Ambitious Beginners

I was speaking with Annie of Modeknit via e-mail this morning, and it came up that we’d both started our knitting experience with what most people would probably consider somewhat ambitious projects. It occured to me that it really wasn’t all that ambitious and that had I had even the most rudimentary guidance when I started my first project, it would have turned out delightfully well.

Let me back up a bit. My first knitting project was a very detailed Aran. I had just taught myself to knit by means of a little green book I found in one of my grandmother’s crochet magazine bags, and I wanted to make something that I thought was pretty. [Those of you who know what a yarn snob I’ve become may want to skip this next part—remember that I was coming from a crocheted granny square afghan background.] I went to Rose’s and picked out a few skeins of Red Heart, grabbed a cable needle, went home, pulled out a Workbasket, and went nuts. Between the little green book and the very detailed instructions in the Workbasket, it took me about a half-hour to figure out cables, and off I went.

Now as it happens, I hadn’t yet figured out the concept of a gauge swatch, and I didn’t know many linebackers at that point in my life (damn it), so the unfinished project eventually went to live on the Island of Misfit Projects. But I was operating from a deficit. I had no instructor. I had a wonderful cheerleader in my beloved and dearly departed Granny, but she was a tried-and-true crocheter who knew as little about knitting as she did about the Cordon Bleu. These days, finding a knitting instructor is like finding a Starbucks; throw a stone—if you don’t hit one, try again… and throw harder.

My point—and yes, Rob, there really is one—is that too often, I think we tend to point our beginner’s in the craft (before you flame me, read the notes) toward simple projects with the caveat that more advanced projects are well beyond their ability. I just don’t think that’s so. To me, it’s sort of akin to watching a child fall. If you freak, they freak, and suddenly you have a crying child on your hands. If you stay calm and deal matter-of-factly with whatever bumps or bruises result from the incident, the child learns to suck it up, deal with the upset, and keep going without ever learning to fear the falling down part. If we molly-coddle beginning knitters, in some cases we really do hold them back. Some beginners learn to fly rather quickly. Others need more practice. It isn’t an issue of better or worse; it’s just a matter of learning styles.

Case in point: One of our local knitters learned to knit in the late spring or early summer. Later in the summer, she took a class with Rob and learned to make felted purses. Shortly thereafter, she started a Philosopher’s Wool sweater similar to the one that I have pictured below. Now, even I would probably not have suggested a PW sweater for a beginner, but she’s done exceptionally well. And when better to learn to knit with both hands? You’re still relatively fresh to the whole knitting experience, so learning to knit Continental (left-handed) and English (right-handed) gives you the option of being able switch back and forth depending on the circumstances, allows you the opportunity to choose for yourself which one works best for you for your everyday-knitting, and develops a deeper intrinsic understanding of exactly how the stitches are being made. I think that’s a pretty phenomenal instruction method.

Anyone have comments on the matter? I’d love to have them. Send me an e-mail.


Rose’s was a discount/department store in the Southeastern US as late as the early 1980s. They often sported a cafeteria-style eatery somewhat more separate from the store than the McDonald’s and other snackeries that can be found in present-day discount stores. Invariably, though, by the time I was a kid, they were old, a little delapidated, and all-together charming. They were my first entrée into the world of yarn shopping.

Granny was my maternal grandmother. My paternal grandmother lived over an hour away, and I didn’t get to see her very much. But Granny lived in town. By "in town," I mean two things: first, that she lived in the same zip code, and second, that while we lived outside the city limits on a small fruit farm (no comments from the Peanut Gallery, please), she lived "in town" and had the cable television to prove it. So every Friday night, I packed a duffle bag, got in the car, and was transported posthaste to 1308 Murphy Avenue where I would watch The Incredible Hulk and The Dukes of Hazzard and eat fish sticks and crinkly fries on a little metal TV tray. Granny crocheted, and I crocheted, and her daschund and corgi barked at every car that went by with their stereos blaring. And when the time came for Dark Shadows and Night Gallery, we’d whisper conspiratorially and curl up for safety on the sofa while Papa snored softly in his recliner. Now do you see why I love this fiber arts stuff? There are one or two associations I’ve made with it over the years. Don’t think for a moment that your own children and grandchildren won’t.

