On Giants' Shoulders

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Late Knitter

When I was a little girl my mother attempted to teach me to knit. After all she'd learned to knit as a little girl, her mother had learned to knit as a little girl, her grandmother had had to do her "stint" each day before she was even 6 years old. However, the lessons didn't go all that well. I sort of learned the knit stitch, and I did learn to cast on, but purl totally eluded me. I started a scarf on white plastic needles. My little sister got hold of it and unraveled it. That was the end of the knitting.

Fast forward to college (I hadn't touched knitting needles in the interim). It felt like all the girls on my dorm floor were knitting during noisy hours. Liz and Debby Ryan were knitting Aran sweaters, my roommate Linda was knitting something with cables for her fiance. I decided to give knitting another try. After everyone got thoroughly sick of rescuing me from dropped stitches and an inability to purl, I gave it up as a lost cause.

Several years later after becoming a reasonably accomplished crocheter (thanks to the efforts of my friend Maryann). I decided to attempt knitting again. This time I was smart. I found a garter stitch pattern that totally avoided purl. After all I knew how to do the knit stitch, I knew how to cast on. With the help of the pattern I figured out how to cast off, and how to do decreases. I made a knitted vest out of blue acrylic yarn and wore it proudly. It was a pattern my daughter later could have made at 9 (probably without any help from me), but I had finally successfully knit SOMETHING. It gave me enough confidence to attempt purl once more. Within a few years I was tentatively knitting lace panels for a bunting (ok it wasn't fine lace work, but even in worsted weight it was lace) and a sweater with cables for my husband. I knit booties with bobbles and eyelets for the lacing. About this point I read Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Without Tears and got a whole different perspective on the craft. From that point on there was no turning back.

My daughter was not a late knitter. She claims she doesn't remember a time when she couldn't knit. Since I taught her the basics at around 6, she's probably right. She actually made her first mittens at 8, her first sweater at 9, and knit an Aran sweater that still amazes me at 16.

Looking back on it I think there are a number of reasons why I didn't take to knitting all that quickly. First of all, coordination isn't my strong suit. Secondly, although my mother and my grandmothers could knit, they rarely did so (although in her retirement years my mother did take to knitting afghans). My mother never knit a sweater, I never saw my grandmothers knit at all. My aunts didn't seem to knit. Knitting was not a frequent activity anywhere around me. When I didn't appear to be a natural knitter these not very passionate knitters sort of gave up on me, just like my college friends. It took a few books and some solitude to turn me into a knitter. It also took being in an environment where no one was judging my efforts.

My daughter had a knitting mother who was also well aware that knitting doesn't necessarily come easily. Her first attempts at knitting didn't go all that smoothly, and I decided she wasn't quite ready. However, a couple of years later we tried again, and lo and behold she was ready and things flowed pretty easily. I've taught quite a number of kids to knit since then. Some of them took to it like ducks to water, others were like me and it didn't come easily. However, ultimately they all turned into knitters.

I think it's like that with a lot of things. Often in our culture the kids who "get" a particular skill easily whether it's playing soccer, batting a ball, playing an instrument, trimming a sheep, riding a horse get all kinds of compliments. Their proud parents get compliments too. No one much compliments the little kid who bats away at the ball missing far more often than he hits, even if he's being persistent at trying. I well remember watching the kid in my daughter's riding lesson who wasn't a natural equestrian. The teacher never had a kind word to say to her. It's easier to be the parent of the kid who learns to read early or be the soccer star at 5 than it is to be the parent of the kid who does things just a bit later than the other kids. I know this because, well I had a kid who did some things late. He didn't ride a bike independently until his 3 years younger sister could ride hers. He didn't tie his shoes until after she tied them for him. Some things came early for him (he said a distinct yes at 13 months), but a lot of things didn't. His sister was one of those kids that things came easily to. She read chapter books at 5, she was a natural at horseback riding, sheep showing, and just about every craft known to man. She didn't have perfect articulation at 13 months, but she talked in sentences at about the same age as her brother.

So were we somehow better parents, more successful with our daughter. Can we take some kind of credit for her natural "seat" on a horse? Her brother had no natural
"seat" at all. He excelled at archery and other shooting sports, but at most other sports he's always struggled. However, I can't take credit for the fact that his sister was climbing at an age where her brother was content to be building with blocks. They were too different people and had very different gifts and personalities.

Sometimes as we parent our kids we forget that there are in fact late bloomers. My son took up bike riding again last summer and rode for further distances than he'd ever ridden before. I suspect that bike riding for him may be rather like knitting for me, something he's coming to later in life. Sometimes we forget in our congratulating ourselves on how well we've done when our kid is a star, that the kid who's willing to hang in there and keep trying may be learning a lesson that the star rarely manages to learn as well.

Today my friends have a hard time believing I ever struggled at knitting. They watch me knit socks without a pattern in front of me, watch me make up my own sweater patterns, and knit things using different yarns than the pattern calls for (including my own homespun) and figure that I'm just a more talented knitter than them. What I know is that it took persistence and an awful lot of practice to get where I am and that there are still things I haven't been willing to try. My daughter is much more fearless, but she grew up convinced that if she could read the pattern she could make the article. I grew up having heard that knitting on double pointed needles was difficult. Moreover, when it didn't come easily no one really encouraged me to try again.

I'm sure my granddaughter will eventually knit. Whether it comes quickly or slowly won't matter to me because I know that with patience and encouragement even the most inept uncoordinated person really can learn to knit. After all I was that inept uncoordinated person and now I'm an obsessive knitter. Fortunately, it's easier to learn knitting from books than ice skating. Now there's something where persistence just wasn't enough...

2 Comments:

At 6:24 PM, Blogger Abby said...

Love this. A good reminder! Our talents (and lack thereof, as well) "are not our own", really.. parents can't take credit for them, and in a lot of ways, even the individual can't take credit for natural ability. So in that way, your knitting ability, which you fought hard for, is actually more "your own" than mine that just sort of came! Doesn't C.S. Lewis talk about this somewhere, too, with regards to virtue - that the cranky, temperamental person who never has a nice word to say, may in fact, by dint of struggling so hard against the unworthy vessel given to him, actually be *more* virtuous deep down than the cheerful, naturally generous person, who hasn't had to struggle but hasn't made anything more of themselves than what was given by nature?

Anyway, a good subject to ponder, and remember.

 
At 8:14 AM, Blogger Wendy said...

Very true. In my experience, it's a lot easier to learn new skills later than it is to learn persistence later.

 

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