Friday, May 6, 2011

Nature Vs. Knitter

The reason you haven’t seen much of me around here for the past few days is because I’ve spent every waking moment (not otherwise accounted for) knitting this freakin’ sweater. My child has eaten an array of questionably appropriate dinner foods: hot dogs, take-out Indian, cheese and crackers with carrot sticks. The laundry is unlaundered. My (vaguely old-looking) hands are truly cramped by the time I retire – 2 hours later than I can generally keep my eyes open for – at approximately midnight.

Do you ever play spider solitaire and find yourself unable to quit. If you lose, you think “just one more game; I know I’ll be a winner next time”. If you win, you want to see how long the streak will last. That cycle can go on for a good hour. C’mon, you do that. I know you do.

You’ll be pleased to hear that I don’t gamble. I don’t buy lottery tickets. I don’t go to the track (though, really, it might be just the place to knit!).

My friends laugh (a kind of rueful, knowing laugh) at my type A knitting style. But what can I do? I come by it honestly. Apparently, it’s not very knitter. Apparently, knitters are gentle creatures who sculpt their laid back world views in a woolly canvas. On Wednesday I had the most fun at a knitting night at
Lettuce (a veritable hotbed of serious fibre art crafters). What welcoming and friendly women! What gynocracy! Alas, as so often happens, on some fundamental level, I felt removed. And not because I’ve been knitting a week and these women have been doing it for a combined 200 years. (Moreover, who, more than I, loves to talk parenting and politics with a bunch of smart women, drinking booze? Isn’t that kind of like paradise?)

It was when I queried a couple of them about how long they’d been working on their items – for how long they imagined their (many complex) projects would continue – that I felt the encroaching divide. I assume I'm paranoid, but at that point, I think I might have seen the slightest inkling of a questioning look. And I just could not relate to the claims that these knitters couldn’t say, that they work simply according to their natural pace, that time is not really relevant. Seriously?!

Call me a (goal-oriented) philistine, but how the hell does anyone do anything without considering their investment of time?

Let me break it down for you (and I know this because I’m keeping a line-by-line ledger of my every row):

  • I started this project on April 30.

  • I started over on May 1.

  • It took me 15 hours to knit the back of the cardigan.

  • It has taken me 7 hours to knit one side of the front – and I estimate another half an hour before it’s done.

  • While this is entirely speculative, I surmise that it will take me another 7.5 hours to knit the other front half.

  • And probably 5 hours to knit each sleeve.

  • I’ve opted not to make the belt – I’d prefer to use another closure – probably one of those wooden knitting pin closures. I’ve always wanted one of those!

  • Blocking will take approximately an hour (followed by time to dry).

  • Then I’ve got to sew it all together (by hand). I don’t know – maybe that will be 3 hours? (Sewing things up with wool is apparently quite easy). Of course, it could take forever and I’m deluded.

Since no one seems to be able to give me any feedback about how long it takes to knit a simple sweater, I’m going to make my own guess: 50 hours. That’s if all goes as planned (stifle your giggles please). Note: I'm entirely new at this. I'm sure a seasoned practitioner could do this in less time...

Maybe I’ll never be a real knitter (or a real sewist, for that matter) because I’m not doing this for the simple pleasure of working with my hands. I make things because I want to make things. I want to see how they start from nothing and turn into practical and (hopefully) beautiful products. I want to systemize my skills by deconstructing them in notebooks that I can look at again and again. I want to keep lists – to itemize where I’m at. I do not want to work on the same sweater for 6 months, picking it up and dropping it according to my momentary interest or schedule (which secretly and judgementally I see as a code word for “whim”). Maybe that’s eventually how it will go. Maybe I’ll get with that casual (supposedly happy-making) philosophy over time, but I can’t imagine it. Odd as it may be, for me, the joy in craft is in doing it regardless of how time-consuming or overwhelming or scary it is. Call me crazy, but I enjoy those feelings. They make me feel engaged. They give me a rush.

I'd love to hear from the knitters and sewists and those who engage in other craft hobbies. Are you type A too? Do you sense I'm corrupting the artform with my hideous attitude? Can you explain to me how you analyse "crafting at your own pace" (whatever it is for you)?

In the meanwhile, excuse me while I go ice my hands.


  1. I read a really good discussion (I think it was on Ravelry) about 'process' vs 'product' knitting. Sounds like you great your greatest enjoyment from the product.

  2. I'm a product-leaning sewer but definitely a process knitter. It's a paradox--knitting appeals to me because of its portability, but the types of patterns that satsify me tend to be those that require quiet concentration.

    I'm a huge note-taker and list-maker when it comes to my sewing but not my knitting. Maybe because yarn can be unravelled and reused, and so the mistakes seem less final?

  3. I basically feel the way that you do about craft, but the time investment isn't just worth it from the standpoint of product produced, it's also worth it in terms of developing skills.

  4. I'm a Type A knitter as well. Which means that I've given up on sweaters; they just take too damn long. I have a cardigan that I've been knitting off and on for about 2 years now, and I'm convinced that if I ever finish it I won't even care about wearing it anymore. So it has mostly just lain there in my bag while I knock out all sorts of other projects that I can complete in a weekend.

    As much as I enjoy the process, I'm really more of a product knitter and therefore I choose my projects carefully. I enjoy patterns that challenge my technical skills while still being relatively short term endeavors. Hats, socks, gloves, and even scarves tend to be much more satisfying for me.

