As I knit on through my commission, nothing has been so encouraging as one little chapter in one of the Yarn Harlot‘s books. In Things I learned from Knitting: …Whether I wanted to or not, the “15th Thing” is, “It Takes a Great Deal of Pressure to Make a Diamond.” In other words, those times that knitters drive themselves batty with deadlines and/or really hard projects? You might think them a pointless misuse of what ought to be a hobby, but, used sparingly, these intense knitting times can go a long way to make one a better knitter. In the chapter, she relates the story of speedily knitting a pair of perfectly enormous kilt hose for the soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend of her beloved sister. One could call this “misguided,” or, if you are an optimist, you could call it “an opportunity for skill growth.”
This commission has been just one of those opportunities. Essentially, it’s about a hundred miles of K1, P1 rib on double points. Now, I already dislike K1, P1 rib. [The making of it, not the look of it. I can’t blame the client for this; I designed the piece this way. Despite disliking K1, P1 rib, I can’t help but appreciate the usefulness of the finished fabric it makes.] Continental knitting (where you hold the yarn with your left hand) supposedly makes constant switching between knit and purl to go faster, but I can’t make my left hand work that way to save my life, at least not with the switching. I would use pit knitting to speed things up, that cool method where you put your right needle in your armpit so all your right hand has to do is throw the yarn, but you can’t do that on double points.
Nothing comforted me more, during this endless ribbed suffering, than to think that, despite the repetitiveness, despite the fact that my technique meant everything took twice as long as it should, that maybe this was making me a better knitter. And with this possibility in mind, I’ve started to notice it come true.
I’ve gotten really, really fast at K1, P1 rib on double points. I’ve discovered that sometimes I hold the yarn differently over my right index finger in a way that makes things go a little faster, and I’ve analyzed and harnessed this ability to move things as fast as I can until I torque the joint in that finger. I’ve found a different way to hold the needle in my right hand once I’m halfway across a double-pointed “row.” I have become freakishly accurate in my K1, P1 rhythm, so that now I can knit pretty K1, P1 rib on double points in the dark, in the car, or while reading. After some trial and error, I’ve discovered my favorite way to do decreases in K1, P1 rib, and my favorite way to change colors so as to prevent jogs in the round.
So despite my bad attitude about this particular technique, I’m can see enough hints of the long-term rewards of this project that, despite myself, I’m kinda having fun.
I’ve also developed a really freaky blue callus on my right ring finger.
Reflecting on this experience has put me in mind of Lent. Growth in knitting skill occurs the same way as most other kinds of personal advancement. [To provide a particularly mundane example, I’ve found that playing bass at church and playing the guitar in rock band are mutually reinforcing.] Spiritual growth falls into that category as well. As most of us have experienced, going through intensely hard times can grow your character, if they don’t kill you or drive you crazy. But that’s not the only way: you can engage in “projects” of a sort to advance yourself personally without going through some kind of calamity. Throughout history, Christians have called these spiritual disciplines. Of course, they’re not just about you become a better person – they’re about getting closer to God – but for Christians, these two things go hand in hand.
Lent is coming up – Ash Wednesday is February 17th. (That’s on a Wednesday this year.) It’s time to start thinking about engaging in some disciplines to advance our character, help us get over some of our habitual sins, and bring us closer to God. I’m really looking forward to picking some things together with my husband and our friends to engage in together. There’s nothing like practicing disciplines in community to stay accountable and retain a sense of purpose, even when it gets miserable. So if you haven’t already been thinking about it, this would be a good time.
If it seems enormously pretentious to analogize knitting to the deeper things in life, you’ll have to forgive me – I’ve been reading a lot of Yarn Harlot, and she’s doing that all the time. I happen to like knitting so much to think that it should be it’s own analogical genre, worth exploring from multiple perspectives. Besides, I’ve had a long week… didn’t I tell you I have a weird blue callus on my ring finger?!