Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gwen Steege: Knitters' Leaps of Faith

Green “waste yarn” knit in to hold stitches before dividing them into groups above and below the thumb hole. © John Polak Photography, for Storey's upcoming title, Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece. 

When I count up the number of years I’ve been a knitter and realize it’s now up to nearly five decades, it’s something of a shock. Surely I should be more of an expert by now! But in the past five or so years that I’ve been acquiring and editing knitting books at Storey, my learning curve has greatly accelerated, thanks to the wonderfully talented authors and other knitters who’ve become my friends.

Yesterday I got to wondering what it was about knitting that made the challenges so much fun, and that train of thought led to thinking about how much faith it takes to start in on any fiber project. You’re spending hard-earned money on the yarn and needles, and you know you’re going to be spending precious time as well.

And yet those of us who are addicted to the textures and rhythm of working with fibers and turning them into something to wear and admire are more than happy to forge ahead, no matter how tricky that sock heel might turn out to be. In fact, of all the crafters I know, I think knitters may be the most adventuresome. Throw caution to the winds, never mind that you’ve never knitted lace, and go ahead and dive into that lace scarf! The yarn’s beautiful, the color’s luscious, and it’s perfect for your daughter/sister/mother/friend. We knitters love — in fact, we crave — challenge.

Still, there’s that leap of faith I just mentioned, and along those lines, some very specific moments of my own “leaping” come to mind: times when I’ve read over the directions before I begin and said to myself, “They can’t mean that!” or “What the heck is this supposed to do?!” I clearly remember the first time I ran across directions to use “waste yarn” to save a space for the thumb opening in mittens. It’s a classic technique that I learned from Robin Hansen, who specializes in traditional patterns and used it in Knit Mittens! It surfaced again in a pair of mittens in Gail Callahan’s upcoming Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece.

Waste yarn removed, stitches divided above and below thumb hole, and thumb in progress of being knit circularly (held on another piece of waste yarn for the photo). © John Polak Photography  

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s famous Baby Surprise Sweater is a classic leap of faith, and then there are those patterns that break the rules, like Morehouse Farm’s Fishknit Scarf, with its dropped stitches. However, almost no beginning stranded knitter fails to pale at the thought of steeking, which requires nerves of steel as you actually take scissors to cut the front opening in the beautiful cardigan sweater you’ve spent hours knitting in the round. In Kristin Knits, Kristin Nicholas took me through that milestone with flying colors.

I’ve found that all these leaps of faith have actually become moments of magic as I discover the logic and beauty of each new technique — it works! I’d love to hear about your own leaps of faith, about methods that seem like madness and yet have led to successful outcomes and allowed you to make another notch in your knitting needle of accomplishment.

P.S. All the leaps of faith I described above worked out beautifully!

— Gwen Steege, Senior Acquisitions Editor

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