Gratitude of Differences More than one right way

I met Gerry during the period in my life when I wasn’t doing much knitting. Okay, I wasn’t doing ANY knitting.

As a matter of fact, for about 10 years I didn’t knit. And, having put aside something I loved so much, I appreciated it in a much deeper way after my hiatus. The prodigal knitter.

I came crashing out of the gate with knitting – from the moment I picked up the needles I knew that – as much as anything could be – yarn and needles were going to be a huge part of my destiny. Even to write that sounds so insane, but knitters know what I mean.

Knitting became the main thing in my life – every waking moment was spent knitting, sketching or swatching. When I see new knitters and designers who are going through their ‘obsession period’ of knitting, I entirely understand. I’m still in it myself, in many ways, but I prefer to think of it as my passion rather than obsession.

But I knit weird. Back in 1983 a good friend, Ellyn, taught me how to make a knit stitch – and I moved to Texas the next day.

Ellyn (in one of the first sweaters I ever knit) & daughter Abby

I figured out the purl stitch on my own, but apparently I figured it out “wrong.”

I was trying to imitate – in reverse – what was happening when I worked my knit stitch, and thus stumbled onto the Eastern Purl (aka “Lazy” Purl) and adopted it as my own.

Without realizing it I was a Combination Knitter* – which was a lot harder to be in the early 80’s than it is today. I hear folks bemoan the state of the world – and it’s not pretty – but we’re at an astounding point in history where there is mobility between classes & cultures that we haven’t witnessed before.

At no other time in history has it been possible for any woman, from any class, to wear any length skirt and still be accepted – even fashionable.

This is quite a victory, in my eyes, of individuality over a monolithic authority, and gives me hope for every aspect of society. Generally younger women and servants wore skirts that were shorter than higher class women favored, and at certain times there were strict societal and even legal restrictions on skirt lengths.

In the first half of the 20th century alone we’ve run the gamut from micro mini to floor length, but each in it’s own sanctioned fashion parameters.

We live in a time when a mini skirt and a long skirt can walk down the street together and both be considered fashionable. If you’re thankful for nothing else, be thankful for that!

In the same way, different methods of knitting are more generally accepted now than they were several years ago. I can’t speak for 100 or 300 years ago, but from research I’ve done it seems that sometime in the 1920’s there became a set “correct” way to knit, accepted in the Western world – and that way was what can be defined as “Western Knitting”

It’s a short hop from a standard knitting method to calling every other method “wrong,” and I – like many other closet Combination Knitters – was caught up in that sense of shame that my knitting didn’t quite measure up. The fabric was lovely and even, I was a very fast knitter, but folks felt compelled to stop when I was knitting in public to tell me how wrong my knitting style was.

Whenever I’d knit out in the open, the exchange would go something like this:

– I just had to tell you I’ve never seen anyone knit so fast!
– Thank you.
– And your stitches are so even…
– Thank you
– … but I couldn’t help but notice that you’re knitting wrong.
– [internally] SHUT UP!

And that began to weigh heavily on my soul. And sometimes I couldn’t keep the anger internal. It was bad news for me, and for the poor person who was trying to correct me.

I was too stubborn to stop knitting in a way that felt comfortable, but I became too agitated to enjoy my knitting when folks told me it was wrong.

Things came to a head after a trip to Europe when a woman in Germany took my knitting out of my hands to show me the ‘right way’ to knit. Then – in direct response to that incident, I think – I found myself being rude to a woman who was doing nothing worse than staring at my knitting in an airport in Brussels.

This has to stop, I thought on the plane back to the states. It’s just tearing me up. And it isn’t doing much for those around me…

So I put my knitting aside and went to grad school to study theatrical design. With the exception of the odd theatrical knit piece, I didn’t knit for quite a while – only picking up my needles recreationally when I became pregnant for my son 10 years later.

Although giving up knitting was hard, think how much more difficult it must be to consider giving up one’s concept of the Eternal, sexual preference or cultural identity. Yet these are all things that societies have asked of folks, sometimes with very dire consequences for those who don’t conform.

I don’t mean to compare a voluntary, recreational activity like knitting to a more serious subject; but I believe we can use our passions [knitting] to bridge understanding to people and events that may not be within our own life experience. This is one way that imagination informs empathy.

We have certain taboos in society – it’s good to see folks thinking these through instead of just accepting what has been handed down to them. This is how a society evolves. At one time, it was so odd to see a tall woman/short man couple that they really stood out.

It’s still a hard visual for some folks to get past – my own mother was more troubled by my height difference with Gerry than she was with our religious differences – but there are a lot more ‘Betty & Barney’ couples out there. It’s just one example, and a silly one, but sometimes there’s wisdom in silliness [Barney Rubble goofy laugh.]

I was fortunate that my return to knitting coincided with the printing of an article by Priscilla Gibson Roberts in Interweave Knits magazine outlining the various
methods of knitting.

And there was my knitting style – named and legitimate. Hallelujah.

It’s hard to express the calmness and sense of direction that legitimacy imparts. Being a maverick can be exciting – but it’s wearing. Knowing you have a connection with others who do something you love so dearly in the same way is an indescribable joy.

Along with designing and writing, I teach Combination Knitting now – not to convert anyone to my way of knitting, but rather to help my students understand the architecture and grammar of knitting.

Much in the way that by taking French classes I began to understand participles and tenses in English better (and never forgot any of my native language in the process), learning a new way to form a knit or purl stitch can help us understand how to better diagnose and improve our own knitted fabric.

I was so lucky to read that article, so fortunate to find my ‘place’ as a Combination Knitter. I’ve discovered hundreds of other Combination Knitters who have come out of the yarn ‘closet’, now bravely knitting in public and explaining with patience and passion how different types of knitting are just different ways of looking at loops.

But my French still leaves a lot to be desired. Sacre Bleu!

*Reference Books:
Priscilla Gibson Robert’s Knitting In The Old Way
Anna Zilboorg’s Knitting for Anarchists
Mary Walker Phillips Creative Kniting
my own Confessions of a Knitting Heretic.
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