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Knitting History

Jennifer at jaykayknits got me thinking with her post about how she started knitting.  Today is the first do nothing day I’ve had to think about a response with.  Normally, I’d be knitting on a day like this, but looking at pictures of things I’ve made and remembering what was happening in my life at those times is almost as much fun as knitting.  So, here goes:
It all started with an Anthropologie catalog that had the most beautiful lavender wrap sweater for a bazillion dollars.  I kept thinking, “Someone made this.  Why couldn’t I get needles and yarn and do this for a reasonable price?”
Then I saw Debbie Stoller’s book at the mall but hesitated to buy it (this will make some eyes roll) because I didn’t want my children learning a new word in the title.  (“Mama, what’s a …?”)
But after several failed attempts to learn online with the slowest connection ever, via the worst illustrated instructions ever, (The hat above is proof with a ribbon threaded through it to keep it on her head)  I broke down and bought the book, turning it backward on the bookshelf so the spine wouldn’t show.
I learned how to make a rectangle (scarf), folded it in half and sewed it up at angle to shape the sides to copy a bag I liked at Urban Outfitters.   I was satisfied, but couldn’t picture myself navigating a sweater pattern.

Many scarves, bags, and hats were given during this time period.

Then I discovered Knitty and so began my habit of spending more time reading about knits than actually knitting.    I wanted cables, bobbles, and other Tolkien- sounding things.   The Blackberry Cardigan below is a Knitty knit.
I started collecting some beautifully illustrated books that sell a lifestyle as much as patterns.  The legwarmers and scarf below came from such a book.   It was as if knitting them would transport me and my family to the beautiful countryside where days are whiled away in a summer home, knitting in a bubble bath, or winding balls of yarn over tea and good conversation with friends.  The fact that I was the only person I knew who knit and most of it was hurriedly done with the cheapest of yarn when my son was napping, didn’t phase me.  I felt part of a long line of handcrafters (my mother with her macrame owls and pottery, my grandmother with her afghans and house shoes, my great grandmother with her sewing, and all of the handcrafters that came before.)   I really didn’t feel like a lonely knitter.
I felt an earthy connection to my ancestors with this new found self sufficiency.  To this day I love the rhythm of casting on.  It’s like dropping a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel.  Will this be a gift-worthy thing of beauty or a funky looking mistake I learn from.
The stockings were my first knit to induce rage.  But aren’t they pretty now?   Did I mention that knitting teaches patience too?
At this point I started to take trips to a “real” yarn store for higher quality yarn because I felt like I could possibly do it justice.
 More hats, more bags.
Fair Isle- something I never thought I’d try.  And, no, there was no rage.  It was all zen-like confusion.
And the sweater below is similar to the one I loved so much in that catalog years ago.  In fact, I love it more.
It took a few years of spotty knitting, but I did achieve my goal.  I could pick up sticks and yarn and make something as good as in a boutique.
In recent years, I’ve not made any expensive yarn purchases.  I considered how little I wear the things I made with such yarn, and use less expensive, but quality, wools and blends.  It helps that craft stores carry more options.
And somewhere along the way I’ve matured to a point where I actually weave in all the loose ends once a project is finished, and I will unknit quite a bit to fix mistakes.  Though I’m still not happy with a lot of my armpit seams, I approach most projects with confidence.
This recent sweater was a real confidence builder.  I had bookmarked the original pattern, bought the yarn, and planned how I’d do it, when the pattern was removed to be published.  I went ahead and worked with what I knew and made up the rest as I went and by looking at pictures of the sweater and looking through old patterns at sweater construction that seemed to work for me.   This is a level of experimentation I hadn’t done before and it was really satisfying.  I’ve had to tailor it to my daughter’s fit and redo some things that looked funny.  Even since taking this picture, I’ve decided to lengthen it by knitting down from the cast on edge.   And I will definitely buy the book the original pattern is published in because I really want the pattern.  Plus,  I want to give credit and payment where it’s due.  I wouldn’t have this were it not for the inspiration and images of the designer.
Through this process I’ve begun to feel like all of these ideas I’ve had about “Wouldn’t it be neat to have a sweater that…” or “I’d rather make one of these with yarn than buy one”  could actually materialize in my knitting bag even without a pattern.  The funny thing is, I don’t even knit all that much, yet here I am with a considerable amount of skill.  It’s proof that anyone can do it if they want.   When I do knit, however, the quality of the time spent compensates for the lack of quantity.
My summer challenge will be a knit along on Ravelry, finally knitting with someone else.  The crafters there so inspire me with their creativity and solutions to knitting “problems.”   I  am really not a lonely knitter.

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  1. Look how good you've gotten! I am so giving my daughter the link to this post. She has just started learning to knit and loves it. You are such an inspiration, Michelle!!

    That photo of you and the dog is one of my favorites.

  2. Oh goodie! She needs to sign up for a Ravelry.com account. It is SO helpful with knitting questions and pattern advice. There are tons of really good free patterns there and she may find fellow knitters around her that get together or swap books and things.
    I sound like a knitting commercial.

  3. this is wonderful! i love it! i LOVE that purple wrap… it's been on my "to make" list for at least a year, but i just can't seem to find the right yarn. yours is just gorgeous! so glad you posted this 🙂

  4. Thanks, Jennifer! It's one of the few sweaters that I could wear all of the time if I wanted- it's not dated or poorly constructed. Though the yarn I used was super cheap, it has held up really well. I felt like it was very close to the yarn Stephanie Japel used. But, sadly, it's discontinued.

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