I have been a knitter for one year. Twelve months ago, I fumbled my first cast-on, wobbled through my first row, frogged it all and started again, and never really looked back. This wasn’t the first time I’d tried to learn. As a child, my mother guided me through the production of a couple of small squares in pink and red: I remember thinking that I would make enough for a patchwork blanket, but I clearly ran out of enthusiasm early.
I tried again when I was 21. My grandmother is an excellent knitter, and her refrain of, “you spent what? I could make that for you…” had become a part of my mental furniture; finally, it recurred to me as a conviction that I could make that, and in any colour I liked, and in natural fibres too, and I could make it fit. Excited, I booked a session with the Rowan consultant in John Lewis. Two days later I rolled up with a hangover and I remember her look of frustration as I utterly failed to understand anything about the knitting process.
Third time, a friend offered to teach a small group of us and I enthusiastically agreed. There were small signs that this would be any improvement on my earlier efforts. My friend commented on my determination as she watched my struggles to hold the yarn and pic the stitches (she was a continental knitter, though obviously I didn’t know that then). I left, still unable to knit, but with an unshakable will to become a knitter – and since I was on maternity leave, with the time to dedicate to it.
I bought Stitch ‘n Bitch. I earnestly followed Debbie Stoller’s instructions – and I managed a long tail cast-on. I diligently imitated her knit-stitch, English style – and I made a square of garter stitch. (Actually it was a rectangle, because in my naive eagerness, I knit chunky wool on 4.5 mm needles; it hurt my hands so much that I cast-off after ten rows, having produced a little patch of carpet.) I sighed at the impossibility of learning to purl, but persevered, and felt like a magician the first time I made stockinette and saw my knits and purls stacking up on top of each other.
I made a stripy garter stitch scarf from Big Wool. It is horrible, but I was enormously proud, and wore it to admiring comments. I made a ribbed scarf for my little boy from Rowan Yorkshire Tweed, and it looks lovely, but was much too scratchy for his tender little neck. I made my first garment. I asked an online shop to recommend a shrug pattern for a beginner and ended up with directions for a dumb-dumb square of ribbing which was then seamed to make arm holes. The pattern said “any dk weight yarn may be substituted”, and I somehow ended up with mushroom coloured mercerized cotton. The resulting floppy, slippery, unwearable mess of an item recently found a resting place in the bin. I started a child’s jumper in the left overs from the shrug and gave up when the pattern called for short-rows and I couldn’t get the slippery yarn to co-operate. When I made my boyfriend a tank-top, I measured my gauge sloppily, and it turned out enormous (it’s still waiting to be frogged and remade).
In fact, my solo venture into knitting was a series of disasters. Why did I never stop to just ask for help? But I loved knitting so much that I didn’t feel the failures, I simply bounded on to my next effort. I don’t think I would advise anyone to take my way round. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve drilled into myself the hard way. But every time I came upon something new, I reminded myself that knitting is just making loops and pulling them through more loops, and eventually my knitrights began to outnumber my knitwrongs, and the things I made began to be usable, wearable objects. But this post isn’t about them. It’s about the wrongs which made me a knitter.