Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Special Rules for Men Learning to Knit

#1. THERE ARE NO KNOTS IN KNITTING. Make loops. Do NOT tighten them like tying a fly or belaying a sheet!
You can even dispense with the ubiquitous slipknot that most knitters start with. The slipknot is merely a convenience; it attaches yarn to needles. Purists, at least those who use double cast on, consider it redundant. Got it? There are no knots in knitting, only loops.

So don't make knots. Knitting is easier than that, and what holds the work together is math (specifically topology), not physics or friction. Zero force required.

If you can't help using slipknots or snugging everything down small and tight, at least use 100% wool yarn, not acrylic. Acrylic yarn has the elastic properties of a brick.

BAMBOO KNITTING NEEDLES can help a newbie calibrate yarn tensions. If the yarn is too tight, the work won't slide on the needle. Huge problem. Aluminum needles seem friendlier, but they're slick as a hockey puck and give newbies no real clues about tension, other than causing it.

#2. As the Gerudo assassin tells Link, don't take her craft lightly.
Learn the Continental method of knitting. It has a mystique, mainly because the videos tend to feature older women who speak with German accents. It's easy, fast, efficient — and impossible. I use the American method.

I used to do Motorola 6502 assembler language for fun, and maybe I'm nuts, but I see a strong similarity between that and knitting. Massive attention to picayune detail that produces a sudden, beautiful result like magic.

Ok, some correlations... 1's and 0's live in computer chips, knits and purls live in yarn, and Somebody Makes Them Happen. Simple ON and OFF makes a universe our grandparents can't understand. Simple loops left and loops right make a world our grandchildren can't imagine.

Computer program printouts are like printed knitting patterns. These are static instructions. What the computer does, what the knitter does, is execute printed instructions — algorithms — and that's dynamic. Add wool and needles, keyboards and pixelation, class libraries (steek, Fair Isle, cable, bobble, moss...) and you get Art, whether blogs or cardigans, Firefox or ski caps.

This is immensely appealing.

#3. It's possible to drink beer and knit. Requires a straw. Beware of yogurt.
German pilsners only, please. In a pinch, Dos Equis or Corona (hold the lime). Kirin is ok. Avoid American beers except Bud, Hamm's, Stroh's Fire Brewed, Cool Brewed Piel's or PBR. Substitutions allowed include Lapsang Souchong, Instant Folgers Flavor Crystals, Swiss Miss Instant Cocoa, Canada Dry or 2% milk. Don't smoke near acrylic yarn. It melts, then burns.

Smaller needles, thinner yarns, make smaller, neater work. Beer makes everything too big, including errors — like spiders on LSD make crazyweb.

#4. Other recipes for disaster.
My only accomplishments as a knitter to date (I've been learning for several days now) are two different kinds of casting on, and garter stitch. I don't dare purl yet. The thing that holds me back is pretty simple: MY YARN EXPLODES.

I can't explain it. My wife just laughs at me (she's not entirely onboard with this masculine knitting thing, but it tickles her funny bone) and says she was a better knitter than me at the age of 10. (But she also quit knitting that year, so... ;-)

I have, by dint of close observation and tongue-biting concentration, discovered what happens when my yarn explodes: The needle slips out of one or two inches of almost-finished knitting. That, or it slips out of my cast-on stitches and I lose about half an inch from the pointy bit.

This allows the loops to vanish in an unintelligible mass of soft, warm, chaos. Worsted which has lost its twist and been knitted flat several times tends to forget where its loops were. As far as where the blinding flash and incendiary fulminations come from, I haven't located the source of those, possibly Chicxulub.

I have no solution, sadly. However, I've stood on dignity and promised my wife I would still be knitting ten years from now. I just hope I'm knitting with the second third six feet of yarn from this ball of dark green 100% Peruvian Highland Merino Wool.

#5. Sheep or goats? Aptitude or attitude? Pearls before sheep?
Before you even start, be honest. If someone were to hand you a Fender, could you do the instrument justice?

Beethoven had talent, but no ears. We, you and I — we have ears to hear, but no particular talent, or at least not talent like that. Would you be a slave to talent, or satisfied with a simple soul that merely yearns to soar? A good listener. A music appreciater. Somebody who likes Veronika Part — on Dave Letterman's Late Show! (Not bad, though. All Johnny Carson could discover was... Tiny Tim. Bette Midler.)

Computer programming was the furnace I could walk through, although never entirely unscathed. Toward the end of my journey, I was scorched. But I knew the flame, I knew a kind of beauty.

If someone hands you a pencil and a sketchbook, will you be Leonardo? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, or da Vinci?

Can you match a $6 ball of wool and a couple of metal splinters with aptitude? I've been at this for a couple of weeks. In that time, the magic has sputtered and caught fire twice in my hands. I made an inch or two of stuff. I want to learn.

I want another beer.

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