Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Relearning a Childhood Art

 

I must have been about 10 years old when my mother first taught me to knit. I loved the textures, the sounds, the artistry, the creativity, and the chance to do something with my mother. I discovered that I loved to knit, although I didn’t continue into adulthood.

About 50 years later, I decided to try knitting again. I was smart enough to look for easy patterns and enjoyed it so much that my hands were aching. (Yes, I know, I was holding the needles too tightly.) I took a break from knitting, learning that too much time knitting might not be a good thing.

But in the few months I stopped, something changed, and I have no idea what it was. I picked a pattern for a lightweight shawl that was marked “easy,” even did a proper stitch gauge and washed the sample. I started to work on it, and it was a disaster from the start.

I had trouble keeping track of the pattern. Every row was different, and although knitting and purling were familiar, I was not as comfortable with slip-slip-knit (known as SSK). I had too few or too many stitches, I couldn’t figure out how to correct my errors, I had the darndest time figuring out how to free the “yarn-over” stitch. And there was no hiding mistakes because the shawl was patterned. Okay for those of you who aren’t knitters, I’ll stop listing the technical problems. Let’s just say it was a horrible experience. Because I couldn’t locate and correct my mistakes, I kept taking it apart and starting over. My resolve to pay better attention vanished at my next mistake. Worse, I couldn’t figure out why I kept trying to knit this particular pattern. Why not just quit?! And I did! At least three times! And then I started all over again. It was pure torture.

But one day, I decided to reframe completely what I was actually doing. I wasn’t knitting a lightweight shawl: I was re-learning how to knit. That goal required me to see my project in a whole new light.

What does it feel like to do a knit stitch?

What does it feel like to do a purl stitch?

What if I carefully investigated the intricacies of doing a Slip-Slip-Knit stitch?

How might I pay such close attention so that I would be able to identify all the different ways I committed my mistakes? If I was able to do that, then I could figure out how to reverse them.

Most importantly, the way I thought about the project made it something special, inviting and even fun. I didn’t need to race to finish it; I could take my time and enjoy the process, the journey, of re-learning to knit. I could enjoy the sensation of knitting, the needles clicking, the bright colors of the yarn, the rhythm of doing this work. Miraculously I made few mistakes and either caught them or found a simple way to correct them.

And then there was the final realization. I wasn’t just re-learning knitting: I was reconnecting with my mom. My mother (who has since passed away) wasn’t always the most patient teacher, but I only have good memories of learning knitting from her, how to pick up dropped stitches, or cast on or cast off stitches. At some point, she also stopped knitting in her life. But somehow, in some way we’ve re-connected through this journey.

I last saw her in her last days, and I tearfully said I would miss her; she smiled and said, “We’ll always be together.”

She’s right.

Update: It’s several weeks later, and I haven’t finished the shawl, but I am loving the process and enjoying myself.

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  1. Mark Camp Member

    I keep a list of articles (currently being lengthened by one article) that at year’s end will be my “Best of 2018”. The intent of this comment can be inferred from the previous sentence.

    Sometimes you write stuff that just really, really gets to me, SQ.

    • #1
    • July 17, 2018, at 7:09 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  2. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Mark Camp (View Comment):

    I keep a list of articles (currently being lengthened by one article) that at year’s end will be my “Best of 2018”. The intent of this comment can be inferred from the previous sentence.

    Sometimes you write stuff that just really, really gets to me, SQ.

    I’m touched and honored. People like you inspire me, @markcamp.

    • #2
    • July 17, 2018, at 7:19 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Arahant Member

    Dat’s just beeyooteeful.


    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series under July’s theme of Understanding. If you have ever had to either create a new understanding or just had a new understanding of a project you were doing, why not share it with us? Or, if you’d like to start a conversation about any other sort of understanding, come join us. Our schedule and sign-up sheet still has openings that could have your name on them.

    • #3
    • July 17, 2018, at 7:22 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  4. Vectorman Member

    Susan Quinn:

    But one day, I decided to reframe completely what I was actually doing. I wasn’t knitting a lightweight shawl: I was re-learning how to knit. That goal required me to see my project in a whole new light.

    What does it feel like to do a knit stitch?

