Tuesday, May 04, 2004

On Continental Knitting with Anna Zilboorg

I made the mistake of scheduling two classes on the Saturday of MS&WF. This was a mistake because I knew I was probably not going to make it on Sunday (I really wanted to but it wasn't in the cards). Which would have left only 3 short short hours for Spot the Blogger AND yarn shopping. I don't know what I was thinking... It was both a blessing and a curse when the second class of the day was a total bust. Blessing: more yarn shopping/spotting; Curse: wasted $30.

But the first class was Continental Knitting with 'She of the Amazing Socks,' Anna Zilboorg. She was a little late, and so each time someone would walk in, a different student would say "Are you the instructor?" But when Anna really did walk in, no one asked, we could just tell she was There to Teach. She had great poise and appeared to knit so effortlessly! She brought up several things that kept me thinking, and I think that signals a Good Class. Here is my rather long post about some of them.

I know now why continental knitting has stumped me in the past: the purl stitch. Once I knew that and the terrible truth about Continental Decreasing, I was good to go. Although ultimately, it may not be for me.

With CK, the easiest way to purl sets the corresponding knit stitches up with the leading edge in the back. (For those who don't know about leading edges, drawings would definitely help here, and I am looking for some. In the meantime, trust me and use your fabulous imaginations.) This leading-edge business means that on the knit side of stockinette, one must knit through the back loops to keep the knitting flat. This simple fact caused most of the students to freak out, which in turn caused Anna to get very cross with us once or twice.

on Knitting: She mentioned several times that "knitting is an agreement between your head and your hands." You can not make your hands do something they don't want to do without causing yourself "great discomfort and disappointment" any more than you can make a yarn do something it doesn't want to do. Eventually the muscles will return to a more comfortable position, and the yarn will relax back into shape... better to exploit the strengths of each.

For example, those folks who wanted the purls to work the way they do in English knitting were either setting themselves up for wrist cramps and gauge troubles, or as one poor woman kept being reminded of, were people who got a thrill from "doing things the hard way."

Because the knit side (or stitch) must be knit through the back, several bright students noticed this would make things like K2tog tricky. And we were taught how to "reverse" the directions to bring about the correct slanting decrease.

This brought on a general discussion about pattern writing and Anna's belief that several students were really being held back by the belief that any knitting style could be "wrong" or "right." She got frustrated more than once by folks complaining that the Cont. Purl was "twisting" their stitches. "The stitches are not twisted when they are just sitting on the needle! You have to twist them by knitting them."

When we were concerned about having to rewrite patterns, she said at one point, "No one here wants to read patterns for the rest of their lives, do they?" This was hard for me to hear. I enjoy reading patterns and getting a piece finished in the way I expect it to be finished. Am I an uninspired or under-achievering knitter because I don't (yet) have any desire to sweat out all the details when there are scads and scads of patterns out and about already? I like to know how to make the waist a bit shorter to accommodate my slightly hobbit-esque build... But I do a lot of thinking at work, and sometimes easing into a pattern that is likely to be free from errors (I keep the option open, I am not a pattern-sheep), is the most soothing thing in the world. I would love to hear others' thoughts on this one, it has been bouncing around in my head ever since Saturday.

on Learning New Things: After the discussion on decreases, one woman in class said "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." There were some nods and murmurs as the majority of the other students struggled with their suddenly awkward needles and newly uncooperative fingers.

To which Anna replied, "That's not true, my old dog recently learned how to catch waffles."

General chuckles, and someone (the same woman?) said, with a bit of exasperation, "Well your dog had very good motivation."

Anna's response: "Of course, that's what everyone needs to learn something new."

on Learning to Knit from Books: The "right/wrong" thing kept hanging folks up (including me, because of the whole pattern issue) because what she was showing us was counter to most of what we have read in print. Anna felt that knitting instruction was not something that was meant to be written about, but something that was meant to experienced. As a technical writer, this was hard for me to hear. Between the depth and breadth of human language and the amazing technology of imaging, I believe you can clearly explain anything in text and pictures.

She explained that confusion could arise because sometimes it is easier to write about how to do a thing one way, even when it may be easier to actually do it another way. I think this has more to do with the fact that in knitting (like computer programming, in my experience) those who are exceptionally good at it, are not always good at documenting it. I am not naming any names, but sometimes a really cool design can be held back by ridiculously cumbersome directions. Is this the fault of knitting itself, or the fact that good writers, teachers, and knitters very rarely inhabit the same physical body together? Thoughts?

I am not sure if Continental is for me, but I suspect it would sure be useful in the never-ending stockinette that will be my eyelet cardi's body, so I will give it a try. But I have my doubts about it becoming my predominant style.

That's enough for now. I am afraid I have already lost my two readers with this long-ass post. If you are still with me, bless you. I will try to post fest pics tomorrow.

Now I just need to find my waffle equivalent. What's yours?

1 comment:

Heather said...

I always thought I knit continental, but I realize after reading your post that I do a little shuttle movement with my middle left finger when purling that puts the stitches on the needle facing the same way as English. Which means that on the knit side my stitches face the "right" way.

I've read Knitting for Anarchists and think Anna Zilboorg is pretty neat, but your blog gave me some good insight. Thanks.