Divine Bird

I believe in a high-fiber diet…like wool, alpaca, cashmere…

Knitting Is Not Hard

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Nor is spinning, crochet, sewing, writing, drawing, baking…you get the picture. This is an entry for everyone, so even if you’re non-yarny, LISTEN UP.

I have this reputation as a ‘creative’ person. When I was a kid and teenager, my mom would have me set the table for big events like Thanksgiving, or set up the trays of hors d’oeuvres because I was ‘artistic’. I am always called upon to write calligraphy names and draw little pictures for newsletters and such. I am the one asked to fold napkins, decorate trees, and arrange centerpieces, all because I am ‘talented’.

Unlike a lot of artists, I feel like I am realistic about my ability. I don’t think I’m the best thing ever, but I also know I’m not the worst. I’m moderately talented. When it comes to putting colors together, or conceptualizing character design, or choosing fibers for the texture they give a finished yarn, I think I’m pretty awesome. That’s all to do with how I see the world, though, and has very little bearing on how my hands actually create things. And that’s my point.

Knitting is not hard. No, don’t contradict me, it really isn’t hard. If it was, we wouldn’t be able to teach little children how to do it. We wouldn’t be able to learn from books. We wouldn’t see people doing it into extreme old age. Knitting is not hard. It is the act of using two pointed sticks to pull loops of yarn through other loops. That’s it. Knitting is a skill. It is something you must learn. No one is born knowing how to knit.

Now, the reason most people think knitting is hard probably comes from how awkward it is to learn to use those two sticks. Let’s face it, manipulating the yarn and needles is something that has to be practiced. It’s like tying your shoes for the first time, or typing, or driving. When a person (of any age) learns to write, their first letters don’t look much like their later ones. You need to train your hands to move in the correct manner.

This can be further complicated by the teacher–perhaps they insist on the student holding their hands or needles or yarn just SO, and as a result, it’s awkward for the student and never feels right. Think about how left-handed people were ‘trained’ not to use their left hands for anything. Have you ever seen someone write with their hands curled awkwardly around a pencil? Are you one of those people? Remember how hard it was to make your hands do something in a way they didn’t naturally want to do them?

Barring any truly physical issues, like arthritis, muscular sclerosis, missing digits, etc, there is no reason why a person can NOT learn to knit. Or spin. Or crochet. Or draw. Or bake. Or ANYTHING. Learning disabilities count, too. Obviously, even if a person has one, they can still learn things. It takes longer to overcome, but it can be done.

The real problem is that people say they want to do something; they may even THINK they want it, but really they don’t. I have said for years that I want to lose weight and exercise, but guess what? When it comes down to it, I don’t step on the treadmill, or take a walk, or climb stairs. There are things in my life that are truly more important to me, for which I make lots of time. I knit and spin every day. I draw and write often. As a result, I am darn good at those things. When I learned how to knit, I really, really wanted to learn. I was fascinated by the color and texture and the fabric. I needed to know everything about it, why to use certain types of stitches or decreases or sizes of needles. I get that way about things I love. I’m getting like that about baking now; it excites me to see and smell and taste a loaf of bread that I baked by hand.

I put a lot of work into learning how to knit, spin, crochet, draw, and bake. This is why I get annoyed and upset when people say with awe in their voices, “Wow, you’re so talented–I could never do that!” Why couldn’t you? Who says you couldn’t? Why do you think it’s some mystical boon awarded only to the special and beautiful? Why can’t you pick up needles and yarn and put work into learning the skill–NOT talent, SKILL–of knitting, or sewing, or spinning? Why is it hard to believe me when I say that Knitting Is Not Hard? Because you tried it once when you were in school, or when you were a little kid, or when you were pregnant, and you didn’t get it right away? Because you made a mistake on a sweater and it came out big enough to fit Andre the Giant? We all do that.

I don’t show off my first pair of socks because they’re horrible. They’re made of purple Wool-Ease Thick & Quick and they have holes in them, and I didn’t know how to graft a toe and they might only fit someone with size 7AA feet whose calves are 20″ but whose knees are only 12″ around. They’re horrible. I can’t even wear them as slippers. When I started spinning, my 3rd or 4th yarn ever was spun from deep red alpaca, and I remember thinking it was so amazingly fine. Well, I found it a month or so ago, and let me tell you, it’s only fine in places. A single ply is heavier than a recent 3-ply yarn I just finished.

It’s not magic, people. It’s practice. It may seem like I pick things up faster than some, but that’s really because I SPIN EVERY SINGLE DAY. I knit every day. I draw every week. I write a lot.

Knitting is not hard. It IS something that requires practice, patience, and persistence. When we are grownups, we want to be good at things NOW. We don’t want to have to spend hours perfecting something. We want to make our hands do foreign things from the first moment. My poor students are always so embarrassed with their first cast-on rows, their first few inches of knitting. No matter how hard I promise them, they are totally convinced that they are the worst students I’ve ever seen. They apologize for not knowing how to make a knit stitch at first. But isn’t that why they’re taking the class in the first place? Why would I expect them to know a foreign language on their first day?

Do you know why it’s easier to teach children things like this? Because little children are used to failing at first. They expect that they won’t understand something immediately. They are learning to write and read and tie their shoes and ride bicycles and turn on faucets and all the million things that they have to do to become independent. Knitting is just one more thing they need to work on, and they don’t notice it as a chore because they are doing the same process with everything else.

I hope that after reading this, you remind yourself ever after that you CAN knit, you CAN learn to crochet, or draw, or bake, or spin, or whatever. Don’t minimize the amount of commitment someone put into their craft by insisting that they must be supremely talented in order to do something. Recognize the skill, admire the attention to detail or the color choices, or the design, but don’t insist that only the rarefied creatures such as we can create such things. You can do it, too…just be prepared to work for it.

8 Comments

  1. You are quite right! Although I would offer that some people are born with this sort of perfectionism. I’ve known a couple of six-year-olds who refuse do work at anything if they can’t get it right the first time, in spite of persistent encouragement and reassurance. Thanks for a thoughtful and well-written post!

  2. Jenny, a lot of people probably don’t have the TIME to learn or even execute all the things you do. I know that I probably could find the time to include a couple more hobbies in my life, but as it is now, I barely have time to learn or try anything new myself. I can only imagine how having kids would make that time even less. You shouldn’t be angry that you have all that talent that others don’t, you should embrace it. ;)

  3. Every day I go to work and people are groping at my hats and scarves and telling me I need to write a book on how to knit them, despite the fact that I already got the patterns from a book. They go over the top with thier compliments and swear that they are too stupid to ever be able to do what I do and I just agree with them. Arguing with them gets me nowhere as they seem to want to be stupid no matter what I might say.

  4. all of this is so true. i’m going to link this post to a friend of mine. She is interested in learning to knit so i sent her a “getting started kit” and maybe your eloquent words of wisdom will encourage her to keep at it. thanks!

  5. People confuse talent with skill. Skill takes practice. I can honestly say that despite some talents towards a few things, I am not skilled. And vice versa.

    When I have time to breathe and get the use of one, I’m learning how to use a sewing machine. I love costumes too much. XD

  6. A thoughtful and encouraging post! Thanks for it.

  7. I surfed over from a link on Amy’s blog. Thanks for this wonderful entry. It’s an excellent reminder to have, especially at the start of a new year when so many of us try new things, that we are still capable of being as fearless as we were when we were children.

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