Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gratitude of Differences
More than one right way

I met Gerry during the period in my life when I wasn't doing much knitting. Okay, I wasn't doing ANY knitting.

As a matter of fact, for about 10 years I didn't knit. And, having put aside something I loved so much, I appreciated it in a much deeper way after my hiatus. The prodigal knitter.

I came crashing out of the gate with knitting - from the moment I picked up the needles I knew that - as much as anything could be - yarn and needles were going to be a huge part of my destiny. Even to write that sounds so insane, but knitters know what I mean.

Knitting became the main thing in my life - every waking moment was spent knitting, sketching or swatching. When I see new knitters and designers who are going through their 'obsession period' of knitting, I entirely understand. I'm still in it myself, in many ways, but I prefer to think of it as my passion rather than obsession.

But I knit weird. Back in 1983 a good friend, Ellyn, taught me how to make a knit stitch - and I moved to Texas the next day.
Ellyn (in one of the first sweaters I ever knit) & daughter Abby

I figured out the purl stitch on my own, but apparently I figured it out "wrong."

I was trying to imitate - in reverse - what was happening when I worked my knit stitch, and thus stumbled onto the Eastern Purl (aka "Lazy" Purl) and adopted it as my own.

Without realizing it I was a Combination Knitter* - which was a lot harder to be in the early 80's than it is today. I hear folks bemoan the state of the world - and it's not pretty - but we're at an astounding point in history where there is mobility between classes & cultures that we haven't witnessed before.

At no other time in history has it been possible for any woman, from any class, to wear any length skirt and still be accepted - even fashionable.

This is quite a victory, in my eyes, of individuality over a monolithic authority, and gives me hope for every aspect of society. Generally younger women and servants wore skirts that were shorter than higher class women favored, and at certain times there were strict societal and even legal restrictions on skirt lengths.

In the first half of the 20th century alone we've run the gamut from micro mini to floor length, but each in it's own sanctioned fashion parameters.

We live in a time when a mini skirt and a long skirt can walk down the street together and both be considered fashionable. If you're thankful for nothing else, be thankful for that!

In the same way, different methods of knitting are more generally accepted now than they were several years ago. I can't speak for 100 or 300 years ago, but from research I've done it seems that sometime in the 1920's there became a set "correct" way to knit, accepted in the Western world - and that way was what can be defined as "Western Knitting"

It's a short hop from a standard knitting method to calling every other method "wrong," and I - like many other closet Combination Knitters - was caught up in that sense of shame that my knitting didn't quite measure up. The fabric was lovely and even, I was a very fast knitter, but folks felt compelled to stop when I was knitting in public to tell me how wrong my knitting style was.

Whenever I'd knit out in the open, the exchange would go something like this:
- I just had to tell you I've never seen anyone knit so fast!
- Thank you.
- And your stitches are so even...
- Thank you
- ... but I couldn't help but notice that you're knitting wrong.
- [internally] SHUT UP!
And that began to weigh heavily on my soul. And sometimes I couldn't keep the anger internal. It was bad news for me, and for the poor person who was trying to correct me.

I was too stubborn to stop knitting in a way that felt comfortable, but I became too agitated to enjoy my knitting when folks told me it was wrong.

Things came to a head after a trip to Europe when a woman in Germany took my knitting out of my hands to show me the 'right way' to knit. Then - in direct response to that incident, I think - I found myself being rude to a woman who was doing nothing worse than staring at my knitting in an airport in Brussels.

This has to stop, I thought on the plane back to the states. It's just tearing me up. And it isn't doing much for those around me...

So I put my knitting aside and went to grad school to study theatrical design. With the exception of the odd theatrical knit piece, I didn't knit for quite a while - only picking up my needles recreationally when I became pregnant for my son 10 years later.

Although giving up knitting was hard, think how much more difficult it must be to consider giving up one's concept of the Eternal, sexual preference or cultural identity. Yet these are all things that societies have asked of folks, sometimes with very dire consequences for those who don't conform.

I don't mean to compare a voluntary, recreational activity like knitting to a more serious subject; but I believe we can use our passions [knitting] to bridge understanding to people and events that may not be within our own life experience. This is one way that imagination informs empathy.

