In Praise of Bad Knitting

Among the skills I wished everyone should learn when they are young, are knitting socks and baking bread. It sounds like I am trying to promote a chop wood carry water ethos by recommending those basic skills, but that’s not my reasoning. These are real world tasks that incorporate many disciplines, one can immediately SEE how science and math are involved in the simplest of things.

Baking bread, which I am struggle with myself, brings a lot of different aspects into play, especially if you are doing a wild caught sourdough for starter. There’s the biology of feeding a plant to get your leavening. The chemistry of the fermentation and leavening of the dough. The mathemetics of the recipe, the timing of the proof, the calculation of the volume of the container, and the physics of the baking. And then you get to eat the result. The kitchen in the house I am in now has no heat, so I have spent a while struggling to produce exactly the small batch loaves I want to satisfy my bread urges. Though this year I think I have it knocked.

Knitting is an even better example of cross discipline. It is very binary, there are knits and purls (and yarn overs which is the absense of either), everything is a variation on those two stitches. Knitting is the original 3D printing, taking an unbroken string and creating essentially interlocking springs.. One must be conscious of both sides of the piece because you are knitting from the bottom of the work to the top. Planning a pattern involves measuring and converting those measurements into a stitch count and calculating how much yarn needed to complete the entire project based on the weight and length of the yarn that produces the requred stitch count…this is the math that I still struggle with. Knitting patterns like computer programs have a linear logic to them; the entire process is broken into sections and those are broken into steps which are then broken into knitted rows made of the knit and pearled stitches. The reason I suggest socks is that you have your FOOT with you to use as a model, and it involves the few knitting skills one would need to build on other knitting, decreasing, increasing, etc.. and it is small and portable; a mitten would work just as well especially for the very young.

I learned how to knit 35 years ago but it didn’t STICK. I was in my 20s and I found it too sedentary and like most people, I figured I could just BUY these items. Three years ago I picked it up again as therapy for my aging fingers and I wish I had learned as a small child.

Mistakes are good. When picking it up, the 1st thing to knit is indeed an afghan, lap robe or dog blanket; this will give you the thousands of stitches you need to get under your belt for your fingers to loosen up and you stop condemning yourself for making mistakes. The people who are the best at their discipline are the ones who know how to correct their mistakes as they go, in a way that you never notice. The mistakes get corrected or incorporated into the final design. I have UNKNITTED entire projects, I don’t kick myself when I have to ‘frog’ back a few rows anymore.

Unknitting. One of the major reasons knitting appears to me above other crafts is it’s plasticity and reusability. You can knit anything, a tea cup, a urinal or a wet suit, and you can knit any stringlike media: animal fibers, shredded plastics, even an al dente spaghetti. You can even UNKNIT it and make something else with the same material. Some folks become experts at reclaiming yarn from old sweaters, Ancient moms would unravel a kid’s sweater or sock and reknit them a larger size by adding in more material. Infinite recycling. My favorite pieces are ones that used to be something else.

Bad knitting is what happens on the road to good knitting. A badly knit sock is still a sock. An ugly sweater will still keep you warm, usually. And if you don’t like it, you can turn it into something else. Appreciating well knit items are what keeps people from attempting to knit or giving up too soon. Especially when they pick a complicated or intimidating first project that they feel will justify their time. I have STILL not knit a sweater or even tried, since I own a LOT of nice sweaters knitted by other people and machies and I would be upset with myself if I turn out a badly knit sweater. But I’m wrong, I NEED to make a sweater with all the mistakes it will entail, it’s the next step in my personal progress and I have been putting it off by making more and more socks. And I know that once I get to the end of that sweater, I will remember all the sweat and swearing that went into it and appreciate it all the more.

So yes I think knitting and bread baking are something that should be taught again to our young people, along with changing a tire, balancing a checkbook, and planting a garden. A little chop wood, carry water ethos never hurts.

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