Sunday, February 05, 2006

Front matter

One of the first things I learned in educational publishing was that nobody ever reads the front matter of a book. The front matter is everything that comes after the TOC and before the first usable section of the book. It's often called an introduction, and sometimes given the title "How to Use This Book" but you should avoid making this section too long since that makes it even less likely to ever be read.

This was hard for me to grasp at the time since I'd always been such a horrific geek that I DID always read every intro, every page of front matter. But then Max turned two and that was the end of whatever remaining free time I had (I had the world's easiest baby/toddler in Max). Now I don't read the front matter either. I skim the Table of Contents or index, find the five pages that made the book worth the purchase, copy them, put the book back on the shelf and forget about it.

I haven't read the front matter in a knitting book since before I had kids.

But here I was this afternoon at Max's basketball game. In the periods where he wasn't playing, I was knitting. I could do this because Max had brought along his buddy Brian. Brian, a boy's boy, was educting the twins in the correct methods of game watching. When to chant defense, when to yell, "Go, [Boy!]" Brian, in the manner of all wildly extroverted children who have never moved further than across town, knew every child on Max's basketball team. So he gamely supplied the twins with names and the twins gamely yelled them. This left me with little to no puppy-herding to do. So, I . . . started reading the front matter of my knitting book. The author quotes some antiquated volume of knitting knowledge:

"Try and knit with regularity, neither too loose nor too tight; if too loose the work will draw out of shape in the washing, and if too tight the wool gets impoverished."

Tell me you paused there and wondered what the heck impoverished wool is . . .

"The happy medium is when the stitches will slip just easily along the needle."

This. was. news. to. me. I've spent 15 years knitting with needles that were two sizes up from the suggested size, and yes, I have to push the stitches along the needles. They're snug on that needle. The rational part of my brain wanted to argue. IF the stitches are to remain regular and the needle is what is providing the size of the stitches, then it stands to reason that the stitches should be snuggish around the needle . . . right?

Well, apparently not!

"Knitting should be neither too tight nor too loose; the stitches should slip just easily along the needles, and yet not be so loose as to permit any falling off unawares;"

Dude, that would be REALLY loose. no?

"if too loose the stitches will set unevenly and the work will be untidy, and on the other hand tight knitting will cause the wool to thin and spoil for the want of needful "spring.""

Well . . . dang. I knit two rounds trying consciouly to knit more loosely, but I'd done that with the first swatch I'd made (I'm still swatching here--I switched to a different ball of sock yarn. I don't know what type. I have two balls of it but they both lost their labels a long time ago.)

So then I thought, maybe if I did that thing where you wrap the yarn with your left hand. Maybe if I tried a whole new method . . . I did that. I don't really know the method, so I was making it up. It *did* create a MUCH looser loop--but a monkey on crack couldn't call it regular or even.

So when I got home I started doing some online research. Here's what I learned. I hold my yarn in a pinky crook wrap. It doesn't look like I'm doing anything obviously wrong. Except maybe being wound tighter than a girl ought to be.

I found a site that showed me how to do the Continental wrap and I made it about one and a half rounds before determining that while I *could* figure that out, it wasn't any fun at all and I'd never finish the second sock if I had to think that much about it.

Instead I should just learn to knit more loosely. It's just that, it doesn't FEEL like I'm knitting too tightly when I'm doing it. I'm not yanking on the yarn. I knit relatively quickly. So where am I going wrong? It's confusing. I certainly don't want to impoverish my yarn. That sounds terribly unfair to it.


Barbara said...

I tend to knit sort of tightly, and for me it helps to focus on generally holding everything lightly. I try to relax a little bit -- relax my fingers, relax how I'm holding the needles, relax how tightly I wind the working yarn among my fingers, relax how I "pick" the yarn (I knit continental). Amazingly, the next row is subtly easier and more enjoyable to knit, because the previous row wasn't quite. as. snug.

I was doing this very focusing trick earlier today, on a dishcloth that could use a little less uptightness.

Hold everything lightly, try to find a rhythm to your knitting that is really smooth and a bit more relaxed... and see if that helps a little bit. I don't think it's one thing, I think it's the whole system of how we knit that could ease up a bit. Good luck!

I need to study my small stash and my project short list before I commit to a Knitting Olympics project. I'm thinking of a first vest, for my six-year-old, using the superwash wool I bought for family mittens that do not interest me in this mild-for-us Oklahoma winter. Or maybe the famed Clapotis, probably in relatively affordable Lion Brand yarn. Hmmm. I could just go with handwarmers...

Hornblower said...

I read somewhere a while back that a common cause for too tight knitting is that the knitter pulls on the stitch as she finishes it. So you poke needle in, wrap, pull out, and then give a tug. That tug might be so small that it's almost imperceptible - maybe you just twist your wrist or pull your fingers away a tad - but it's snugging the stitch on your needle. Ideally that movement should not exist. You poke, wrap, pull out, poke, wrap, pull out, etc. The only time you tug is on the first stitch of a row, or the 1st 2 stitches on a new dpn when knitting circularly. This was my dd's issue & when she worked on it this summer, her knitting speed increased too because the stitches did glide more smoothly on the needles. Good luck :-)

Writing and Living said...

I have spent the past couple of months learning how to knit continental. You're a much more experienced knitter than I am, but this is much faster for me(I can do a dishcloth in half the time). There was a bit of a learning curve, but now it seems much easier, and I finally can do it without thinking about it. But, if you're finding your groove now, disregard everything I just wrote. :o)

Eliza said...

You mean to say that I am *not* a bad knitter, nor am I knit-challenged since my loops are always tight on the needle?


Dang, that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. I say if you are knitting to gadge and you're happy, then knit on the way you are knitting!