Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Run, Spot. Run.

If I wrote runspotrun –it might take you a moment or two to fill in the missing spaces and punctuation, between the words, and read it. Still you’d get it, pretty quick. That’s because you know how to read (words!)

To be a good knitter, you need to know how to read knitting too!

We all learned the alphabet, and we learn to read silently and aloud, to read print and to read script, and to read numbers. We even learned to read $150.00 as One hundred, fifty dollars, even though the dollar sign comes first!

We adult (with the exception of early grade teachers) don’t think about this too often.

We don’t (well, we the dyslexic do, but MOST other don’t) confuse b and d or p and q. We don’t, like the toy store, write our R’s backwards (anymore!) But many of us once did.

There was time when we found it hard to tell a b from a d, or p from a q.

New knitters often can’t see a knit (or purl) or yarn over—or a mistake! They still confuse (as it were) the b’s and d’s, the p’s and q’s.
And some long time knitters might learn their P's and Q's--but never become fully ‘literate’ in knitting either.

Learning to read your knitting—and knitting patterns as well, is the key to both enjoyment and skill.

This was brought home to me last night, as I worked with Diane.

She was struggling with a lace pattern. I could reproduce it here with a few minutes effort—since I, with a glance, I could read it—and know it. (But chart are a PITA to program!--so I will use some symbols, and some lines from the pattern, but not full chart.)

Diane was lost in a sea of knits, purls, YO and decreases! None of it made sense to her—each stitch was a challenge, each row, a new challenge. She could see all the symbols, she could read the symbols, but she didn't see words-(pattern elements)She couldn't see the forest for all the trees. (She is not alone!)

So how do you read knitting?—Or begin to learn how?

Well the first step is to learn what a knit looks like and what a purl looks like.
(The basic alphabet of knitting) –garter, stocking knit, ribbing, seed slowly become clear to you.

Then, like basic words, you learn Slip stitches, and Yarn Over's, and other styles of increases and you learn Right leaning decreases, and left leaning decreases.

Moving along, you learn how to make double decreases (k3tog’s and the dreaded raised center double decrease) –and the (how on earth do I!?) knit purl knit into a single stitch (or the Knit, YO, Knit).

Slowly but surely, when you look at your knitting, it makes sense.

But that’s just half the work!

Learning to read charts (or instructions) is the next step! –a big part of reading charts is learning to break them up into pattern elements—the knitting equivelent of words if you will.

And here is where you need to be able to see runspotrun as “Run, spot. Run.” And not as “Runs Pot, run”!
–Or to see my on line alias –oftroy-- as of troy (as in Helen of troy) and not as Oft Roy—(tell me, do you have co workers? Or cow orkers?!) – Reading crammed together symbols (be they letters or knitting symbols) is a harder task they you might think at first!

Reading oft roy or cow orkers instead of the more common Of Troy or Co-workers is an easy mistake to make--and learning to read knitting charts can sometimes be tricky too! Don't think you can become literate in a second.

But like reading, a knitting chart can be seen as group of words (stitch patterns, or pattern elements) --and once you see the 'words' --patterns are much easier. There are tricks than can help.

First the count! (odd or even number of stitches?)
Even numbers tend to be rhythmic repeats (ribs say, K 2, P2, K2, P2--)

Odd numbers are ODD! They can be odd for several reasons and are a bit trickier to learn!

First—are they MIRRORED?
5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (C), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5? (or off set?)

Lots of patterns are mirrored. The Center stitch is a point of reflection.
An example might be.. K2tog, YO, k5, YO, SSK – (this is tricky example—the C stitch is the middle one of the K5—but its easier to see as a chart.

See how this pattern would chart?
\, 0, k,k,k,k,k, 0, /
The mirror symmetry is a bit easier to see with charts (which is one reason they have become popular.)

Knit patterns often are made up of several pattern elements.
Diane’s chart was: (this is a sample row, (not row 1)
S, 0, /, P, P, \, 0, k,k,k,k,k, 0, /, P, P, \, O, K ( 21 stitches! A LONG word to read and remember!)

Can you break those directions into smaller words? Can you see--Run, Spot. Run--instead of runspotrun?

There are several short words (S (slip) which is a selvage stitch), YO, K2tog, (a 3 stitch very simple lace (R1 of a zig zag lace we old time knitters know as faggoting)
P, P is a ditch (well, what I call a ditch!) Purls (in columns like ribbing or between Knit elements) tend to recede (to make a ditch!) that causes the Knit stitches to raise up—and look sort of embossed. I always think of them as ditch stitches.(But you can call them what ever works for you!)