    What does it feel like to do a purl stitch?

    Sounds like you’re trying to automate the basics. For many activities, you need to break the original learning pattern to get much more efficient. In learning music, you see the note on the page, say the letter “A” in your head, place your fingers (and/or mouth if needed) in the right spot, and play the note. Later on, you just see and play, ignoring the intermediate thinking steps.

    The same phenomena occurs in learning Morse code. The dot – dash method become de-dah, then each letter becomes automatic, finally whole words and phrases are recognized.

    Our challenge as older adults is to remember what child-like focus was needed to go through those steps. Sounds like you’re well on your way!

    • #4
    • July 17, 2018, at 7:33 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    Our challenge as older adults is to remember what child-like focus was needed to go through those steps. Sounds like you’re well on your way!

    That’s fascinating, @vectorman. I love understanding how the brain works and what “reframing” really involves. Thank you.

    • #5
    • July 17, 2018, at 10:24 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. KentForrester Moderator

    Susan, I love your post. A process, a revelation, s poignant little story, and a moral. Just to my taste. I think you and I would get along in the meat world. 

    • #6
    • July 17, 2018, at 10:43 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    I was just thinking, too, that I’m learning about discipline in a whole new way. When I get going on my knitting, I could still do it for hours. But because I’m also learning to relax, my hands and fingers still get sore if I knit too long. So I’m learning to pay attention to how my hands feel, stretching my wrists and fingers and (hardest of all), limit my time. I remind myself that I’m still trying to finish a book on US Grant, and that is worthy of my attention, too.

    I’m not that ten year-old kid anymore! 

    • #7
    • July 17, 2018, at 10:45 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Susan, I love your post. A process, a revelation, s poignant little story, and a moral. Just to my taste. I think you and I would get along in the meat world.

    Hey, I like vegetarian dishes, too! We’d get along great! Oh–and thanks so much for the kind words. It means a lot coming from a very fine writer. And no parentheses!

    • #8
    • July 17, 2018, at 10:46 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Jules PA Member

    I don’t knit, but my mom is a knitter and a quilter. I can see myself taking it up when I retire.

    But, as a musician, I wonder if there is a rhythm to the SSK or other motives in your pattern? Maybe make your focus as long as the pattern motive, and then you come up for air, after each motive, or after a set repetition, like SSK SSK SSK breathe. 

    Such an approach may help your hands regularly release tension, and keep your mind connected to the specifics of the pattern.

    As for taking a break…I recommend you consider at what point in your knitting you get tired, then set a timer for 2-4 minutes less, then take a mandatory break at the conclusion of the next row, once the timer goes off. 

    I tell my music students to integrate burst of practice into other obligations or activities they do. 

    Same can be true of knitting, or reading the tome on Grant. 

    • #9
    • July 17, 2018, at 12:17 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Jules PA Member

    Ps…the shawl is pretty!

    • #10
    • July 17, 2018, at 12:17 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    I don’t knit, but my mom is a knitter and a quilter. I can see myself taking it up when I retire.

    But, as a musician, I wonder if there is a rhythm to the SSK or other motives in your pattern? Maybe make your focus as long as the pattern motive, and then you come up for air, after each motive, or after a set repetition, like SSK SSK SSK breathe.

    Such an approach may help your hands regularly release tension, and keep your mind connected to the specifics of the pattern.

    As for taking a break…I recommend you consider at what point in your knitting you get tired, then set a timer for 2-4 minutes less, then take a mandatory break at the conclusion of the next row, once the timer goes off.

    I tell my music students to integrate burst of practice into other obligations or activities they do.

    Same can be true of knitting, or reading the tome on Grant.

    Fabulous ideas, @julespa! Yes, SSK does have a rhythm. Not only that, it has a certain grace in movement, and when the yarn over comes through at the end of it, it’s like a person underwater bursting out with delight. I just love it, and suspect I will want SSK to appear in the next thing I knit. I’m hoping to get the courage to go to projects more demanding than scarves and shawls. I have made a shmatta and a vest–I don’t know how to say shmatta in English–it’s a kind of longish cardigan without buttons. And I love your showing the parallels between music and knitting. I guess all art shares those, right? Thanks so much.

