Sunday, November 6, 2011

So what next?

A week or so ago, Miranda sent me an e-mail, asking for some knitting advice. Her question was about the magic loop (which I'll talk about again in a minute), but it was actually about something else: how to "grow" as a knitter (oh wow, that sounded really cheesy, sorry). And it doesn't only apply to knitters - any hobby or life skill presents this problem.
But really, you know what I mean, right? There are a gadgillion resources out there for beginning knitters. Lots of how-to videos on YouTube, lots of books aimed at helping you master the art of garter stitch, lots of easy projects to test out. So, you watch the videos, read the books, try the garter stitch iPod cases...

Then what? What happens when you've exhausted all of these simple projects? I mean, even if your first project was a sweater, you might still hit that very same wall: where do I go from here?

There is no real definite answer. You are, in a sense, on your own. And so am I.

As I mentioned to Miranda in my reply, I have long since outstripped my mother and grandmother (or any relative, for that matter) in knitting know-how. My obsession with it is a little mystifying to both of them. Slippers and scarves were the projects of choice for them (though Mom did knit Dad a marled grey sweater at one point, and started another - T, do you remember that one? It was navy blue, with a grey, beige, and white yoke sweater...). Neither one has attempted lace or sock knitting. And steeking? Heavens, NO!

So what is a girl (or guy) to do? Well, there are a few things:
  1. Know thyself.  If you've knit a few projects, you should be getting a sense of what you like and don't like.  Pay attention to this: it's your first clue.  Are you intrigued by construction (the "architecture" of knitting)?  What about cables and texture - is that your thing?  Or are you more of a colour person?  These details are going to act as your first set of directions.
  2. Try new things you aren't sure you'll like.  HA!  I just told you to follow your instincts and now I'm telling you to ignore them and try things you hadn't thought of.  Hahahaha!  Ain't I funny!?!?  No?  Oh well.  But seriously, if you aren't sure yet what you like, you really ought to try stuff that you have never given serious thought to before.  Like lace and sock knitting.  Like colour work (just be warned: intarsia is the devil).
  3. Ignore the scare tactics you hear from other knitters.  Like "just be warned: intarsia is the devil".  Try it for yourself.  Then you can be the judge.
  4. Pay attention to people like Elizabeth Zimmermann, Meg Swanson, Sally Melville, Alice Starmore, Kate Davies, Jacqueline Fee, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, Jared Flood, Ysolda Teague, Franklin Habit, Debbie New, Adrian Bizilia, SpillyJane and a host of others.  These are your teachers-in-hiding.  I call them that because they are designers, writers and bloggers, first and foremost.  But their work is peppered with a wealth of knowledge that is just waiting for you to snatch up.  I'm thinking of one in particular that Stephanie (the Yarn Harlot) wrote, called "Knitting Rules!" in which she lists out page after page of knitting tips and tricks that I have no idea where she found (like, did you know you should always knit your ribbing on smaller needles than those used for the rest of the piece?).  My guess is that she has been collecting it by reading the authors I listed above and by asking lots of questions.  You will learn a lot if you adopt her approach.
  5. Take notes, take notes, take notes.  You're going to start coming across very interesting little tidbits in your reading and you will tell yourself that you don't need to write it down: something THAT amazing is sure to stick in your memory forever!  Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but you'd be mistaken there, my friend.  So, you remember when I extolled the virtues of the knitting journal?  Well, I hate to beat a dead horse, but...
  6. Start thinking about where and when and how you like to knit.  Are you a commuter-knitter?  What about in front of the TV?  At night, as an un-winding activity?  Or first thing in the morning, to focus your thoughts?  Do you travel a lot for work and need something to take your mind off the monotony of yet another hotel room?  Or just whenever you get a moment free of the kids, which you use as an escape-in-the-search-for-sanity (no, I'm not a mother, but I've spent a fair bit of time looking after kids... I know what it's like)?  The answers to those questions will give you yet another clue as to what type of knitting you should be trying out.  Like, if you're escaping to your basement craft room when the kids are napping so that you can remember how to breathe, might I suggest that you stick to simple knits with little shaping and pattern?  Maybe put some soothing music on instead and just let your hands do the work.  But, if you're travelling, you're going to want something more involved.  A five-hour flight with only a garter-stitch scarf to keep you company is likely only going to emphasize the boredom.  So, that's where lace comes in handy.  Plus, lace is a great travel-wardrobe accessory.  Think about it: it crumples up nicely in a suitcase, it acts as both a scarf and a blanket, AND it can zazz up an evening outfit without even batting an eye.
  7. Maybe try having more than one project on the go.  That way, when you find yourself getting bored with something or needing to change your pace, you've got something else to turn to, without having to hunt something down.  I've shackled myself monogamously to the intarsia argyle vest for the past few weeks and I'm about to go bat-crap crazy.  This is NOT the way to do things, people.
  8. Speaking of beating a dead horse: have you started listening to Kelly Petkun's podcasts, yet?  I am not joking: these podcasts have completely changed my perspective on knitting (in a good way).  Kelly has done a LOT of the legwork here - all you have to do is listen (and take notes - knittingjournal, knittingjournal, knittingjournal).  Plus, it's free.  And not that KnitPicks needs any more endorsements from me, but I also encourage you to check out all of their YouTube videos.  They are the most professionally-produced that I have found.
  9. Inspiration may be your biggest challenge, going forward.  There's a reason Ravelry is so popular: get on there and go fishing for inspiration.  Look at stuff that you think you'll never be able to knit and then figure out a way to do it.  Everything you need is floating around here somewhere, I promise.  You just have to figure out a way to find it and use it.
So anyway, my point is that just because you're having a hard time finding the right resources to get haul yourself into the advanced-intermediate (or even just into the intermediate-beginner) territory, don't lose faith.  It's out there: it just isn't as blatantly obvious as the beginner stuff.

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