I had never knitted a wearable garment.
It may seem strange that while I have made several lifetimes worth of clothes with needle, thread and cloth, I had tried, but never succeeded in knitting myself a garment I could wear. For decades I longed to create something that I could pull on over my head and wear with pride. Yet making a jumper eluded me – failed attempts sit in carrier bags in a long forgotten cupboard somewhere, feeding my guilt and underlining my incompetence.
I put knitting a wearable garment on my bucket list (ie things to do before I die). And then, after a trip to the Knitting and Stitching exhibition in March, I bought a kit. Not a full kit (no needles) but a pattern, and the correct yarn in a useful (sturdy) paper carrier bag. With a cute picture of one of the Alpacas which had allegedly contributed some hairs to the batch. At the exhibition I saw made up jerseys, examined them (I lacked the confidence to ask if I might try one on), talked to the owner and the designer, and asked them if they felt, as a complete beginner, I might achieve a completed garment. They thought about it, and told me I could. Cheerily they suggested I might visit their farm, join a class and get started with supervision. And while feeding the llamas did have some appeal, I guessed that the problems would come not at the casting on stage, but more at the yoke and finishing area. (And I was proved right-see below). The reason I alighted on alpaca rather than sheep’s’ wool, was that it seemed to have a nicer feel. I now know a bit more about yarn, and I can see that alpaca has its own limitations. But it is warm, light, soft and the natural colours are very pretty (similar colours to human hair – there is something for everybody in the range).
So although it is scary to be a total beginner I bought the kit, and I struggled a bit to start with, as I have elaborated already. The terminology, the equipment, and even how to knit in the round foxed me at first. I needed to call a friend. But eventually I managed to get to the yoke. Natalie had suggested a second dinner at this stage, but as things had gone quite well to date I decided push on, unguided. I got into an enormous pickle as a result and almost gave up. In fact I started a second knitting project at this point as I was so exasperated.
Then the designer reached out to me, Kari-Helene Rane, through Instagram and email, and she helped me work out how to proceed. Photo from The Yarn Loop.
She may have had an ulterior motive in that she wants to see people making her jersey successfully, but I believe she helped me because she wanted to help a beginner gain confidence. How else can I explain her generosity in virtually holding my hand over a period of weeks, checking in and making sure I was OK with the knitting. And I was getting all this help plus the time and encouragement of about 60 experienced knitters from all over the world.
I am in tears as I write this.
For me this jumper has been pretty challenging. I know the stitches are a bit uneven, and I know I could do a much better job if I ever make it again. Something that seems quite straightforward even the second time around (ever made a toile?) can seem completely baffling when you are inexperienced. Following instructions is really hard if you have no idea how a jumper is shaped. Now it is done it is fairly obvious how fullness is suppressed in a knitted garment. But if you just read instructions and follow without understanding it is easy to make a mess of it. For example decrease at marker, meant decrease at each marker, rather than at all markers – of course we need to reduce fullness evenly across the jumper not just in one place, but I didn’t get that.
I had to rip out the yoke and re-knit it. Going back and re-doing work is pretty frustrating and a little bit upsetting. But I do it all the time when I sew and I approach it with equanimity. The equanimity comes from experience, that you know it can be fixed. Without that experience of ultimate success every correction reinforced my fear that the knitting would never be successfully completed. The feeling of potential failure and incompetence was very uncomfortable. It meant that for a couple of weeks I could not bring myself to destroy my work, even if it meant eradicating mistakes and getting back on track. Destruction was necessary in order to create. But I had to tell myself that I could do it, and I would eventually succeed. For me having others say this, who had been through it before, was the thing that made the difference.
The lesson for me is that starting something new is quite frightening. That others are not just willing to help but actually want to. That the helping hand makes all the difference but if we are treated with indifference or distain our incompetence is so painful that we would rather give up than preserve. My efforts have been rewarded, and I have grown and learnt through this experience. Not just about knitting a jumper, but how incredibly important experience is and how enriching it is when it is shared.
I also chose this pattern as it had minimum making up requirements – two tiny seams under the arms that don’t even show. I just sewed them up the best I could but I have lots of learn about finishing as well as knitting. I have still to learn how to do this process, so will be seeking help again. But for now I have tackled my fears and overcome my failures, and I feel amazingly happy as well as moved to tears.
I want to say thank you to all of you – Nat, Stephanie and Kari-Helene especially – but also all the wonderful commentators who reached out with advice and encouragement.
You have encouraged me to help other beginners, and people who have tried and failed, and to reach out to those who give up in the face of difficulty. I now understand that sometimes we just don’t have sufficient experience to understand. And to recognise how fragile our egos are when we are demonstrably incompetent.
And now the jumper is finally finished I am delighted, as you can see. Of course I can spot plenty of faults and failings, but right now I feel like this!