Saturday, September 10, 2005

Knitting Police, Beware!

Several months back I read a comment on a knitting list to the effect that knitting backward is only used by “regular” knitters for edgings. I jotted the comment down in my calendar, but neglected to add any information regarding who made the original comment and on what list. What can I say – life is sometimes a bit hectic!

I backtrack through my calendar fairly often, since it’s my diary for not only work, but also my ‘other life’ of fiber and family. This phrase has jumped out at me several times, and each time I’ve gotten miffed all over again.

Perhaps I'm just slightly affected, but, especially in flat stockinette, I always do the purl rows by knitting backwards - from the right to the left needle. My tension is more even that way. I knit Continental fashion, so you wouldn't think rowing out would be a problem - but sometimes it is. When I see the purl rows extending in the swatch, I make a mental and physical note and do those rows by knitting backwards while making the knitted object, whether it be sweater, shawl, or edging. I learned the skill for lace edgings and entrelac, and have maintained it through use.

I have to agree with whoever it was who said there was no wrong way to knit (EZ? P. Gibson-Roberts?). There are ways that work for each knitter, and ways that don't. I know how to purl perfectly well - I do it all the time in socks and texture patterns and ribbings. But there are times when I choose to knit backwards (right needle to left) because it gives me the smooth, even look I want in that (usually stockinette-based) pattern.

For what it's worth, I've also found that on some lace patterns that are stockinette-based, knitting backwards across the purl rows gives a more even appearance. However, it does require more concentration, at least until you get used to the pattern. It’s all too easy to miss a yarn over when knitting backwards! And you don’t want to know how I figured that one out…

One of the knitters in my Saturday group said it must be easier for lefties to knit backwards. But in my opinion knitting backwards has nothing to do with left- versus right-handedness. I've been teaching crochet, tatting and other needlework for decades now, and can work crochet and tatting perfectly well left-handed, once I do a few stitches and get back into the swing of it.

After all, knitting in any fashion uses both hands. Knitting requires two needles, and whichever hand carries the yarn, both hands are necessary to manipulate those two needles. I’ve heard educators and physical therapists make a good case for teaching knitting and other basic needle arts to all children from an early age to develop eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills. I can testify that it worked for my own three children. Any number of my coworkers who were educated in Europe and Asia find our educational systems’ lack of this type of instruction puzzling. They point to the relationship between needle arts and math and science basics like logic and sequential visualization - basic reasoning skills. But I refuse to take on the educational institution of this country - like all institutions, it has strengths and weaknesses and a myopic view.

I must say that handedness has never been a problem with teaching knitting, which I’ve done formally for the past 8 years, and informally for decades before that. I simply ask the student to try Continental first, and if that doesn't work for them, I have them try English-fashion. I've had only a handful of students who preferred English, and they were all "relearning" knitters who had started out that way to begin with, even though that may have been decades ago. Frankly, it doesn’t matter at all to me which way they knit! I had one student a year or so back who could only learn PGR’s combined knitting. She does beautiful work. As soon as the work is off the needles, nobody can tell exactly how it’s been knitted without extensive analysis, anyway!

Most knitters eventually learn at least two methods of knitting. Right-handed Continental knitters learn to do color-work by carrying one strand in each hand, using the yarn in the left hand in the usual fashion and that in the right as an English knitter does. Right-handed English knitters learn to do color-work by knitting in the usual fashion with the yarn in their right hand, and Continental fashion with the yarn in their left hand. Of course you can knit color-work in only one fashion, twisting and picking-up/dropping threads as necessary, but it isn’t nearly as fast or evenly tensioned as using both hands. So most knitters, sooner or later, learn to do a two-handed carry.

All this is by way of saying that knitting is supposed to be a pleasurable activity. If you’re getting the fabric you want and enjoying the process of making it, how you form the stitches is nobody’s business but your own! I give the busybodies around me (yes, there are always a few) who insist that I knit wrong because I knit Continental fashion or knit backwards on purl rows short shrift. I tend to delete those sorts of comments immediately on posts, too. This is my prerogative, assumed due to my advancing age and vast experience of buttinskies.

If you are a member of the knitting police and want to come arrest me for my views or knitting methods, you can find me happily ensconced in my favorite knitting chair next to my spinning wheel, surrounded by fiber and yarn and knitting away in my own fashion. I reserve the right to take my fiber tools and fiber along with me into durance vile, and assume total responsibility for the converts I make to my own admittedly liberal views while incarcerated.

1 comment:

woolgatherer said...

Knitting 'backwards' makes fairisle much easier, because the right side is always facing you.