Monday, September 17, 2012

Gauge The Situation: Interpreting Instructions

I had a challenging weekend on the knitting front. Y'all know I'm not an expert on cables. Well, the cables on the Chuck, they are plentiful. Don't misunderstand. They're not plentiful in the scheme of a cable knit sweater you'd find at a village shop in Scotland. But for a veritable knitting novice, well, let's just say I spent a few hours ripping out the same 10 rows. 

To clarify, I think that (designer) Andi's instructions are very good. Lord, by comparison with the slim paragraph provided for the McCardell Convertible, they're the substance of a freakin' PhD thesis. But, like many of you who've commented as much, I am frequently perplexed by the language that is "knitting instruction". 

When first I started to sew, I didn't think anything could ever be more challenging than deciphering a sewing pattern. Now that I knit, I realize that sewing patterns function, as technical documents, on a totally different plane than their knitting counterparts. I'm not suggesting that one is superior than the other. A good knitting pattern is aligned with a good sewing pattern. But knitters are the souls of brevity. I mean, they don't even use full words to explain things most of the time. :-)

Andi's pattern comes with 8 pages of directions and they are very clear. Thing is, I still managed to completely misinterpret something big.*

Today's post is about what you do when you've got a) good (or less good) instructions and b) no fucking idea about what to do next.
  • You email your knitting friends and learn how incredibly knowledgeable and selfless they are. (Note: What are you waiting for? Make some online knitting friends.)
  • You find an LYS (local knitting shop) - even if you live in Iqaluit, find one - and then fall at the feet of a helpful sales assistant (often knit shop SAs are expert knitters and part of the job experience is to help freaked out novices like you). Make sure to buy something if you're not charged for his or her time or, better yet, offer to pay for his or her time (in the form of hourly private lessons you can use 15 minutes at a time when you're flat out stuck). I've learned more from watching an expert fix my "massive, traumatic" problem (in 2 minutes) than any book has ever taught me.
  • Have some books on hand but recognize that reading them when you're beside yourself with stress may not be as helpful as one of the more interactive approaches.
  • Email the pattern designer, if info is available. (Knitting designers are often incredibly generous with their time and, after all, who understands a pattern better than the designer.) It goes without saying, don't ask said designer about how to knit. Use this valuable resource to assist you with more interpretive elements of the pattern.
  • Find someone on Ravelry who's had a similar problem and check out, in the notes, what (s)he did to resolve it. You might even email him or her to ask for help. That's how I met Gail
  •  Be prepared to work very diligently - some might even say "brain-smokingly" - to overcome challenges that perplex you in every way. I don't like problems but, man, I love solving them. I can't tell you how many times, in any given project (and this goes for sewing too, fyi), that I am utterly convinced that all is for nought. I keep notes. I cross-reference documentation. I review photos of the garment in question. I rip back and start again. I yell at my knitting. I drink a lot of wine. Occasionally, I start to cry. But I don't admit defeat easily, if ever. DO NOT GIVE UP. If I can do this, you can too. (See all the bullets above.)
But now I'll turn it over to you. What do you hate about knitting instructions (or love)? What resources do you make use of to help you through the rough patches? Please, share a new one with me! Let's chat...

Update: I don't fucking believe this. Just spent all night knitting and ripping out the same 20 rows yet again. (I think that's 6 times now or 120 freakin' rows.) I really hope I've learned my lesson about how to read a cable pattern at this point. The thing that astounds me is that every single time I've had to unknit, I've figured out something new. Guess I'm really going to appreciate this sweater in the end.


*FYI, what I did wrong was to assume that the cable pattern instructions (a subset of the main instructions and labeled Rows 1 through 6) were aligned with the Front Neckline main instructions (which intermittently refer to the cable pattern instructions). So, on row 4 of the pattern at the neckline, I inserted row 4 of the cable pattern. In fact, I was supposed to insert row 1 of the cable pattern (as this was its first instance in the pattern overall). Seriously, how was I supposed to know this? I think that advanced knitters understand because they've seen it so many times before. 
Oh, and the other thing I did wrong was to mess up the cables in 8000 unique ways till I finally found a groove. Interpretation is a bitch.

10 comments:

  1. Some of your knitting posts inspire me to knit more, and others scare me off slightly. this one is actually one of the latter!! Although I definitely agree about the LYS suggestion - i had a very lovely conversation with the staff at mine yesterday about different cast off methods.

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  2. Egad! That is not my intention Rachel. Just put it out of your mind and come back for the next post. I'll do what I can to make it un-scary! (FWIW, I'd love to know why you find it scary. I was going for "We're all in this together", which is entirely how I feel. Obviously, that's not how it comes across to you...)

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  3. It's true. As an at least intermediate knitter, the dozens of cabled projects I've knit mean that I take for granted the separation between the numbering of a cable's pattern and the numbering of fit elements. I can see exactly how easy it would be to make this error, especially since you crammed a few years' learning curves into one!

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    1. You've been so helpful in this process, F. I have learned a lot in a short time with the help of really engaged friends!

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  4. lol, I have JUST had a similar experience. I ended up having to rip back a bunch of rows since I did a lace bit wrong. I couldn't even find an explanation of what the instructions were saying through google!
    But yep, having online knitting friends is the BEST! They always have my back :)

    I think my process is so similar to yours. Always taking notes! And I never, ever give up!

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    1. Though, this week (in truth, J), that philosophy has been tested!

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  5. When I was knitting my Agatha sweater (by the same designer) I found that the instructions left out some things I was accustomed to seeing in other patterns - I was able to fill in the blanks, but I don't think I would recommend her patterns to a beginner.
    I have found that many patterns will tell you to start on row 1 of the cable pattern in the instructions (so for this pattern, in row 4 it would have said something like: k4, work row 1 of cable pattern over 8 stitches, k4).

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    1. I find Andi's pattern instructions to be very clear but not geared towards my gaps in knowledge. Mind you she's been very helpful in emails as I've tried to determine what to do next.

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  6. I have been knitting for years, but have yet to tackle cables. It is an irrational fear of mine that I must face, maybe on a very small project. I like the knitting friend source the best, but On-line videos are invaluable. When I first learned to knit there was no such thing and I couldn't always get to my grandma to ask her. I spend a lot of time confused.

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    1. Thing is, I have done cables on small projects like gloves and scarves and they were not difficult at all! I think not all cable projects are created equally. Frances (materfamilias) has indicated that what complicates cables, in part, is the width of the stitch pattern i.e. when the cables go horizontally over a wide span. So stick to those vertical twisty ones (they look so impressive but they're easy) for your first go around.

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