    • #11
    • July 17, 2018, at 12:24 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Ps…the shawl is pretty!

    I almost included a note for the uninitiated that it might look a little rough because it hasn’t been blocked–that covers a lot of “inconsistencies.” So thank you for your kind words for seeing it in its nascent state!

    • #12
    • July 17, 2018, at 12:31 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Jules PA Member

    Is knitting like a dance you do with your hands, sticks and yarn? 

    😀

    • #13
    • July 17, 2018, at 12:46 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    Is knitting like a dance you do with your hands, sticks and yarn?

    😀

    Oh yes, but I do it solo, a contemporary dance! ;-)

    • #14
    • July 17, 2018, at 3:35 PM PDT
    • Like
  15. EHerring Coolidge

    Men used to knit, too, not clothing but fishing nets. I remember watching my grandfather do it. He would knit for hours each day when they visited us. I inherited one he knitted but hadn’t finished…needs the lead weights. I hadn’t seen it in years and found it this week when I was cleaning out a storage closet. I will hang it to remind me of the good times I had with him net fishing as a kid. I wish I had learned how to do that from him when he was alive so I could pass on that skill to my grandchildren. It would be a great survival skill.

    • #15
    • July 20, 2018, at 5:57 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  16. She Reagan
    SheJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lovely post, Susan.

    I’m currently doing a counted cross stitch sampler (Grrr. Not my favorite craft, but I needed something I could take on a plane, and although knitting needles are theoretically allowed, I always fear running into the TSA agent who didn’t get the memo, so I try to find something less argumentative). It’s a pretty little thing, and the motto is “Blessed is the life that finds joy in the journey.”

    Sometimes, as I think we all discover sooner or later, and try as we might, finding joy in the journey is hard. 

    I’m glad you got yourself back in the saddle and back on the road to reconnecting with your mom and rediscovering the joy in your knitting.

    Pictures, please, when you’re done with the shawl.

    • #16
    • July 20, 2018, at 6:07 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Old Buckeye Member

    Susan, lovely insights. I’m a quilter and also must remind myself to enjoy the process, not just make it a race to the finish. There’s a whole “slow stitch” movement afoot that focuses on such things. You might enjoy Slow Knitting by Hannah Thiessen.

    I can relate to your frustration with knitting. I used to knit–until I started a project that I had to set aside for a time. When I went back to it, I couldn’t get the rows to come out right, despite the fact that I’d meticulously marked my place. And I also knit tight with aching hands like yours. Nowadays I commission friends who knit to make my knit items. 

    • #17
    • July 20, 2018, at 7:04 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Old Buckeye (View Comment):

    Susan, lovely insights. I’m a quilter and also must remind myself to enjoy the process, not just make it a race to the finish. There’s a whole “slow stitch” movement afoot that focuses on such things. You might enjoy Slow Knitting by Hannah Thiessen.

    I can relate to your frustration with knitting. I used to knit–until I started a project that I had to set aside for a time. When I went back to it, I couldn’t get the rows to come out right, despite the fact that I’d meticulously marked my place. And I also knit tight with aching hands like yours. Nowadays I commission friends who knit to make my knit items.

    Thanks for the book tip, @oldbuckeye! I’m a huge admirer of quilters; I loved visiting the museum in Paducah–true works of art. I do find it intimidating, but love the results.

    • #18
    • July 20, 2018, at 7:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. J.D. Snapp Coolidge

    Me irl when I try to knit:

    Image result for noodle fingers gif

    Seriously though, my fingers do all sorts of weird stuff and I just can’t get it.

    • #19
    • July 20, 2018, at 10:00 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    J.D. Snapp (View Comment):
    Seriously though, my fingers do all sorts of weird stuff and I just can’t get it.

    Even now, I’m still in the re-learning process. Sigh. So I get that you can’t get, Julie!

    • #20
    • July 20, 2018, at 10:20 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. barbara lydick Inactive

    Enjoyed your post – so much so that I watched a short video on SSK on YouTube. 

