Thursday, March 8, 2012

It Will All Come Around in the End

My three year on-and-off relationship with knitting needles is riddled with incomplete projects and an overall lack of commitment. Don't get me wrong: I love to knit. Knitting is a great way to relieve stress and there really is nothing like the feeling you get when you complete a project and are just so proud of it. Unfortunately, I have limited experience with that euphoric feeling, since I rarely complete the projects I begin. The reasons for this are many, from irreparable mistakes to pure frustration to babies who seem to ambush me as soon as I pick up my needles and yarn.

But I'm glad to say that I really think that trend is over, thanks to an amazing discovery that I should have made much sooner. I received Elizabeth Zimmerman's "Knitting Workshop" for Christmas over two years ago from my husband's wonderful parents. (Any of you who have already read my post about spinning here, will notice a recurring theme. This is a predictable pattern in my life, but fortunately it always has a nice outcome.) I set out immediately to watch the DVD in its entirety and follow Zimmerman's advice word for word. Although that is certainly a noble task, it didn't work for me. I couldn't figure out how to knit in the continental style and was very discouraged. I also didn't have real wool, which Zimmerman praises highly (and for good reason of course). But these were just the superficial reasons. The real reason is quite simple: I was scared of circular needles.

For those who are not familiar with circular needles, they are pretty much two mini knitting needles  connected by a thin cord. Here is a picture:
The Horror!
They look pretty scary, eh? I certainly thought so. For two years, my Elizabeth Zimmerman book and DVD remained virtually untouched, except for leafing through the book occasionally and sighing in defeat. All that changed last month, when I had a lovely discussion with a friend here in Phoenix about all things knitting and spinning. I had already been feeling a strong desire to start a new knitting project with my newly-spun wool, and our talk made me miss knitting even more than I had before. She is also an Elizabeth Zimmerman fan and reassured me that circular knitting was not as daunting as I thought. I came home with a new sense of purpose, and picked up a pair of circular needles at the store the next day.

And so began my new obsession. My first attempt at Zimmerman's beginner project on circular needles, which is a simple hat with color work, was a failure. I made the fatal mistake of twisting my yarn on the circular needle.  I wasn't too upset about it, since I realized that I didn't have enough of my handspun blue yarn to make the whole hat anyways! I also decided that, for my second attempt, rather than begin my new endeavor with my first ever skein of handspun yarn (which is a bit uneven as I tried to show in the pictures), I would delay being a wool purist and use one of the dozen skeins of regular old acrylic yarn lying around our apartment, with many apologies to the late Mrs. Zimmerman. Reading this quote in her obituary in the 1999 New York Times reassured me that she wouldn't mind, or at least won't criticize me if we ever meet in the afterlife:

"She was a woman who held to strong principles about her work, like never using any thread but wool. But she never criticized another knitter's use of other materials, including the dreaded polyester."

So I began my new project last Wednesday evening, and a week later (or about 3 hours of knitting) here's what I have:

I post these pictures not to brag, since this is a beginner project after all and is only partially complete. I just thought that if there are any hesitant knitters out there, like I was as of last week, it might provide a testimony of sorts to the wonders of circular needles. They are amazing. Somehow I'm able to knit at twice the speed that I do on traditional needles, and perhaps the most wonderful thing of all is that I'm not dreading the horrible prospect of sewing up seams when this is all said and done, which I admit I thoroughly despise.

And beyond these practical benefits, there's something about knitting in general (and most handicrafts) that is so true to life. As Zimmerman says in her book, Knitter's Almanac: ''The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep.'' And even for those of us who do not have the luxury of knitting with real wool (yet), knitting is just one more opportunity to practice "casting" aside your  worries, speculations and over-analysis, only to find that it all comes around in the end (please excuse the be honest, they were intended but perhaps not very good).

I would love to hear about any other knitting adventures, whether on circular needles or otherwise. And for all the knitters out there, who like me, must often learn the hard way, don't lose hope! Instead, as Zimmerman advises:

 "Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises."

Good Knitting!

Elizabeth Zimmerman, center, knitting on circular needles.


  1. Oh, Mrs. Forgotten Altars, you are a wonder! I am super inspired and impressed by your hand-spun yarn and beginner's knitting project. Thus far, my only handicrafts, besides the kitchen ones, are sewing with a machine, crochet, and cross-stitching. I only just last week resolved to take up knitting and am thrilled with the softness of wool and alpaca yarn. And, now, because of your helpful blog post, I will try knitting with circular needles.

    Bless you, dear lady.

  2. Hi Katie Rose,

    Oh, how exciting! Yes, isn't it wonderful working with real wool and alpaca? I hope you like the circular needles. Once you get the hang of it, they really are so simple!

    I finished the hat last week and am now trying to decide if I want to start another knitting project or do something more summery (it's already climbing into the high 80s here!). Perhaps I will try cross-stitching, since I've always wanted to. I'd love any suggestions about a good place to start or other tips. I find that with so many of these projects, companionship is such a blessing!

    Anyway, good luck with your knitting! I hope the circular needles work for you. God bless you and your handiwork. :)