"A correct answer is like an affectionate kiss." Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 - 1832
Does This Image Make You Feel Uncomfortable?
Yesterday, I had a conversation with Lisa Kartus, the author of Knit Fix (see previous post for the book review). We talked about problem solving, knitters attitudes towards their errors, empowerment through correction, and my own personal bugaboo. Hey! Just because I didn't have a mistake to present for fixing, doesn't mean I'm immune––there's always one lurking around the corner. Oops!
Lisa, tell me about your inspiration for writing this book. Did it arise from your experiences as a sweater doctor and teacher? Did your own frustration with obtaining answers come into play?
This is the book I wanted and needed, first earlier in my knitting career, then as a teacher. Since I was a full-time journalist when I took up knitting again as an adult, I was pretty good at asking questions. But I do have this tendency to knit in the wee small hours of the morning, so problem-solving became part of my knitting. Later on, my knitting students would ask for a book that they could take home to remind them what I'd shown them. Now they have one.
What did you do when your cousin was not around?
The simple fact that she was reachable allowed me to take risks with my knitting, to try to figure out stuff for myself. I rarely surprised Shirley with what I'd invented, but every time I invented my own fix, she was pleased. Nothing like approval.
Indeed! My own problem solving abilities were nurtured by parents whose mantra a lot of the time was, 'figure it out.' This played out in my knitting by painstakingly unraveling, following the path of the loops made, until I was able to figure out what happened, and correct it. I quickly learned to knit slowly and deliberately, using every row counter and stitch marker available, in order to minimize the margin for error. Boy, was it a headache though, sometimes.
Speaking of headaches, when knitters come to you for help, what is the general state of anxiety, or exasperation––if there is one?
The knitters who are going to turn into good or great knitters come in looking for a solution to the mystery on their needles. They want to do the fix themselves -- I'll talk them through it. We all get exasperated sometimes, but it doesn't pay off.
And how do you respond to their distress?
A few years ago one of my students was making a top out of that slippery railroad yarn, and managed to drop a few stitches. If you ever worked with that stuff, you know that one dropped stitch immediately led to an avalanche of dropped stitches. She was in a panic. "We'll fix it," I told her. "I'll tell you when to panic. And it's not now." We fixed it, sitting on the carpeted floor (carpet holds knitting stitches like Velcro).
And what is their response to your advice? Especially if it is of the extreme fix type?
Sometimes we practice deep breathing.
Tee hee––sorry. : )
But once you've fixed something successfully, you have such a sense of accomplishment. The more extreme the fix, the bigger the rush. However, it sure helps to know what went wrong and how to avoid it next time––that's why there's the "Test-driving" section in Knit Fix.
Oh my goodness––carpet! I didn't know that. I'm working on a lace evening wrap right now, and the yarn has sections of rayon in it. Unraveling a mistake makes me feel like I'm de-activating a bomb. Thanks so much for that!
So sorry for the interruption. I get happy when I find out something new. Anyway, do you feel that a number of the fiasco's you encounter, are the result of a poor foundation in the basics?
Most new knitters don't know how to read their stitches, which I regard as a basic. But that's easily remedied, since there are really only two knit stitches; everything else is a variation on those two. The biggest lack I see has to do with holding tension.
Wow. Tension was a big issue I had to deal with when I was a volunteer at the Harlem Knitting Circle.
There's a reason why I refer to tension in my book as the "too-often-unexplained mystery of knitting." In my view, tension should be taught either with or immediately following the knit stitch. Think how much easier it is to pick up that new stitch through the old one when you're holding tension.
You know, as a result of the "knitting boom", I had to help a lot of the knitters unlearn bad habits. I also had to do a lot of damage control. Many shops here were giving rather hasty lessons, to get their potential customers started. Beginners bought yarn, needles, and learned the Garter stitch.
One young lady who was stuck, thought that doing Garter stitch WAS knitting! She never learned Stockinette, because the shop didn't want to discourage her, with the perceived difficulty of learning how to purl.
Do you know, I can actually think of two students who I had to surprise into even trying the purl stitch. There's a comfort level to garter stitch––repeating the same hand motions over and again. It's almost hypnotic. For some people, that's what knitting is and what they want from it.
Remember, too, that so much of knitting involves muscle memory. It's hard to unlearn bad habits that your hands are doing apparently on their own. However––and this is a big however––good shops have good teachers. And good teachers get their students to push themselves to the next level. There's always something new to try in knitting.
