Friday night I realized I had nothing to knit. It was late; I was tired. It had been an extremely stressful week (both for me, workwise, and on a global scale) and I needed yarn in my hands, but I had bound off the body of my cardigan and it was awaiting blocking. And the only other thing in progress was the purple top-down tutorial sweater, which was at the point where I needed to put the second sleeve back onto needles, pick up underarm stitches, and consult the markers I had left in the first sleeve to see how I had spaced the decreases. None of which sounded appealing right at that moment. I just wanted to sit down and knit. So I cast on another Bob hat.
As I sat there k2-ing and p2-ing just as naturally as breathing in and out, I realized this weekend marked six years since I learned to knit, and I thought (as I often do) about what it was like in those first months, when I didn’t know my knits from my purls.
I knew how to KNIT: with yarn in back, insert my right needle into the first loop on my left needle from front to back, wrap the yarn around it and pull that new loop through, dropping the previous one off the left needle.
And I knew how to PURL: with yarn in front, insert my right needle into the first loop on my left needle from back to front, wrap the yarn around it and pull that new loop through, dropping the previous one off the left needle.
It took me awhile to grasp that all I was doing in either case was pulling a loop through a loop, and that the only difference between a “knit” and “purl” was whether the new loop poked its head through the previous one from the back or the front. Or more to the point: was the top of the previous loop (what’s referred to as “the purl bump”) wrapped around the back (knit) or front (purl) of the new one.
In the months before I got that, all I could do was chant to myself whatever the pattern said to do and hope I didn’t get interrupted or lose my place. If that happened in the middle of a row, I would have no idea what I’d last done. I didn’t know how to read my work. And since I also didn’t know how to fix anything, anytime I lost my place or made a mistake, the only thing I could do was rip the whole thing out and start again. It’s a wonder I stuck with it!
Learning to identify a knit from a purl was so minor, so simple, and so entirely game-changing. I could not only see if I had purled where I was supposed to knit, but I could also understand that fixing it just meant popping it off the needle, tugging the loop out of the one below it, and pulling it back through from the other side. (And at the same time, I learned that the right leg of the stitch sits in front of the needle, as seen in my fancy drawing up there — which meant I also now knew how to take work off the needle and put it back on correctly. No more needless frogging!) More than that, though, being able to actually see my knitting meant I no longer had to keep anything in my head. Whatever I needed to know was right there on the needles in front of my face — all I had to do was look at it.
What I’ve learned in six years is that, mentally, it’s not far at all from k2/p2 to this fisherman pattern, and I will write that post soon, so think of this as the introduction for it. And going into next year, I’d like to write more about the fundamental building blocks of knitting, as well as pulling out some of the tips and techniques that are buried within past series and long posts. (Like this one!) But for today, in honor of six years of picking things up from others and passing them along, I want to point to the collection of posts I did awhile back that are collected on the Beginning to Knit page — a grab bag of how-to’s and pattern suggestions for anyone working to build their knitting skills. We all need knitting in our lives these days, right? The more successful and less stressful the better.