To me, the first 3 elements easily become 1 (edge pattern) the same way A, B, C becomes abc—(no commas, but still read as A, B, C, not as word!)

Then there is a center pattern (with mirrored symmetry), and another edge pattern (which is the mirror image of the first one)

So I don’t see a bunch of symbols—I see 3 “words’-- the edge words are pretty simple (the faggotting is a 4 row pattern, with ever other row being Knit the knits, purl the purl (as they present themselves).
With the exception of the selvage stitch—which is always slipped at beginning of the row (so on the wrong side the first stitch is slipped, and the last stitch is knit)

The center pattern is a more complex one. It is made up of 11 stitches, AND 10 pattern rows (and 10 wrong side rows—which are all purls)—a total of 20 rows!
I have just shown 1 of the 10 pattern rows.

The first row of the diamond pattern is:
k, k, k, \, O,K, O, /, K, K, K

On each successive row, the decreases move away from the center (making a \/) until they reach the outside edge(the sample row that I used above!) –and then the pattern mirrors top to bottom and the decrease move back to center (and make a /\ shape.)

The symmetry is side to side, and top to bottom—and since I could see that with a glance (and grok it!) I ‘learned the pattern’ as quick as I could read it. To me, it was an easy pattern.

In an instant, I can read (and KNOW) a chart –many stitch patterns are as obvious to me as a clever palindrome.
You might see amanaplanacanalpanama as a mess of letters—but I see
A man, a plan, a canal-Panama!—I have learned how to break up the letters into words to add the punctuation that is missing, and to turn the letters into words that make sense.

I am very good at READING knitting! (Oh! the wisdom that comes with age!)

But you can become a better reader, and a better knitter by looking at a chart, seeing if it is symmetrical, or not, and seeing if the chart is a single element or the pattern is made up of several small patterns, and learning a few small pattern (3 or 5 stitches each.)

This is way easier than learning a single 21 stitch/20 row pattern!

Tricks that will help you are HEAVY lines on your chart (you can add them!) It doesn’t matter of you see OFT ROY and I see OF TROY—what matters is being able to break the pattern up into elements that make sense to you! And then, you can add markers to your knitting (to match up the heavy lines on your chart) Some designers do this for you--but you can learn to do it for yourself!--

Then a 21 stitch chart (which is hard to read!) becomes a 5 stitch element or pattern, (not to hard), an 11 stitch element (that has mirror symmetry (so its 5 stitches, a center stitch and the 5 stitches(reversed) and a final 5 stitch pattern (which is the reverse of the first stitch pattern/element. )

Now –what is easier? Learning four different 5 stitch patterns, or learning a 21 stitch pattern? D’oh! And those 4 different patterns? Each are palindromes...
1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (center) 5, 4, 3, 2, 1—(see how easy it is?)

So—pick up that pattern that you love—the one that seemed way to hard, that was 20 or 30 stitches, and just too hard to learn—and see if you can’t break it down into some smaller elements. See if the pattern is a ‘stitch palindrome'.

ablewasiereisawelba—is difficult to read —but Able was I ere I saw Elba?

A second grader might not understand what the palindrome is about--but they could read the words! You, too, can read and remember those words that rather quickly, too!
But those 19 letters? all bunched up, with no spaces? Hard!

A 21 stitch pattern that (with 10 different rows!) is hard—but a pattern of:
Selvage, faggot, ditch, diamond, ditch, faggot, selvage is much more manageable!

Diamond is still a bit of challenge, but not nearly as hard when you see it as one of several small easy to learn separate elements!

Faggot lace is a 3 stitch pattern, worked over 4 rows (2 of the rows are plain!) and diamond is an 11 stitch pattern that has mirrored symmetry—OK a bit complex, but not really that hard.

(Selvage and ditch are so easy that a beginner could knit them!)

I hope this helps you--and that you are on your way to becoming a more literate knitter!


Robyn said...

Thank you very much for sharing all this, Helen. It makes a lot of sense, in fact it may be the only time anyone has explained lace knitting to me that has made sense. It also gives me incentive to keep trying. Thanks!!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely essay. Thank you!

gayle said...

Excellent points, and well presented. (As usual for you!)
Learning to read knitting makes it so much easier and more enjoyable - it's well worth the time to get knit-literate.

(I laughed out loud when I saw my verification word - "pippeed")