We have certain taboos in society - it's good to see folks thinking these through instead of just accepting what has been handed down to them. This is how a society evolves. At one time, it was so odd to see a tall woman/short man couple that they really stood out.

It's still a hard visual for some folks to get past - my own mother was more troubled by my height difference with Gerry than she was with our religious differences - but there are a lot more 'Betty & Barney' couples out there. It's just one example, and a silly one, but sometimes there's wisdom in silliness [Barney Rubble goofy laugh.]

I was fortunate that my return to knitting coincided with the printing of an article by Priscilla Gibson Roberts in Interweave Knits magazine outlining the various methods of knitting.

And there was my knitting style - named and legitimate. Hallelujah.

It's hard to express the calmness and sense of direction that legitimacy imparts. Being a maverick can be exciting - but it's wearing. Knowing you have a connection with others who do something you love so dearly in the same way is an indescribable joy.

Along with designing and writing, I teach Combination Knitting now - not to convert anyone to my way of knitting, but rather to help my students understand the architecture and grammar of knitting.

Much in the way that by taking French classes I began to understand participles and tenses in English better (and never forgot any of my native language in the process), learning a new way to form a knit or purl stitch can help us understand how to better diagnose and improve our own knitted fabric.

I was so lucky to read that article, so fortunate to find my 'place' as a Combination Knitter. I've discovered hundreds of other Combination Knitters who have come out of the yarn 'closet', now bravely knitting in public and explaining with patience and passion how different types of knitting are just different ways of looking at loops.

But my French still leaves a lot to be desired. Sacre Bleu!

*Reference Books:
Priscilla Gibson Robert's Knitting In The Old Way
Anna Zilboorg's Knitting for Anarchists
Mary Walker Phillips Creative Kniting
my own Confessions of a Knitting Heretic.

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Blogger BatGirl said...

I must say your last 2 entries have left me thinking and that's always good! Though I am an English knitter, (to the horror of one knitting teacher), I have recently learned how to knit and purl in the Portuguese way (yarn around the neck), and am in the process of learning both Continental and Combination. Sometimes the process of learning is more important than the final lesson. And I too learned more from my French classes (heck, I learned all I know about English grammar by learning it first in French and then reversing it) than I ever did in my English classes.

And you really made my day the other day in your entry about love and how you and Gerry met each other. Thank you.

November 25, 2007 1:49 PM  
Anonymous knitonetx said...

As another combination knitter, I salute you!

November 25, 2007 2:35 PM  
Blogger Frances said...

My grandmother taught me to knit when I was five and I believe she taught me a type of combination knitting. When I was in college a sales person in Woolworths grabbed the needles out of my hands and pulled out my swatch and insisted I knit the RIGHT way. So I did for about 15 years when I took a class in continental knitting. Now I consider myself as biknttal and I use the type of knitting which matches my project.

November 25, 2007 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Judith Anna said...

Your last few entries have lured me from the lurker ranks. I have really enjoyed reading them. They are thoughtful and very enlightening. Thank you for your words and your insights into your life story.


November 25, 2007 3:25 PM  
Anonymous mwknitter said...

I used to knit Combination in the 60's & 70's. No one ever told me it was wrong - mostly because I didn't know any other knitters & never happened to knit in yarn shops. Then there was a very long period of non-knitting when I was raising 2 children as a single mother & had to work lots of overtime to make that possible. That period happened to coincide with the first part of what I think of as the great yarn drought. I didn't abandon knitting entirely but with a few exceptions (an Aran vest for my Mom one Christmas, a 9 foot long self designed Aran scarf I knit when I was on jury duty one year, the occasional baby blanket) I didn't knit. When I began knitting again in the mid-90's, my LYS owner saw how I knit & asked if I didn't have a problem with biasing when knitting in the round (which I greatly prefer). So I switched to standard American or English knitting. I was never a very fast knitter but I think I'm much slower now than when I knit Combination which really did feel more natural to me.

November 25, 2007 3:32 PM  
Anonymous kmkat said...

