What If?

With my first few rows of garter stitch, I discovered that the question “what if?” lies at the heart of knitting. At first, I was pretty much limited to two questions: 1) What if I cast on more stitches? (Actually it was “What if I ask the friend who’s getting me started to cast on more stitches for me?”) and 2) What if I use a different yarn? After two scarves, I had a few more questions: What if I use a different needle size than the label on the ball calls for? What if I knit with three yarns at once? (By then I’d realized people sometimes knit with two yarns at once, but I didn’t know if there was some sort of rule against three yarns. Never underestimate the number of things a “good girl” can worry about.)

In retrospect, these aren’t really earth-shaking questions, but the fact that I was asking questions so early on surprised me. With embroidery and more traditional sewing, I’d been content to follow patterns. I’d find a picture of a sampler or a skirt I liked, I’d purchase the pattern, follow the directions, and after a while I’d have my own copy of the original. Knitting was much less structured.

Discovering stitch dictionaries increased my “what if?” questions exponentially. Never mind that I couldn’t tell the difference between a knit and a purl stitch on my own needles. I focused on scarves to minimize complications and plunged right in. My mother was wise enough to recommend a bit of garter stitch along the edges of my scarves, and I just started choosing pictures of stitches I liked, casting on the appropriate multiples (plus six for the garters), and going for it. Even though I couldn’t see which stitch was which, patterns did emerge as the scarf started to lengthen. If I realized I’d made a mistake, I sort of held my breath, slid my knitting off the needle, grabbed the yarn and unraveled until a) I was past the mistake and b) I thought I could guess what row of the pattern I was on (though I wasn’t always right). There was absolutely no finesse involved.

To this day, I’ve followed exactly two garment patterns—one for a basic tam from One-Skein Wonders and one for a cabled hat from Cables Untangled—and my choice of both patterns stemmed from questions I was already asking myself. I chose the tam pattern because I figured it would offer a quick way to learn the proportions/stitch ratios for similar projects. I followed the cabled hat pattern because I wanted to see how Melissa Leapman handled the decreases. (Decreases will no doubt come up repeatedly here. The biggest limit to my stitch choices is usually whether I can figure out ways to maintain the pattern while decreasing/increasing.)

Other than those projects, knitting has been pure improvisation—which is what makes it so delightful. I love asking “what if?” and then knitting until I have an answer. I love the way that each project creates new questions and leads to new projects. I’m never turning back.

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