Every so often I have occasion or just the random presence of mind to consider the whole idea of “skill levels” in knitting. I have actually started to sort of actively resist using categories like that when talking about patterns or designs; I prefer instead to refer to the specific techniques involved in executing the pattern, so that a knitter can relate the pattern to what they do and do not know already, and consider what they may or may not need to learn before or during the execution of the knitted item itself. Because really, the only way to learn cables is to knit something with cables – even if it’s just a swatch that you later turn into a coffee cup cozy or something like that. (But I accept that these categories exist and are not going anywhere, and that if a pattern uses more than knit, purl, and basic decreases, we are probably in the intermediate category. Or is it advanced beginner? Lalalaa I digress.)
And then there are weeks when I arrive at such thoughts when, for example, I am watching a bunch of brand spanking non-knitters try furiously to knit a few rows of garter stitch under the pressure of a competition clock, or ripping out one of my own designs in progress to start on it a 3rd time, or drinking a cocktail while pondering colour theory (me on Sunday evening), and realize that there are a whole lot of different things that make a person not-a-beginner anymore. It’s a pretty vague category and one that sort of exists on a continuum more than anything else. (I mean, really, have you ever heard anyone say, “I just learned the last knitting thing I didn’t know. Now I know how to do everything in knitting and I am totally 100% done now since there will never be anything new in knitting. I’ll go try this scrapbooking thing instead.” Absolutes are hard to come by, is all I’m saying.)
If you should happen to be one of these people in that vague category of new-ness, or just plain like thinking about knitting skills, I humbly offer this list of 5 ways you too can consider some steps towards no longer being a beginner.
On not being a beginner anymore: 5 ways
1. Make peace with ripping back, or ripping out and starting over.
We are incredibly fortunate as knitters to have embraced a craft that allows us, if we so choose, to completely eliminate any evidence of our mistakes and still be able to re-use the materials that produced the mistakes in the first place. Being able to rip back and re-knit – or at least to decide for ourselves whether we would prefer the re-do option or whether the errors are something we can live with – is a sign of exercising your own decision-making and control over your knitting, and it means you’re not going in blind. You recognize that getting the final product you want is the real goal, not whether or not you’re avoiding the momentary pain of having to rip out hours (sometimes days) of hard work.
2. Become savvy about yarn substitution.
This is a big huge enormous knitting world that we live in. It’s bigger than when I started knitting 7 years ago (that was before Ravelry, when blogs were new, and when nobody had ever even heard of things like Wollmeise), it’s certainly bigger than when my mother started knitting, and we here in North America in particular enjoy a wide range of yarn shops in both bricks-and-mortar and online forms. There is a lot of yarn out there. Of course knitting designers and publishers choose yarn for particular reasons. Of course they would like you to knit with the yarn they used in their patterns. And with the combined power of yarn shops and the internets and a bit of cash, there’s not a lot that’s impossible to acquire.
But sometimes it’s not as feasible to do that, for any number of reasons. And when you can look at a pattern and know things like “oh, that’s a multi-ply worsted-weight wool/alpaca blend yarn that they probably used because it’s warm and also has really nice drape,” then your options open up wide. HUGE, in fact. It’s better to know why that yarn was chosen than to find that specific yarn in the first place. This comes with time, and practice, and asking questions, and appropriate levels of knitting geekery.
3. Ditch the whole concept of “sizes.”
Sizes matter a great deal when you go into a store. You have to know your shoe size if you want to buy shoes and socks. You have to know your dress size at a particular store if you want to buy garments there that will fit you. But in knitting world, you’re not buying your hand-knitted clothing from a store. All of this information is actually almost entirely useless when you are knitting something for yourself. When you’re knitting a sock for yourself, for example, the only reason you might want to know what your shoe size is, is to estimate the quantity of yarn you might need. That’s all. (I’ve learned, for example, that as a person who wears Size 11 ladies shoes, I need at least 360 yards of sock yarn to knit a pair of socks – 375 or 400 is even better.)
What matters more is that you know the measurements of your own body. If your foot has a circumference of 9 inches, and the sock you’re about to knit has a finished circumference of 8 inches, then that gives you about an inch of negative ease (which is about what you want in a regular sock, so they don’t fall down), and that means you can knit that sock without adjusting it. If on the other hand, you’re knitting that same sock and have a foot circumference of 7 inches, then, well, you need to either look for a smaller size in the pattern, or adjust your gauge or yarn or both to make that sock fit, or else anticipate that you will be knitting a pair of loose and slouchy socks. The same goes for sweaters: pay attention more to the finished bust measurements and cross-shoulder measurements than the size listings. This is the information that will actually help you make things that will fit you.
Because, you know, I have a 36-inch bust and really broad shoulders that add up to me being between sizes anyway. At least with knitting I can modify the sweater so that it fits me, rather than hanging my head miserably in the middle of Old Navy because the XL tee hangs like a potato sack but the M that fits my waist makes me look like a football player, so I buy the L instead as a middle ground that still doesn’t quite look right but at least lets me go out in public looking somewhat like an adult. (Just saying.)
4. Try new stuff.
You know what the difference is between the knitter who makes things with cables on them and the knitter who knits things with no cables on them? That first knitter is the one who took 30 minutes out of her life to learn/get someone to show her/watched a YouTube video about/figured out on her own/took a class at a yarn shop about cables, decided she liked it, and now she knits all kinds of stuff with cables on them.
(It’s also possible that that second knitter DID try cables, decided she hated them, and knits lace instead. Which, go ahead with your bad self, Lace-Instead-of-Cables Knitter.)
5. Just knit. Knit a LOT.
That thing that Malcolm Gladwell is on about in ‘Outliers’, about success being a combination of opportunity and putting in 10,000 hours worth of time? Well, I’m pretty sure he’s right about that. Anyone who keeps knitting, regularly, will get better. You can bet on it. You will figure out new ways to hold the yarn so that you can throw or pick a bit faster or easier, you will learn new stuff, you will find new patterns, you will eventually get lonely and that will throw you into the path of new knitter friends who will show you new stuff and patterns and other ways of doing things…and you will get better.
Just keep knitting. Keep knitting a LOT. And you will no longer be able to say that you are probably a beginner knitter. Probably, by that point, you will be creating new beginner knitters yourself.
What else would you add to this list?
Until next time, knitting friends!