When I went back to knitting after learning to crochet (this was a good 30 years ago), I automatically looped the yarn *backwards* around the needle tip. Not a problem most of the time -- I could see what I needed to do to avoid twisting stitches -- but I was rather puzzled by directions that read, "Knit through the back loop" because that was what I always did. Eventually -- about 2 years ago -- I figured out the problem, and knitting patterns began to make more sense to me (and I started knitting the *right* way). Recently I started doing combination knitting in order to eliminate the gap between a column of stockinette and a column of purls. More tools in our tool chest, I say!

November 25, 2007 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Terese said...

I look so forward to your writing everyday and miss it when it goes away for a break. When I read a good book, I know that it is good because it calls me during the day and I think about the book. This blog is much the same way. I don't know that I could ever take a class with you (you might have to expel me because I am not too good), but there is something about life and knitting or is it really knitting and then life that makes me want to knit everyday and read this blog everyday!!
I pray for your family all of the time and send thoughts to Gerry and the kids when you are off sharing yourself with the public. It seems so normal that you and Gerry would meet and have this life all from a radio show (so much better than a bar).
I really just want you to know what an inspiration you are and I hope that the angels' special dust will fall on all of you.

November 25, 2007 5:11 PM  
Blogger OfTroy said...

My mother (a sargent in the Knitting police) was upset by 1--my left hand yarn hold (she is a strict english knitter) and 2-my backwards stitches.

BUT i was much younger (age 9 or so when i learned to knit) and much more obstinent!

and a bit luckier too.. at least my LYS didn't tell me i knit wrong --but when i first questioned how to get matching (paired) decreases, i cycled through several of the teacher/assistants till one finally looked at my knitting and knew what i was doing, and could explain how i needed to adapt. (she looked at me, and at my knitting (i was a fair haired girl) and asked, "so you are lithuanian?" (i didn't know at the time if lithuanian was a nationality or a religion!)

When i started knitting in earnest (as a soon to be mother) i lucked out again, and found Bella as a knitting friend.. she was a sephardic jew, who also knit combo, (and by tensioning her yarn on a button on her blouse, --but she didn't knit with her thumbs) so her combo was a bit more eastern than my knitting..

i still didn't knit in public often for years. (i would have put up a fight if someone tried to remove my knitting and teach me the right way!)

So i was blessed by knowing that my style of knitting wasn't unique, (or wrong!) --but its been good learning the name, and learning more about knitting..

i've read that about 10% of US/North american knitters do so in the combo style.. but i think that number is low.. I think combo knitters were secret, hidden knitters, and more and more are admitting to being combo knitters, now that the style has a name, and recognition.

November 25, 2007 7:01 PM  
Anonymous Debbie said...

Having forced myself to learn how to knit continental from many books and what made sense to me while knitting a never ending baby blanket it turns out I taught myself combo knitting. Course I did not know this until about two years later when I took your combo knitting course and flow through it.

Combo knitting is just so intuitive. Why walk around the block when you can just go straight through the door so to speak. I knit more and faster because there is such much less movement. Course I seriously doubt I will ever be anywhere near your knitting speed!

I've only had two people wonder about my knitting style. The 1st person was the newbie I was teaching. I taught her the traditional English style so patterns would be easier for her to understand in the beginning. Once she is finished with her 2nd project if she is interested, then we will move on to Combo knitting.

The 2nd person was a knitter I hang out with and over the 2nd pitcher of margaritas she noticed how different my knitting was from hers. She didn't ask me about it she just said "TEACH ME HOW TO KNIT THAT WAY!" with much enthusiasm.

November 26, 2007 6:22 AM  
Anonymous Jeremy B, said...

I recently taught a class on Continental knitting. One of my students, I was told, already knew how but wanted to learn how to increase. Lo and behold, she was not a continental knitter but, unbeknownst to her she was a combination knitter. She had learned in Mexico. I told her the way that she was knitting was a perfectly good way of knitting, gave her your name and taught her the increase.

November 26, 2007 11:09 AM  
Blogger Needles said...

Oh, Annie, what you say is so true. I learned so long ago (stubborness played a part in my style) and knit for 20 years before giving up in desperation, giving away everything I had in connection with knitting because I could never make patterns come out right.