    My grandmother taught my mother to knit and my mother taught me. I can remember how fast my grandmother could make those needles fly! We used the German (or Continental or European) method as opposed to the American method. I never could understand having to stop to lift the yarn over the needle for each stitch rather than just pushing the needle thru the stitch and catching the yarn that was wrapped loosely around a few fingers (in a certain way) thus finishing the stitch. The only problem as a beginning knitter was keeping the tension even – it was easy to get the stitches too tight if one didn’t pay attention.

    I haven’t knitted for many, many years – but your post may just have been the thing to give it a go once more. Did you ever see those commercials years ago for the knitting machines? Wow. Now they did go fast, but it was the setting up that took the time – probably much time. A straight knit purl would go like the wind, but they showed making beautiful sweaters, knit dresses, knit suits, etc., which I’m certain one could lose one’s mind having to stop and reset the machine every few rows (or every row).

    • #21
    • July 20, 2018, at 4:47 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  22. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    My grandmother taught my mother to knit and my mother taught me. I can remember how fast my grandmother could make those needles fly! We used the German (or Continental or European) method as opposed to the American method. I

    I’ve seen the European method, @barbaralydick, and I think it is lots more efficient. But I have had enough difficulty without relearning the basics. I love it. There is something so basic about it–just you, the yarn and the needles. Let me know if you start again!

    • #22
    • July 20, 2018, at 5:02 PM PDT
    • Like
  23. doulalady Member
    doulaladyJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Growing up we always knew when a baby was on the way in our family because Mother would knit a “layette”. I think it consisted of a matinee jacket, (cardigan), bootees, mittens, hat, and trousers.

    She could knit while watching television! And could make the whole set in an evening. Very satisfying I would think.

     

    • #23
    • July 20, 2018, at 6:50 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  24. George Townsend Inactive

    I finally to the chance read this truly lovely story, Susan. I took two things away from it…

    1. Of course your Mom. Mine is gone a little over 23 years now. Never knowing my father, it was basically just she and I. I have a painting of us that was taking when we were on one of cruises. I had it made into a painting, and have it above the dining room table. It’s so nice to look at it every now and then, remembering the good times, and how we enjoyed many of the same things. She used to collect pictures of old movie stars. I am sure that is where I get my love for old movies.
    2. Then there is your refusal to give up on your knitting. It must be very frustrating, going back over old ground, making mistakes, and starting. Much of life is like that. To mention a mundane thing: I enjoy playing different forms of solitaire. It takes a lot of patience. I’ve cursed at the computer more than once when it’s rejected a move I made in Free Cell. But you gotta just accept the loss and keep trying. I enjoy the challenge. One of the things that keeps your mind alert.

    Thanks for the post Susan. I really enjoyed it.

    • #24
    • July 21, 2018, at 7:51 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  25. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    doulalady (View Comment):
    She could knit while watching television! And could make the whole set in an evening. Very satisfying I would think.

    Very satisfying, indeed. She was clearly much more talented than I. The outfit sounds adorable.

    • #25
    • July 21, 2018, at 5:56 PM PDT
    • Like
  26. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    George Townsend (View Comment):

    I finally to the chance read this truly lovely story, Susan. I took two things away from it…

    1. Of course your Mom. Mine is gone a little over 23 years now. Never knowing my father, it was basically just she and I. I have a painting of us that was taking when we were on one of cruises. I had it made into a painting, and have it above the dining room table. It’s so nice to look at it every now and then, remembering the good times, and how we enjoyed many of the same things. She used to collect pictures of old movie stars. I am sure that is where I get my love for old movies.
    2. Then there is your refusal to give up on your knitting. It must be very frustrating, going back over old ground, making mistakes, and starting. Much of life is like that. To mention a mundane thing: I enjoy playing different forms of solitaire. It takes a lot of patience. I’ve cursed at the computer more than once when it’s rejected a move I made in Free Cell. But you gotta just accept the loss and keep trying. I enjoy the challenge. One of the things that keeps your mind alert.

    Thanks for the post Susan. I really enjoyed it.

    How lovely, @georgetownsend! You must have lovely memories when you look at that painting. And it’s a lovely tribute to her, too.

    • #26
    • July 21, 2018, at 5:58 PM PDT
    • 1 like

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