I got the nicest email from a reader, Sue, last night:
I love you Annie Modesitt! I received my copy over the week-end and I finally sat down with it last night. Why the h*ll haven’t I used this method before?? I made cables last night WITHOUT a cable needle and there were NO HOLES. And I never have to [Western] purl again!…Well, at least I like purling now.
It was a lovely, kind letter – and it came at a great time! I read Cat Bordhi’s article on TNNA at Knitters Review and thought it was excellent. BTW, I’m the designer of the sweater that will be on the cover of VK for Fall…
So, continuing in and out of my funk, Sue’s letter was timely and greatly appreciated. I wrote and told her so, and she responded with a question that I get asked over and over, and felt it was worth addressing on my blog:
Again I ask, why don’t traditional knitting books ever tell the new knitter: If you like what you are producing, then you are knitting correctly?
Here’s how I’ve come to answer Sue’s question:
a) Some – not all – established knitters and teachers are so married to the way they were taught that they just can’t stomach the idea that there may be a better, more intuitive way to do something…
b) The less someone truly understands something, the more DOGMATIC they become. Thus, if a non knitting editor doesn’t entirely “get” how knit stitches are made, etc., then they are more likely to demand that a knitting book show the RIGHT way to do something. As if there is only one right way. It makes it simpler in the short run.
c) Assuming a level of intuitiveness means more work for teachers, writers and editors. One size does NOT fit all, and life would be much easier if it did. This blanket standardization is the blight of our time – it’s as if now that we see there are markets of millions of knitters, no one is a success unless they sell to each and every one of those knitters. And, to sell to a mass of people, you have to devise a standard that they all must adhere to.
d) It’s much easier for the knitting mags and books to write patterns for Western knitting because the knit and purl sts are seated the same way on the needle. This means they don’t have to explain how to ‘read’ a stitch or teach the knitter to determine which way to insert the needle to make a stitch ‘happy’. They can just tell the knitter to blindly “always slip as if to purl…” or “when knitting always insert the needle into the front of the stitch” or “when twisting a knit stitch, always insert the needle into the back of the stitch” See B, above.
The easy answer is that most knitting books out there are TRADITIONAL knitting books, therefore they teach the traditional Western knitting method, which has a definite right way and wrong way. With blogs and an active knitting community, there is more give and take (and more respect given to unconventional methods of knitting) than there has been in the recent past.
No matter how many times, for instance, Elizabeth Zimmerman says in Knitting Without Tears, “There is no wrong way to knit”, she contradicts herself when she also writes, “Considered as a loop, the right side of the stitch should always be in front of the needle when you come to work it.” (pg 17, KWT)
When I first turned to EZ as a heartbroken new knitter (so happy when I saw how beautiful my knit fabric was, but so frustrated that folks kept telling me how WRONG I was knitting…) I read the above sentence.
Along with the illustrations on the same page of one way to purl (my way) and a better way to purl (NOT my way) EZ’s comments made me feel utterly defeated. I was even a failure in her eyes. Obviously there WAS a wrong way to purl – and I was doing it. And, even worse, I loved purling (whereas she disliked it) so I must have been doing something wrong.
For this – and other reasons – I hung up the knitting for almost 10 years. A foolish thing for me to do, and I take full responsibility for my decision. But making that decision helped me learn the importance of validation – and how even the strongest willed person wilts without some kind of positive reinforcement, internal or external. I had been a happy and ignorant knitter, but when I entered the knitting community I became subjected to a new set of rules, and I thought I fell short.
I have incredible respect for the effect EZ’s had on modern knitting, for her inspiration – which has been a wellspring of hope for new knitters. But in my own case she was a catalyst to convince me to put away the needles for many years. This is why there are many different teachers – so we can find the one who suits us best! I returned to the work of my grandmother, and turned within myself. I also discovered the writings of (Priscilla Gibson Roberts and Anna Zilboorg, who have had a great effect on my knitting confidence.