Art v. Craft: I’m defining my terms like so. When I call knitting the craft, I’m referring to the learnable, teachable skill of making knit and purl stitches, increases, decreases, etc. I do consider myself a fiber artist, but that is because I have taken the craft to an artistic level by applying my own creativity to it. Comprendez-vous? Trés bien.


I knew it would happen. I was reminded of a WIP that I forgot to record. I was designing a sampler throw pillow that got shoved aside after the Philosopher’s Sweater got underway. Rob and I were in the car this weekend, and out of the blue, he asked if I was ever going to finish the pillow pattern.


Yes, I’ll finish it. As soon as I can find it.

Good morning

Yes, it’s Monday, and yes, I’m engaging in awfully wishful thinking to call it a good morning. Whatha gonna do?

It was, at least, a good weekend. I worked as much as possible on my Philosopher’s sweater, and probably got about an inch knit. Oh, the joys of a fifty-some-odd inch chest. Fortunately, the sweater is gorgeous, so it’s fun knitting. We also have our monthly Philosopher’s Sweater support group and dinner (not necessarily in that order) tonight, so I’m looking forward to that. RJ (that’s Rob– mah hunny, for the uninitiated) is making Chicken Saltimbaca, and I’ve already gotten much of the cleaning done, so I should be able to relax and knit a while tonight.

Rob and I also put together a couple of colorways for Rambling Rows Afghans over the weekend and took inventory of ThreadBear stock. Can I just say that we’ve got entirely too much yarn? It’s wonderful to have on hand, and I love the business– it really is sinful how much fun it is– but DANG, we’ve got a lot of yarn. What’s on the site is a lot, but what isn’t on the site yet is more. I’ve yet to get the Cascade Pastaza, Sierra, or Leisure imaged and online. Also, none of the Brown Sheep (that includes Lamb’s Pride Worsted and Bulky, Original Handpaints, and Nature Spun) is up yet. It isn’t that I wouldn’t like to have it up, but there have just been too many irons in the fire.

To which, Rob lovingly said, "bah, humbug." Ok. He didn’t literally say, "bah, humbug." So few people do, really. What he did say was that I spend entirely too much time doing a bunch of things that I think everyone else expects me to do and not nearly enough time doing the things that truly fulfill me. Now I’m not going to say that scanning, cropping, and page building is terribly exciting, but working on ThreadBear development is. And he knows it. And now, I’ve started realizing it. It was one of those forest and the trees kind of situations.

So, here’s the point. Yes, I will be spending more time developing the fiber artist within. Yes, I will stop worrying so much about what’s expected and start spending more time on what I need to get done. What does that mean? For the time being, it means it’s not such a bad morning after all.

Thanks, Babe.

January 3, 2003

I recently mentioned restarting my Koigu socks. Those of you who’ve seen me knit on the old sock know that it hasn’t progressed much in the last several months. I’ve been working on the heel piecemeal forever. I’ll work a bit and tear it out… work a bit… tear it out. It’s not that it’s that bad. It’s actually quite pretty. I particularly like the eye of partridge heel pattern.

But I don’t work on the sock that often, and I kept losing track of where I was. You may be able to tell in the photo that I did so even in this latest version. About halfway up the heel, there’s a section that almost looks like ribbing. No big deal, and no one other than me would probably have noticed it. The problem is that I did notice it.

I had been wanting to learn how to knit socks from the toe up, anyway, so when Rob printed out toe-up sock techniques from Knitty and brought them downstairs, I was caught hook, line, and sinker.

I’m still mid-toe, but I can tell that I already like the technique. As I mentioned in a previous post, I went down to 1US needles from the 2US needles that I was using on the top-down sock, so I did knit a gauge swatch beforehand. I’m getting 8sts/in, if you’re interested. As you may be able to tell from the photo, you actually start at about the point where your toes hit your foot, knit forward in short rows (leaving unknit stitches on either side of your work as you go) to the tip of the toe, then sort of flip over the end of the toes, and knit back up to the point where you started picking up the unknit stitches you left before as you go back. Eventually, you have a little cup of a toe, and you can start knitting in the round. I’ve just turned the toe and am knitting back out to finish the cup.

