knitting: the academic approach

One of the reasons I really like this group of knitting guys is that you all approach knitting as an intellectual endeavor. Which is how I like to approach it - like a big giant math problem. Anyway my delima is and has been for some time "what do I learn next?". I've been concentrating on the patterns and stitches that I like the looks of so far. I'm a minimalist so for me simple and plain is elegant and timeless. But I'm feeling a twinge of guilt for not learning, for instance, cables. I don't really like the way cable knit looks but I feel I should know how to do it. Lace is also problematic, I admire it and am in awe of it but really don't appreciate it's aesthetic (sorry lace guys) but damn it, I want to know how to do it.

So should I force myself to learn stuff that I don't like the looks of but would appreciate the math of or would that just be a waste of time? Or maybe I just think too much.


steve kadel's picture

i have not been a fan of the lace look, but the math was fascinating to me. and it takes a while to understand and see it

we put birds on things

I would say, find a way to make it interesting to you! For instance, I thought bobbles were the scourge of the fiber world, until I actually made a few in a pattern. Granted, I don't deck the halls with boughs of bobbles, but I have the understanding to incorporate them in a different way, if I want to. I feel the same way about cables -- but I've seen lots of patterns on Ravelry that gussy up cables, too! There's one that is a cabled scarf, but the cable is a strand of DNA! Kind of cool, and doesn't get much more academic than that!

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." Dr. Seuss

TomH's picture

You probably think too much. If you want to learn something, do it. If not, why stress about it? Life is too short. Enjoy it.

ronhuber's picture

I can undeerstand where you are coming from. It is great to learn new things and increase your knowledge of the craft. However, on the other hand, valuable time is wasted on something in which you are not interested and it is taken away from the things you like to do. Have you ever thought of a small project. For example, I knitted a lace edge and stitched it to a linen handkerchief. I use it as a doily and every time I walk by it I am amazed at its beauty, how delicate it is, and the fact that I made it. I am going to make a real doily for my next project. Maybe you could make a pair of mittens with a cable running up the hand and you might be amazed at how thrilled you are when you see them. I would give it the death bed test. On your death bed would you say, "Oh, I wish I would have knitted a cable!"?
Or, would you say, "Thank goodness I didn't waste my time on a lace scarf but made these socks to keep my feet warm."?

Asbjörn's picture

I would say find minimalist examples of the things you want/don't want to try. I'm sure there are patterns that contain cables for example that aren't absolutely covered in the things, like a coverlet with one thin cable going up each side. As far as lace, I suppose a geometric type pattern could be interesting and less erm... flamboyant (?). If you can't find anything to suit your taste I don't see any reason to try it unless you find something suitable to make as a gift. With what you already have accomplished in knitting, I can safely say yes indeed you can do lace and you already know how to knit and purl so yes, you can do cables.
This subject hit home with me because for some reason I was terrified of working with double pointed needles and I didn't know if I could cable. I just bit the bullet and started a project that incorporates both and I've found that my apprehension was unwarranted. I really didn't learn anything "new", it was just a different way of going about the things I was already doing. _____________________________


albert's picture

Take a look at the Gansey books by Gladys Thompson and Beth Brown-Reinsel. They are appealing to the minimalist temperment in that most of the designs are made with knit and purl stitches. If you are not interested in the traditional Gansy construction, you may still find the textured designs appealing. I am currently reproducing (with some modifications) a Gansey in a photo in the Thompson book. I am recreating the design pattern while using a non-Gansey steeked drop shouldered architecture. The design is very mininalist but very appealing and I am enjoying the kinitting immensely. The yarn is a sportweight fisherman's yarn from Bartlettyarns in their Bark color. The needles are size 3. Most fun I've had in a while.

Go for Baroque!! Hey - I don't worry about the "wasted time factor" because, it's every man for himself - we're teaching ourselves tons when we pick up the needles and wind up with a hat suitable for housing a family of 5....there are minimalist cable patterns, and tricks you can learn which are very nice, tasteful additions to other projects which are pretty streamlined but possibly needing a little something else.... I advocate learning a simple cable and a simple lace just to DO it - then, if the neurons refuse to fire and excite, move on to something else. One of the simplest combos ( see, you can do them BOTH in one go, how efficient is that??) is a feather and fan cable from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of knitting. The feather and fan is a very fun, very simple lace, and, the cable involved is pretty basic, as well. Makes a nice scarf and is fast and easy to knit. No time like the present to get a jump on gifts!! Good luck. Let us know what you decide to do~

Marknits's picture

You've told us how you like to knit, but my question is: WHAT do you like to knit? is it socks, scarves, sweaters, mittans, afghans, tablecloths, golfclub covers or fitted covers for your 3 legged family gredunza? I would say make something you like to make but use a little bit of a new technique to see how you feel about it. Put cabled clocks on those socks, make a lace scarf for one of the ladies in your life, or use mosaic knitting on a cover for your 9iron, go crazy Scott! Heck, knit up a unique cover for each of the salt & pepper shakers in your vast collection (if that's what you collect) and use a different technique for each one. I say try it all and then then decide what you like... (wait are we still talking about knitting or have I moved on to... life in general?)
Then when you decide to design something (or fiddle with someone else's pattern), say a sweater for your best friend... and you realize that he or she would just love that Fair Isle pattern on the sleeve if it only had bobbles, and this mosaic pattern for the body if it only had a lace yoke connecting them and cable ribbing at the neck and corrugated ribbing at the hem... Well you'll say, "Yessiree! I can do that!" and yarn will fly over your needles and you will do what no knitter has done before- Your unique sweater for your unique friend!

Britisher's picture

While in your camp over lace (sorry, I'm into knitting sweaters for my wardrobe and lace just does't feature) cables are another matter.

The satisfaction of switching the order of stitches and seeing a real cable appear is something else. While I'm sure that for those so disposed lace can bring near orgasmic joy, cables take knit and purl to a new dimension.

My first cable project was a sweater with a simple six stitch cable and two columns of seed stitch broken by single columns of slipped purls. This design reproduced down the front and each sleeve. Magic.

Advice to take a look at gansey knitting is a really good idea if you like the less-is-more approach. No reason why you need to do something covered in bobbles and twists.

Meanwhile, florid Shetland designs don't work for me, but I'm giving two-colour knitting a go with a yoked sweater from Drops Design.

JDM511's picture


I have two answers for you. My first thought was why do a project you don't like to look at. A cabled sweater takes quite a bit of time to complete, I always consider them a big project and they are my favorite kind of sweater. Although I often will go from a cable sweater to a Nordic, Fair Isle or other color work pattern just for a change of pace.

My other thought is that if it is something you are compelled to attempt, just make a swatch and spend a few hours on some cables, lace or other pattern. When you are done, you can say you know how to do that type of knitting and only do more if you decide you want to.

My belief is that knitting should be enjoyable and if you don't enjoy a project or the challenge then you should be working on something else.

Whatever you decide will be the correct choice.


scottly's picture

Wow, thanks for all the responses. What I'm really getting from your mixed responses is to follow the middle path. I do know that when ever I learn to do something new, weather I like the way it looks or not, it is mind expanding and gives me a new insight into knitting. So I will probably learn how to do cables but execute them sparingly, play with some lace elements but not create a full size table throw or bed spread. And I will try not to feel overwhelmed when I think about all the stuff I don't know how to do.

Thank you so much this has really helped me.