It is officially Socktober, which means that, for those of us that subscribe to the belief that somewhere in late December all our loved ones should be getting gifts and eating too much, the panic of post American Thanksgiving knitting is soon to be upon us. No, this isn't going to be a post about why you should (or shouldn't) subscribe to the late November, early December knitting panic, it is more basic than that.
A friend and I were talking about, of all things, knitting today. Specifically the things we don't find fun to knit, the miles of endless stocking stitch or ribbing, that make up plain knits. Honestly, if I want a ribbed cardigan I do what any sensible knitter would do, I run to the store and buy one because I know myself well enough to know that before you can say "new patterns were released today somewhere in the world" that ribbed cardigan will be glaring at me from the work-in-process basket and never see the light of day again.
I honestly believe that it takes the best, most experienced, knitters to take a very plain garment and make it look good. Slight variations in gauge, even putting down your knitting to answer the phone and not being really careful when you pick it back up, show in a big way. It is hard to hide a badly formed increase or decrease in a plain sweater, and if you happen to twist a stitch it stands out like a sore thumb.
So why, I ask you, when someone comes to those experienced knitters, who obviously through trial and error and endless hours of practice have figured all this out, and asks us to teach them to knit do we hand them some size 8 needles and a ball of cheap acrylic yarn and tell them to go knit a garter stitch scarf?
I see a couple of problems with this ideology...the first being, size 8 needles, although common and easy to come by, are not the right size for garter stitch in worsted weight yarn! The second, as one of those experienced knitters I can tell you, that even as quickly as I knit, I run out of steam with the garter stitch long before I have a scarf size object. The third (yes my couple has three items) is that cheap acrylic yarn has no forgiveness in it. No bounce to the stitches and every little flaw just grows.
We are also, unknowingly I think, teaching them to be afraid of the purl stitch. I have heard from several knitters that they hate to purl or that they learned to knit "in the round" so they wouldn't have to purl as often.
Now unless you believe that there is a yarn shortage and by teaching newbie knitters to actually enjoy this craft is going to cut into your ability to obtain your drug of choice, I don't understand the logic behind setting them up to fail this way!
Newbie knitters need to see something being accomplished. Small projects, with nice yarn and needles sized to make a nice fabric, maybe that is the size 8's, but maybe it isn't. Teaching them to understand gauge (tension) and right side from wrong side right from the get go sounds like it would be much more beneficial to me. As does teaching them to read a pattern and I don't think that "here I will cast on for you" followed by "now you just knit to the end, turn, knit to the end, when you are nearly out of yarn come back and I will cast it off for you" really teaches a newbie knitter anything they will need to know to become a knitter.
Do you, as a knitter remember your first project* with fondness or frustration? Were you wondering if it would ever end, or what could you make next?
For what it is worth, here is what I think.
I think we should start new knitters off with manageable size projects. Maybe that is a dishcloth or a "spa cloth" in a really nice cotton, but maybe it is something else that they like the looks of and only requires one be knit. (I didn't start my kids knitting with socks because the missing second sock is a well known malady in the knitting world, as is the missing second mitten!)
Show them how to cast on, then pull your cast on out and have them do it! Pull it out as many times as it takes to get it right, it is only knitting but it is all in the details, starting off right goes a long way to ending it right!
Leave long tails for weaving in and teach them the importance of making sure that is done right!**
But most of all, remember there are no knitting police. I worked at a yarn store, many years ago, where one of the other employees knit by bracing her left needle between her knees and holding her right needle so that the two formed a cross in the middle of her lap. Her stitches were perfectly executed, even though she had to let go of her "working needle" to pick up the yarn she had sitting next to her and place around the needle to form her stitches. But it worked for her and when her projects were cast off there was no telling how she held the needles and yarn. Let your newbie knitter explore many different ways of holding their needles and yarn, one of them will feel comfortable for them and before you know it you will have another knitter in your midst!
*mine was a dishcloth for my Grandmother. Garter stitch and apparently every few times I put it down I was confused when I picked it back up which direction I was working in because it was not square when it was done. (I was very young and mostly I remember it because I overheard my mother making fun of the shape and short rows which made me mad as I felt I had worked hard on it!)
**More to come on the details at another date!