I’ve started work on a new knitting project. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done – more so even than the turning of a sock heel, which is spoken of in whispers and legends, but which really isn’t that tough. I’m knitting a shawl, gossamer-like, lacy, made of a single skein of silk/wool blend, hand dyed in a rainbow of colours. The skein contains 1250 yards of yarn – that’s more than a kilometer of thin, soft, colourful yarn. I spent more on this single skein than I have on any other single knitting-related purchase to date. (In my own defense, I bought the yarn before the dog got sick and the clutch on the car packed it in. Clearly I tempted the Gods of Financial Ruin.) I believe to the core of my psyche that the knitting and the wearing of this shawl will make me a better person. When I wear it, I will be the kind of person who has Matching Accessories. My shoes will transform magically from three pairs of Clarks, Blundstone boots, brown Crocs and a pair of Birkenstocks to… well, whatever people who care about shoes wear. I will be a better person in this shawl: kinder, more considerate, less critical of people who misuse the possessive apostrophe.
So I started, as one does, by knitting a swatch to see if I got the guage right. This is important: after the guage swatch, I’ll cast on 112 stitches and knit 110 rows to make one section of this shawl. We ain’t talking about a scarf here, this is the real deal. This is KNITTING. While knitting said swatch, I did several things: I fantasized about the New and Elegant Artsy who will drape herself in this piece of wearable art; I admired the fabulousness that is the wool (some more); and I decided to tackle the dreaded yarnover.
A yarnover, referred to in a pattern as “yo”, is the stitch that makes the little lacy holes in knitting. Apparently (according to my mother, who is not necessarily trustworthy in such matters, because she's been knitting since Jesus was a cowboy and I have not) it’s dead easy. I got out my huge knitting bible and turned to the page (with diagrams) called “yarnovers.” Very carefully, I brought the yarn to the front of my work, inserted the needle, wrapped the yarn around the other needle, and knitted a stitch. Aha! I have defeated the dreaded “yo”! I am worthy of the Elegant Shawl. The transformation has begun, soon I will wear lipstick and go shopping for no good reason!
When I got to the end of the row I realized I now had one extra stitch. Damn. I went back and took that extra stitch out. I re-examined the knitting book. Surely I had done the yarnover correctly – where was the extra stitch coming from? I tried it another way, no joy. I knitted on and attempted another yo in the next row. Still the extra stitch. I thought about calling my grandmother (whose knitting mantra is “don’t think about it too much, just follow the instructions” – clearly she doesn’t know me at all) but it was past her bedtime. It was past mine too, but I cannot sleep with a problem like this standing between me and Elegance.
Fortunately, I have more than one book about knitting. (I know. Control your shock, please.) Off I went to a secondary source. I looked up “yarnover” in the index and turned to the correct page. I had to get my poor sick old dog up to get at the book (bottom shelf of the bookcases in my room) but it was worth it, I thought. And right there, in a neat little box, was the commentary on yarnovers. “The yarnover,” it said blithely, unaware of how long I’d been trying to make a lovely little lacy stitch on my guage swatch, “is a quick and easy way TO ADD A STITCH TO YOUR KNITTING while creating a lace effect.”
So this has, of course, led me to commentary on teaching. This is what I have learned through my struggle with the yo that stands between me and Girly-ness:
1. Consult secondary sources whenever possible.
2. Sometimes a mistake isn’t a mistake.
3. An extra stitich isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
4. Sometimes you have to learn by doing, and no demonstrations by female relatives on imaginary needles (or lectures about imaginary classrooms) can replace the actual experience.
5. Don’t think about it too much.
6. The only zen at the top of the mountain is the zen you brought with you.
7. I will probably never be Elegant.
8. That’s okay.
And for the record, two and a half years have passed since I wrote this piece, and not only do I wear that shawl regularly, but I am the master of the freaking yarnover. I will not be defeated by knitting, oh no I will not.