Your book opens with a tone of forgiveness and comfort. What have you observed about the attitude of knitters you've encountered, towards their mistakes?
Sometimes they feel silly to have made a mistake. Or they're angry at themselves for messing up. Some students regard mistakes as someone else's fault.
Yeah, I've heard that too. I always wonder who.
But once they learn that to err is human and, best yet, knitting errors are fixable, it tends to change those attitudes. At least towards their knitting.
You tell the reader that there are mistakes they are going to fix, again and again. In our "one-shot-deal, perfection oriented, winner-take-all society, this must be quite a message. I mean, a lot of folks knit because they feel it is something that they can have control over.
Knitting is a process. Every process has its own errors. Take control of the errors and you take control of the process. In your own knitting, Sahara, how often do you unknit? Stop to pick up a stitch that you just dropped?
Tee hee, with this darn wrap, it seems like all the time.
That's part of knitting for all of us. Especially since 9/11, knitting has become a comfort zone for more and more of us, a break not only from the winner-take-all attitude but also from the sense of lost control.
While volunteering, I observed a lot of the women's attitude toward their mistakes and their knitting in general, had a direct correlation with their self-esteem. The higher the self-esteem, the more willing they were to do what was necessary to mend the project. A mistake suddenly didn't become a metaphor for everything else that was wrong in their lives.
I also found a difference between the knitters who were willing to forgive, move on, and deal with the solution––and those who would consistently just settle, even when shown better way to do something. How did you help knitters like this, if you came across them?
But are they just settling? Or have they figured out where knitting fits in their life, and are enjoying it? That's what I want to know.
Hmmm, I didn't think of that. Honest contentment.
That's why the book's chapter on "Your Knitting Philosophy" is the first chapter. However, it is true that our attitude towards life is reflected in our knitting. I have seen knitters who found that by taking control of their knitting they were taking control of a part of their life, and that control seeped into other parts.
The best for me, was to see women gain confidence through the ability to correct their mistakes. As such, their projects became more challenging, enabling them to gain skills, and have something beautiful to be proud of, in the end. This same blossoming of confidence brought them out, too. Shyness, self-doubt, reserve––would start to diminish.
Yes, yes, yes, yes!
By the way Lisa, I gotta say––your text reads as if you're sitting next to me. I notice however, that although you deal with lace charts, you don't have solutions for lace mistakes or mention a "life line." Is lace a particularly difficult technique to fix, in place?
Every book has space considerations. Check out my website for a lace mistake fix, with more laces fixes to come. I'd say to fix lace, you must know what you're looking at on the needle. You must be able to trace the pattern down from the stitches on the needle. If there's anything that makes it difficult to fix, it's because of shaping, which changes the balance of increases and decreases.
Is it easier then, to just unravel back to the correct row?
If you catch the problem in time, it's best to unknit. When it comes to lace knitting, count your stitches. Make sure that the yarn-overs are where they're supposed to be as well as the compensating decreases. If you get off count and don't catch it for inches and inches, then yes (sigh) it's time to unravel.
My personal bugaboo was Cables Crossed Incorrectly. This photograph produced an instant tightening in my neck, at the memory of a sweater I almost finished from a wonderful mohair; it is long disintegrated, in the Staten Island Landfill. There were two mis-crossed cables in the front. The solution I found, was a complicated process, marked by cutting and unraveling. It scared the daylights out of me. Your fix, is sooo easy. Where did it come from? For me, that alone was worth the book. I think everyone who buys Knit Fix, will find the one mistake that's worth the book.
You're very kind. The cable fix came about one afternoon when a lovely student of mine brought in the back of a sweater knit in fine-gauge yarn. This sweater had a cabled ribbing that moved diagonally, and a mistake in one of those cables. We sat there for an hour or so, and I dreamed up the fix for her. Neither of us is ever going to be able to bring about world peace, but that afternoon we managed to solve a problem and enjoy the process and create our own little zone of peace.
Knitting fixes are like that, aren't they? So gratifying. Finally, are you ready for the Knit Out, in New York next Sunday?
It sounds wonderful.
I definitely look forward to meeting you on Saturday, at Knitty City.
Ditto. Are you coming to the workshop?
Yes. It'll be cool to cover to it, and give knitters the reassurance that––help is on the way!
Lisa, thanks so much!