I was given a Yarn Harlot book, and she referred to different kinds of knitters. After some cool stuff I ended up here. Which is why and how I was so thrilled when you came to Edmonton. The morning lace class was a bit beyond me but only because I'm new to purposeful holes. I was feeling pretty desperate about knitting by lunch. The afternoon class was confirmation, and after all these years, was wonderful.

Still it ended up being the morning class that I took the most home from. So many cool things learned there to use on so many other projects. They might not have made sense that day, but they did after going over it a few times at home.

All that learning was like when you turn the lights on first thing in the morning, in the dark of winter. It hurts a little but you see better once your eyes adjust.

Denise, one of your 2 combination knitters from Tuesday's class!

November 26, 2007 12:42 PM  
Anonymous Ann (yet another) said...

Yep, I also didn't know what it was called until PGR's article. Fortunately, I'm also rather stubborn and didn't much care. Although I did get somewhat snitty over the years over the "knitting wrong" thing. The most bizarre of those was not my lady on the train (she merely insisted I was Canadian since Americans don't knit) but a lady in a hospital ER waiting room who was also knitting and was simply freaked out by the speed and method, and literally couldn't watch me knit.

I am teaching my niece to knit, and when she picked up the needles she automatically picked them up in British fashion. Ok by me! What ever makes it easier for her to learn. Since she leapt right in to a cabling project, I'm not going to say BOO to her about methods, "difficulty" or any such discouraging words. Speaking of which, the non-dairy diet has worked it's magic and she's back nearly to full strength and there are a few doctors I still want to smack upside the head.

November 26, 2007 1:12 PM  
Anonymous Diane said...

It has been interesting reading your last entry, Annie, as well as the commenters. I haven't done a search on YOUTUBE yet, but I was thinking it would enlightening for you (and anyone else) to post a video of their unique knitting style/technique. Seeing the technique(s) in motion is more easily absorbed mentally than looking at illustrations.

November 28, 2007 4:37 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

WOW! Your words are so true. I am a Spanish teacher and I think my understanding of English grammar has dramatically improved since learning Spanish, and now even more in teaching its intricacies.

I would LOVE to take a class from you, but alas, I believe that my community is too small to merit a visit. If you were coming, I'd be taking days off and hiring babysitters to try to sit next to you and learn, observe, admire.

November 30, 2007 7:36 PM  
Anonymous Claudia said...


I just realized I knit combination-style.. oh, maybe earlier today! I was working on something that called for a lot of increases and decreases (it's a lacy butterfly thing) and tried to look up exactly what I was doing.. only to figure out my knitting was inherently different! I always assumed I knit continental. I used to twist each and every stitch because I kind of taught myself to knit from books and the Web, and then one day I decided I would try English knitting just for the heck of it, and realized why my stitches didn't lay flat. I kind of like it sometimes, though, because the knitting looks a little more poofy and substantial.
Because most of my knitting friends knit English style and I'm one of the most prolific knitters (I'm not very good, but we're all wee poor college/ high school kids most of whom just learned or don't have a lot of free time), so no one ever questioned my style until I did so myself!
Anyways, thanks for your website and encouraging words!

December 02, 2007 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Kathleen said...

I learned combination knitting from my parents' neighbor in the 50's when I was a kid. It did not have a name. It has always worked just fine for me. I only knit for myself and my family so I have no knitting police to worry about. The only time I have knit in public has been waiting in a doctor's office while someone is being seen or waiting in the car. Nobody has ever said anything. It works for me! It looks good. My middle kid knits and he rebelled! He taught himself to knit and throws!! So, good for his way and good for ours! I love your site and blog and it is very nice to know there are others of us out there. Your directions are very clear. You are blessed with an organized mind and oceans of creativity--now, that is a combination knitter!

December 03, 2007 9:06 AM  
Blogger dani, the geek said...

i too discovered purling the easy way by accident, then had to sit down with a book and figure out why my stitches were twisting. once i had it worked out, i would apologize to people who watched me knit, saying i knit wrong, but i do it on purpose!

i said this to one lady, and she said i had just followed in Zimmerman's footsteps, and unvented it.

i was very happy to see you on Knitty Gritty, giving a name to the style so many of us seem to have invented for ourselves...

keep up the good work!

dani, the geek (who's really a tatter, honest!)

December 04, 2007 1:53 PM  

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