  5. I'm more of a product knitter. Within a month of first learning to knit, I attempted to make a sweater. Because that was the ultimate goal. To make things I could wear.

    It baffles me that there are knitters that have been doing it for years by only knitting hats and scarves and they're happy with that. I find scarves a pain in the ass and I never would've taken up knitting if that's all I was going to do.

    After two years of trying different types of patterns practicing my skills, I'm picky on which projects I start. Which means I don't knit a lot and I don't do hats (don't wear them) or socks (what's the point?). Scarves and shawls are kept to a minimum (too tedious).

  6. I am totally Type A with creativity. When my husband was in Iceland he mailed me some Lopi wool and an Icelandic sweater pattern. I knit every night in front of the Winter Olympics until I had finished a sweater and hat. (I was in grad school.)
    Now that I have, say, three full-time jobs (professing, mothering, freelancing), I only start projects on school breaks so that I can complete them.

  7. I'm a product leaning person too, which is why I sew rather than knit. That and my total inability to do anything that requires both hands. I DO crochet, or I used to, and I'm thinking about taking it up again, only because I watch too much TV and I'm trying to figure out how to best use that time.

    If you aren't a naturally Zen kind of person, I don't think you can force it. But I would definitely suggest easy and fast patterns so you don't damage your hands!

  8. Oh, I'm so f**king mad at Blogger for once again chomping up a long response.
    I haven't got the heart to retrieve what I tried to say except that I'm a project knitter who doesn't judge you. I can knit a sweater in two or three weeks, depending on the pattern, and if pushed, but generally have enough projects on the go to suit mood and situation so rarely keep track of how long it takes.
    Curious: when you say that "the joy in craft is in doing it you're summarizing a process knitter's position. . .

  9. *Exactly* what led me to knitting machines when I was learning to hand knit...boring parts (backs, sleeves) knitted on the machine in 45 minutes; fun parts (bands, collars, cuffs) knitted by hand. A good blend of process and project.

  10. I think your problem with the Lettuce ladies was increments. It's not "how long" or "how many hours" but "how many episodes of Law & Order/Fringe/MST3K."

    Myself, I have more than once knitted an adult-size sweater in four days. It helps if you don't have internet access.

  11. Very interesting the way you put this matter :)


  12. How did you know about my solitaire habit?!? I used to go to bed with the images of the cards on the computer screen embedded into my brain.... That's why I had to quit playing it. Perhaps that's also why I quit knitting: I lean towards product, but I wasn't yet good enough at the process.

  13. I am your complete opposite; a reformed "product" knitter who used to knit a single project night and day until it was done. Now, I am definitely a "process" knitter. The fun for me is in working out the stitch, choosing the project, and the actual completion can take waaaaaaay too long. I had a terrible case of carpal tunnel that pretty much ended any marathon knitting sessions.

    What I need is a good set of classes, or a weekly lesson, to get back on track and to force progress.

    Can't wait to see your sweater!


  14. When I want to make things, I sew. When I want something to do while I sit in a boring train/lecture/meeting, I knit. I love to knit. But when you are making EVERY SINGLE STITCH of something, it's hard being impatient. Imagine weaving the cloth of things you sew. I also, though I've been knitting for a long time and sewing for longer, have more knitting fails than I'd like to given the investment of time. I think it's because I can't predict the drape accurately enough - I can predict decently well, but when you are used to fitting within an inch or half-inch, you are looking for serious accuracy. I find myself fitting things afterward using sewing techniques (eg taking in the side seams). You can actually just take your sewing machine to the sweater. I'm just sayin' ...


  15. Everyone: I LOVE these comments. You're all so thoughtful...

    bird: I've found some info on it since I read your comment. Thanks!

    Jane: It does seem less final! I think it's the lack of cutting.

    Susan: It is definitely slow going. It's one plus (aside from how pretty the results can be) is that it really is portable. So you can fill in time gaps that way.

    Audi: I should consider those - but the thought of knitting socks is just too much :-)

    Raven: I think your product output is fantastic. You've got a system that works really well.

    Miss C: I knew I could count on you!

    lazysubculturalgirl (LSG): I have to be careful about my hands! Upping the arm work in yoga.

    F: I'm glad to hear that you have it both ways. I suppose, when you become very skilled, you don't feel the pressure to "actually finish something" quite in the same way.

    Gail: Another woman I know has used a knitting machine with great success. They intrigue me!

    Alexandra: Hilarious! I'll try that next time.

    Seeker: I need to keep it interesting :-)

    R: Oh, I have a crystal ball! I can't play solitaire anymore. I have a ban on it because it throws my brain into crazyland.

    Christine: I'm sorry to hear about your CTS. I hope you are feeling better now that you've changed your pace. I agree that structure makes a huge difference in getting stuff done.

    fruitbat (love that name): I've wondered if that's feasible or advisable. I don't know how the fit on this is going to turn out. The plus is that, if it's too small I can give it to one of my smaller people. If it's too big I can give it to the more voluptuous ones.

  16. I'm a product knitter as well, but not so obsessively so. I do enjoy knitting for the sake of it, but I need to see progress or I get discouraged and lose interest in the project at hand.

    However, a friend of mine coined the term 'pre-process knitter' and I think I'm a fair bit of that as well. (Someone who obsessed over planning projects.) many pre-processors don't get many projects done (too busy planning/stashing) but I wouldn't say that's true of me... I just really love obsessing over patterns and making plans :)