One of the most vivid memories I have from my first few months as a knitter, hungrily combing the internet for information and guidance and what all, was the moment I saw these mitts of Margaux Hufnagel’s. I asked her about them and she told me: Improvised. I’d knitted two or three pairs of mitts by then, but I hadn’t grasped the basics of construction or the true meaning of a gauge swatch — the magic carpet, as I like to say, that will set you free to go wherever you will as a knitter. So I literally could not fathom how a person could just make up something that specific and gorgeous and perfectly fitted. And it also made me completely nuts that there wasn’t a pattern, because I wanted those mitts desperately.
In the interim, I’ve definitely been known to pontificate about (what I perceive as) too great a dependence on patterns amongst the general knitting public. It’s so important to know the basics of construction and how to make and measure a gauge swatch so that you are in control of what you’re making — whether it’s improvising a pair of mitts or tinkering with a sweater pattern to make it fit your unique torso. But lately I hear myself spouting off more often about how important it is to knit from patterns.
For most of 2012 — the first year of my knitting life — I had a job I was not remotely creatively fulfilled by, but it was pretty 9-to-5, paid well, and left me my evenings to do with whatever I pleased. (After 11 years of working every waking moment — I didn’t even know what an evening was.) I was comfortable but bored, so knitting for me then was my creative outlet. After a long dull day, the last thing I wanted to do with my new-found free time was follow a pattern — I had to either heavily modify or totally improvise in order to feel that I was really creating. But because I was so new to knitting, I made tons of (valuable) mistakes and awkward choices, and wasted a lot of time doing things in more difficult ways than were necessary, not knowing any better or having anyone to teach me.
2013 was the exact opposite. Wanting to concentrate on Fringe, I had quit the job and taken up freelance again, meaning I was back to working non-stop, but on things I love. At the end of wildly hectic, high-pressure days, now knitting is my mental downtime. I don’t want to think much; I mostly just want to sit down with a good, solid pattern and move my fingers instead of my brain cells. And as a result, I’m learning. Learning, learning, learning.
I’ve always believed that a good pattern is the best teacher you can ask for. And as I’ve noted before, I read tons and tons of patterns — way more than I could ever knit. Have knitted hundreds of things in my head that would take years to knit with my fingers. And of course what you discover when you knit from a lot of different sources is that everyone has different ways of doing things — little details like what to do with a selvedge stitch, or how to make a more invisible increase or manage the change in volume from ribbing to stockinette. And those details are so enlightening! So I hope I’ll always read and knit from other people’s patterns, no matter how adept I might become at making my own. Plus geez, there are so many brilliant patterns in the world, and people who’ve done all the swatching and thinking and math to bring them into existence. Why not benefit from that? Especially when they charge only a few dollars for all of that creativity and hard work.
So I’m a proponent of both, but I want to know about you: Do you knit from patterns?