January 3, 2003

Well, Rob beat me to the punch and wore his socks before I could get a good photo of them. Can’t say that I’m disappointed, though. He really seems to love them. I’ll post a photo as soon as I can get them washed and blocked.

In the meantime, Monday will be our Philosopher’s Sweater Group get-together, so I spent a little time last night working on the body.

So far, I only have a few inches of the body done, but considering it’s fifty-some-odd inches around (I did measure the chest to figure out how many stitches I needed, but I’ve long since forgotten the measurement), I’m making decent progress. Besides, both sleeves are done. The method suggested by Ann Bourgeois of Philosopher’s Wool has you work your sleeves first to establish your gauge and colorway.

The colorway is my own, but the pattern is their Colour Your Own, so it made sense to me. A couple of other knitters in our Philosopher’s Group are currently working on their own versions, so I’ll have to see if they’re interested in posting pics of all of our sweaters. They’re all gorgeous, but each is different.

Of course, we have folks doing other patterns, as well. Again, I’ll try to get pics Monday if they’re amenable.


Ok. I know it’s silly, but I like numbers, and It’s not everyday you get a fun date like that. Happy New Year, folks.

But back to knitting. I’ve got to get some images up here of my finished projects. Rob’s socks look great, and I’m very proud of Christie’s hat (the hand-painted Lamb’s Pride Bulky ski cap). Neither were of phenomenal difficulty, but they’re both nice, and I’d like to get some pics up.

We had an awesome New Year’s Day meal with several of our local knitters (and a couple of supportive—and hungry—spouses) in attendance, and Rob prepared some of my family’s traditional Southern New Year’s Day dishes. We had black-eyed peas, collard greens, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and fried chicken with peach cobbler for dessert. Yum. Yum. Everyone there, including a couple of fellow Southerners gave his efforts high marks, and I have to admit that the collards may well have been the best I’ve ever eaten. Sorry, Granny, but you’d have loved them, too.

December 30, 2002

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention that I went down a needle-size in the Koigu socks. I had been using US2s on Koigu, and I went down to US1s. I really like the higher density of the resulting fabric. I’ve not cared for the way that other Koigu socks I’ve worn have been mildly uncomfortable in hard leather-sole shoes; I’ve always been able to feel the individual strands biting into my feet where the hard leather rubbed. The higher density on this new toe seems to result in a more consistent and hopefully more comfortable fabric. Time will tell.

December 30, 2002

What a great weekend. I finished Rob’s toe-up Mountain Colors socks, updated some of the yarn swatches at ThreadBear, and started on a toe-up version of the green and purple Koigu socks that have been my standard Sock-It-To-Me socks (see ThreadBear Events Schedule for more information). I didn’t rip what I had of the Koigu; fortunately, I had a loose ball wound of the same yarn.

I really didn’t like the circular toe that I did on Rob’s socks. I started with four stitches at the tip of the toe and increased gradually until I had all of the foot stitches. I tried a short row toe on the Koigu socks, and while I don’t have a full toe completed yet, I’m fairly certain that I’ll like not having the added bulk of the increases at the tip of the toe, and by using a provisional crocheted cast-on that will be picked up when I finish the toe, I think the short-row toe will be much more professional.

Otherwise, we’re just getting ready for Ad Day on the sock list. We send out ads on the first and fifteenth via the sock list, and I always try to have all of our stock updated on the website by those dates. This time, we’ve also got our new class list going out. It’s pretty conservative for the first quarter, but I expect to have some additions as time wears on.


I finished something. Number Six (the hand-painted Lamb’s Pride Bulky ski cap) was finished on Christmas Eve, and I gave it to a friend that we were visiting for the holiday. She loved it, I was wonderfully gratified, and I FINISHED A PROJECT.

So I’ve been working on Rob’s toe-up Mountain Colors Christmas socks since then. On Christmas day, I got one foot finished and got onto the leg, stopped, pulled from the opposite end of the ball and started the second foot. I finished the second foot last night, and I’m most of the way up the gusset, now. If we stay in this evening, I should be able to get them finished. We’ve slated some workshops and classes for January, but I’m not sure if I should participate in the new projects or continue to finish off older stuff.

I’m also working through Deborah Chandler’s Learning to Weave, so I may just continue to finish off older projects and leave the new ventures to the loom. I’ll post photos as they become available.

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