Sticks & String

A podcast by an Australian bloke who knits.

Just cast on

I wanted to call this essay ‘Just do it’ but as I now belong to a Yahoo S’n’B group rather than a Stitch ‘n’ Bitch, I thought I’d better not risk it. “Just Do It” is, however, exactly what I want to say, after all, it’s my approach to knitting.

When I was last knitting I got nowhere with it. I remember back then that I had to have my mother do the cast ons. I have no memory of ever having finished any knitting project, but I do remember the knitting. I remember mum knitting things for me, but I’m pretty sure that until this year’s Christmas cardigan, I never knitted anything for her.

When I came back to knitting, it was different. With three to four hours each day I’m making up for lost time with socks, cardigans, booties and shawls. In those missing 35 years lots have things have changed, but not with knitting itself – yarn is still yarn and you still use a pair of needles to work the magic; that hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. What has changed with my knitting is me; or more precisely, my attitude. I now knit for me. I mean, I still give away most of what I knit, and most things are destined for someone else even before I cast on, but the process is for me. The sitting and the making, that part is for me; the thinking about the gift giving, that’s mine too. And because the process is mine, I get the freedom to do what I want.

The approach I think we should have when knitting is, “give it a go”, after all, it’s pretty hard to make such a terrible mistake when knitting that people will point at you as you walk down the street. OK, a pink bunny hat may not be the most appropriate attire for a friend’s wedding, but the mistake is wearing it, not making it. Knitting is possibly the most forgiving pursuit there is, it’s almost impossible to waste your money, unless you give up.

When I decided to return to knitting, an impulse I’m still at a loss to explain fully, I bought some 4mm needles, a pattern book and 20 skeins of the recommended yarn to start. All up it cost around $100, not so expensive that it blew the budget, but enough that I’d give it a decent try before giving up – after all, I still had the memories of never finishing anything the first time around. This time I was knitting for myself. If I liked it I could stick to it, if not that was fine too – I wouldn’t beat myself up over it – I’d just have a go and see.

I cast on the sleeve for that first jumper three times before I successfully got through the ribbing without having to rip it all out again, there was lots of new stuff to learn and I was still working on technique – important technique, like remembering to put the needle through the front of a purl stitch rather than the back. I was under no pressure to get anything done, so it didn’t really concern me that it took two days to get 24 rows of ribbing. Just as well the yarn I was using stood up to the repeated ripping back.

Starting with a jumper as your first knitting project is not what is generally recommended, and it is here that the other thing I have realised comes in. A little bit of ignorance can be a good thing. The reason I started with a jumper was simple, I wanted to wear it next winter. I don’t wear scarves, hats or gloves, so there was no point starting with them, I wasn’t going to knit something for someone else to begin with because I wasn’t confident it would be wearable in public when I’d finished – so a jumper was what I chose, I was content that it become an “around the house only” jumper if needed though.

The lack of pressure was important too. If I was going to wear this jumper when I’d need it, then I had 10 months to get it finished, now I’m not a fast knitter, so even I thought 10 months was probably long enough. Of course it has turned out that I might not have it finished in 10 months, but that’s more because I’ve found so many other things to knit for people, and a Norwegian jumper for myself. Yes, another instance of not being told something was hard to do before trying it. I saw the Torino 2006 jumper on the Dale site and decided that that was the jumper for me for next winter. So I ordered the yarn, all 30 balls of it, and set to work. I currently have the first arm finished and will get to the other parts over the coming months. Again no pressure, and don’t ask how hard something is meant to be before you start knitting it. Even if it had turned out that I was hopeless are colour knitting (and I’m by no means an expert at it  now – it’s slow, but that’s fine) I would still have had 30 lovely balls of wool in beautiful solid colours for other projects.

To give yourself the freedom to give anything a go, there is one more secret – don’t set a schedule. Let the knitting take as long as it takes. The way I ensure this is not to tell anyone that you’re knitting something for them. I gave myself 4 months for my mother’s Christmas cardigan, and it will be finished in plenty of time for Christmas – but she still doesn’t know she’s getting it. I had thought of doing a pair of socks each for my two nieces for Christmas, but if I don’t get those done, I’ll give them some money for clothes and they’ll get the socks for their birthdays later in the year. If you knit without a deadline, you can pick the knitting up and put it down when you feel like it, not because you have to.

So find that project you like the look of, but you’re not sure you can handle, and just cast on. Don’t do it as a specific occasion gift, do it for yourself, or just give it to whomever when you finish as a nice surprise. Talk to people and get help when you need it, but don’t let them tell you to try something simpler, it you want it, go for it. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll turn it back into stash yarn and it will end up in another project – no loss there – but more likely you’ll surprise yourself with just what you can do. But it won’t happen until you just cast on.

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11 November 2006 - Posted by | knitting

3 Comments »

  1. Hey David! Found you through Brenda at Cast-On. Really enjoyed this week’s podcast which I listened to on my journey to the bowels of downtown NYC. My bus even got caught in a police action (terrorist training). These things happen every so often. Typical New Yorker, I just continued to knit and listen to you. I also purchased the Itty Bitty Hat book and agree with you. A really good buy for knitters of all talent range. And as Father Ted is concerned, hell, my husband and I love Father Ted. We were hysterical when we first stumbled across him one night on PBS. When I get home tonight, I’m going to download your previous weeks. Keep them coming (you’re really very good). Hope the cats are well and that you got your winder.
    Kind regards,
    Barbara, New York

    Comment by Barbara | 15 November 2006 | Reply

  2. I really enjoyed your essay, Just Cast On, and your discussion that while the finished product may be for others, the knitting, the process, is yours. And there really is no need for deadlines. The recipient gets it when the product is done, whenever that may be. I get to enjoy the process (my favorite part) and the recipient gets to enjoy the end product. As a bonus to me, finishing one project means I can cast on for another.

    A friend of mine has a variation on this approach. She tells a friend that she will make a knitted gift for the friend. Together they go through pattern books and discuss. Together they go to yarn shops and fondle and select yarns and discuss. But she doesn’t actually buy any yarn or do any knitting. The gift was in the thought, in the process of discussing the project, and the fun of spending time together.

    Keep up the good work. I look forward to hearing more.

    BryAnn, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

    Comment by BryAnn | 17 November 2006 | Reply

  3. Hi, David! I found your podcast through Lime & Violet. I ended up using this essay as inspiration to tie together several different things I’d been thinking about lately into my latest post on my own blog. (With proper reference back to yours, of course.) Go have a look if you’re interested.

    I’m really enjoying your podcast. It’s interesting to hear about knitting on the other side of the world, & from the opposite gender perspective.

    Comment by Lucinda | 8 December 2006 | Reply


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