204 - Learning How to Knit

I have never learned how to knit. As Rachael’s favorite hobby, knitting has been a part of my life for years, but I have never had an interest in taking the time to learn the repeating patterns of needles and yarn that created socks, sweaters, and any number of other materials. I was content listening to the click of needles each night as we sat in our living room and periodically gaining the benefit of a hand knit material of some sort. In my mind, there was no need for me to learn the craft considering Rachael’s avid interest. As a result, I sat by as a periodic observer of her projects in progress and remained completely unaware of how they came together, but I was absolutely OK with that.

Of course, as a supportive significant other and as someone that is pursuing new ways to work with my hands during my “I have never...” year, I figured I should attempt knitting at some point this winter. After all, I had enough curiosity to motivate me in the process, and I had an experienced teacher readily available to help me learn. As a result, I decided I would set aside time to learn how to knit early in December. With hopes the project I created during the learning process could be used as a handcrafted Christmas gift, I realized I needed to give myself enough time to work through the lengthy process of hand knitting, which resulted in me asking Rachael if she could teach me how to knit this evening. More than willing to help, she gladly accepted and prepared materials for me to make some dish rags during the lesson. At first glance, the concept seemed simple enough, which made me optimistic I could work through the project with relative ease and little disappointment. Time would prove that perspective flat wrong.

The materials
At first, Rachael walked me through the basic concepts of knitting and explained a few techniques that would be essential to my success during my first project. Everything seemed straightforward enough, which made me anxious to get the project started. Acknowledging my desire, Rachael proceeded to walk me through the process of casting onto my needles, which I promptly fumbled through as I tried to understand the process. Luckily, my relative ease with patterns quickly resulted in me finding a rhythm with the sweeping patterns of needles and thread. With some positive remarks from Rachael on the consistency and appearance of my slowly building row of knots, I felt good about the initial phase of my first experience with knitting. Eager to continue, I wrapped up the remaining portion of the process of casting on and waited for further instruction.

Over the next few minutes Rachael explained the techniques I would use in my project and demonstrated the repeating series of movements that would result in the necessary rows of stitches I needed to finish my project. Doing my best to emulate her movements, I slowly worked the needles and yarn in passing movements over one another until individual stiches began to appear along one of my knitting needles. I was knitting, but the challenge and dexterity required to complete the process was incredibly slow going. By the time I finished my first row of the project nearly one hour had past, which left me wondering if I would be able to finish the project I had set out to complete.

With the prospects of my task looking stark, I looked to Rachael for guidance with a concerned look. Taking a quick glance at my progress, she laid out the next phase in the project. “Ok, now we knit in a second color, which is going to require a different technique.” Her comment immediately made me hang my head in defeat. Considering the amount of difficulty I had faced in completing the first row of the knitting project, I knew the addition of a new color would only increase the complexity and the amount of time required to work through the remainder of the knit. Disheartened by the reality I was facing, I listened as Rachael explained the process for knitting with two colors and slowly tried to replicate the repeating movements of the two needles and three strings of yarn required by the process. In a matter of minutes I found myself in a tangled mess of yarn and needles, which caused me to make mistakes at nearly every pass through the project. Heavily distracted by the disorganized materials, I found myself forgetting the pattern needed to complete the row, and my efforts to continue resulted in loose stitches that would have made the dish rag unusable if knitted to completion.

Starting a row
As I looked over my work the redundancy of the craft, the difficulty maintaining an organized workspace, and the incredibly slow pace of progress caused frustration to build rapidly. Two hours in, I had yet to complete more than two rows of a project requiring a total of 30, and each turn of my hands was causing more harm to the knit than good. By the time I reached the end of my third row of knitting I was to a point of complete disconnection from the project, and I just wanted the experience to be over. I had only spent a few hours knitting, but I could already tell the craft simply wasn’t for me. The time required to see such little progress made me feel as though I wasn’t producing anything of real value, and the appearance of my project only reinforced that perspective.

Can you fix this?
Agitated and struggling, I ultimately decided to pull my project apart and start fresh on a second attempt at knitting. Deciding I would abandon the task of knitting a dish rag, I settled on the idea of simply trying to knit a square, which had me repeating the same simple movements as I slowly made one row of stitches after another. Several hours later I had a total of six rows complete, and I had enough. With less than 45 minutes until midnight, I realized I had spent the last five and a half hours knitting a total of nine rows of stitches, three of which were pulled apart after my failed first attempt. With that, I decided I was done with this “I have never...” experience, and I was done with knitting.

Done... Just done.
Throughout my “I have never...” year I have learned a lot of things and had a lot of great experiences. While today’s event doesn’t fit into the latter of those takeaways, I can honestly say I learned a lot from today’s experience. First, knitting just isn’t a craft for me. The redundancy of the patterns and the unforgiving nature of the techniques did more to frustrate me than it did to give me joy, which tells me I should avoid the craft altogether. With that, I can say I gained a newfound respect for those that take on knitting as a hobby or a career. Although the movements are simple in nature, the technique and resolve needed to make the beautifully crafted hand knit fabrics we encounter in our lives are rare traits among people. From this experience I now know it takes a significant investment of time to learn the craft and complete the projects that knitters take on routinely. The people that have that level of commitment, like Rachael, are far better than me when it comes to those things, which leaves me with a newfound appreciation for what they do. I guess if those are the things I learned from this experience, it was likely worth the time and the frustration. Needless to say, knitting is not in my future, but there is no doubt I will forever respect the art Rachael creates with her hands, a few needles, and some yarn from here forward.

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