The year of knitting from my head
This year I’ve decided to do the majority of my knitting from my own head, without using someone else’s published pattern as a starting point. A good friend heard me proclaim this, and thought I was crazy, what with a dissertation to write and an unfortunate dearth of free time in my life, so asked me to explain my reasoning. She raises some good points, but I still think the pros outweigh the cons. Allow me to explain to you all…
Back when I re-learned how to knit in 2003, I didn’t have access to a lot of knitting patterns. I had a couple of booklets from big-box stores, and a few basic patterns I’d bought from yarn stores. So, I knitted a lot of very basic things, and used my knowledge of garment construction (from sewing and crochet) and color relationships to improvise things. The result was, at first, some very basic, often wonky or rectangular things. Eventually I discovered Knitty and some good knitting blogs and pattern repositories, and my eyes were opened. I started cobbling together different parts of patterns to make new and interesting projects. I started charting out designs in cables or colorwork and branch out in the shapes and kinds of things I knitted. Some patterns I altered on purpose, some by happy accident, and some I stayed true to, down to the smallest detail. I invented a fair number of things from scratch, and had to scrap a fair number of them, like the mesh yoga mat bag that was better suited to holding a dozen soccer balls, or the cozy alpaca shawl with dyelot issues that blocked out larger than a bedspread. But some were wonderful, like the iPod holder for wearing under my coat, or my first fair-isle hat, or the satchel with an endless knot worked in cables (which was given away with nary a photo taken). It was this kind of fearless and inventive knitting that got me a job at Stitch House, and which got my heart pumping.
Then, in 2007, after months on a wait list (get offa my lawn!), I joined Ravelry. And it was awesome. But it also changed the way I knit. All of a sudden, patterns were not just something you could find on one webzine or in a shop. Patterns were fodder for conversation. People would recognize the patterns I knitted, and would complement me on them when they recognized them. I found that people at the yarn shop were more likely to swoon over a nice project that they recognized than one that they didn’t know. And, as a salesperson, it was in my best interest to knit things that customers could find online or in the store and buy yarn for. Saying, “Oh, I’m making it up as I go along” not only sounded strange, but it also didn’t sell any yarn. Soon, I was knitting almost exclusively from other people’s patterns, and preferring “hot” patterns over obscure ones. And it made me a little uneasy. One fantastic thing about other people’s patterns is that you learn how someone else would tackle a problem. And sometimes it’s fun to figure out what they’re doing, and make a judgement call: do I want to do it their way, or do I have a different idea I like better? But if the pattern is clearly-written and well-edited, and you don’t intend to do anything crazy like restructure the shaping or add in many new elements, often following a pattern requires very minimal mental acrobatics. And after a while, I started to miss those acrobatics.
So this year, I’m knitting from my head. I no longer have the pressure from working at a yarn shop, and, like the year in Russia that ignited the spark of my most creative early knitting, I’m knitting to keep sane and happy more than to show off my pretties to others. I’m not saying that I won’t knit anything from a pattern this year, because I’m happy to be carried away by something beautiful. There are a lot of gorgeous patterns in my queue, and I’ll be happy to work on some of them. But I’ve also got a lot of gorgeous ideas in my head. Knitting from my head means taking those ideas, and instead of going to Ravelry to find some close approximation that someone else figured out, it means going to my sketchbook and figuring out what my vision for the project actually is. It means swatching, and calculating, and trial and error. It means stash-down, it means cold-sheep, because I can tailor my projects to my yarn stash and not the other way around. And it means taking more control over my spare time, and using it to feel awesome about myself and the things I do. When I knit from my own head, I’m allowing my own interests to shine, and embracing the puzzles, the tricks, the difficulties. And the beauty in figuring out the solutions to those problems. And the pride of successfully having untangled the Gordian knot.
And, maybe I’ll make some lovely patterns to publish and share with all of you in the process!