Count me in with the Curmudgeon and Lisa at Rosieblogs on their stance on disparaging knitting books “dumbed down” for today’s chix. I detest the majority of knitting books published over the last three years. I don’t like the attitude, the contents, the presentation, or the base assumptions behind them. Lisa’s rant is spot-on. Knitting isn’t difficult. It is exacting, and does require a fair bit of patience and perseverance to master. But there’s no mystery, and it’s been accomplished very successfully for hundreds of years by people with no formal math education whatsoever.
You could probably argue that the most recent crop of books was not written with my demographic in mind – the grumpy intermediate to experienced knitter looking to learn more. But even if I were nineteen and holding yarn for the first time, I’d be offended. The only thing that differentiates the vast majority of these hip, trendy little no-attention-span patterns from the stuff aimed at teaching Kindergarteners to knit is the absence of wiggly doll eyes on the projects. Cell phone cozies? Let’s forget for a moment that a team of engineers labored for months on achieving the rate of heat dissipation required for a small-footprint electronic device to function properly, and that someone now wants to put a sweater on the damned thing. If I were a novice knitter given a book whose diet of beginners projects ran the gamut of items you could make from a square folded in half, I’d toss the thing aside and dismiss the whole craft as being brain dead.
Now there are intelligent, well-written books out there for beginners. You can usually find them by avoiding key words in the titles. Lisa nominates “Easy.” I nominate “hip”, and “simple.” Stanfield and Griffith’s Encyclopedia of Knitting is a good one. It’s full of inspirational photos, describes lots of techniques in an accessible manner. As a “Knitting 101” type overview it’s broad but not particularly deep – a good gate to further exploration that doesn’t overwhelm a beginner with every knitting fact known to the universe. The only thing its lacking is a bunch of intro projects.
This glut of useless books follows in the footsteps of any hobby fad. It happened to needlepoint, cross stitch, and quilting in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s respectively. Publishers see people stampeding to a new interest and retool their offerings accordingly. More substantive books are put on hold, general references of interest to all levels go out the window, and minimalist splashy intros soak up every available publishing dollar. In knitting’s case as Lisa and the Curmudgeon point out, this fad-following focus is compounded by a whole flock of wildly patronizing and denigrating attitudes. So count me in with them. I’m not interested in simple, hip, trendy, urban-gritty, easy, shortcuts, weekend, boxy, cropped, giant-gauge, flash, dummies, or quick. I don’t even want books of expensively photographed patterns for clothing that will look dated in a year. I want challenges, complexity, techniques, resources, tailoring, fine gauges, and if I’m going to spend months creating the object – long term wearability.
Perhaps I’ll get more of it. Knitting’s recent expansion is poised for a crash as the majority of the fad knitters move on to the next big, non-challenging thing. I’m delighted to note that a minority (although a healthy minority) of recent learners has the interest and perseverance to move beyond these dumbed-down books. Perhaps in the flotsam of the post-fad knitting environment between them and those of us who knit before it was trendy there will be enough demand to spur the publication of more substantive and useful resources. But more likely the publishers will lemming on after the next self-affirming fad. Scrapbooking anyone? I hear most people had some exposure to scissors, paper and glue in grade school.
Enough ranting. The few folk who come here aren’t scouring the web for editorials. Back to knitting content.
Klein Bottle Hat – Finished
Here’s the finished Klein Bottle Hat, once more ably modeled by Smaller Daughter (the only one still home in the before-school hour I steal for blogging).
I can say that I followed the schematic in the pattern far more than I followed the pattern itself. I found the original to be too big – not big around the head, too long in length. I shortened up the run of plain full-width knitting before the slit is made, and conflated the narrowing and the slit itself (winging it on the rate of decrease) working both the decrease and the slit at the same time. I’m not entirely pleased with the graft. If I were to do this again, I’d knit some small K2P2 swatches and practice grafting them before I tackled the hat itself. But it will do for a quick gift.
My only problem is that I’ve run out of small project before I’ve run out of deadlines. Mittens next? Perhaps.
Progress on the Klein Bottle Hat. Some retrograde, but progress none the less.
First, I think the pattern as written is a bit overly generous in length. My hat is very deep to begin with. The direction to work the slit for two inches, then work in pattern for two more inches before beginning the decreases makes a log-shaped piece that bears little resemblance to the thumbnail drawing in the pattern. So I modified it a bit. First, instead of knitting 16 inches before beginning the slit, I shaved off an inch. Then I began my decreases immediately after the slit. But even so, I think I may need to re-knit this again, starting at the second dark blue stripe, shortening the body a bit more, and beginning the decreases at the same time as the slit is worked. I’ll also change the rate of decrease so that the piece narrows faster.
What you see here is the hat folded up into itself, with the skinny tail piece I knit first threaded through the slit. If I wiggle and drag it more aggressively, it does pull up so that the bottom-most blue stripe is eaten inside the hat. But still – I think it’s too deep, and the top isn’t narrowing enough, or quickly enough.
Even though I’m on my third stab at working the top of this hat, opinions will be graciously accepted.
Deadlines turn out to be intense but manageable, leaving me a bit of time to get some knitting done. The hat is progressing well, although I had to recast my yarn choice to something lighter. Two thicknesses of K2P2 ribbing in worsted seems too heavy for comfortable wear. So I dug down in my yarn boxes and came up with some lighter leftovers brazenly liberated about ten years ago from my mothers’ stash.
Unger Britania was a Shetland-type yarn of exceptional quality – lofty, soft, stretchy and supple. It’s native gauge covers the range between fingering (knit way down, compressing the loft) to DK (knit very loosely, letting the loft fluff out to fill in the stitches). It worked best at sport weight (6 spi). Mom had done an adult size Intarsia piece with it (possibly an Argyle) but ended up ripping it completely out and re-knitting most of the yarn into something else for a smaller individual. The leftovers are evenly divided among the colors with some virgin skeins, and a few balls made up of short lengths of about 5 yards each. Some fragments are longer, some shorter. I’m starting with the leftovers, spit splicing the short yardage pieces. I am also spit splicing color joins so that there will be no ends to darn in on this one-side/two-sided piece. My striping is rather haphazard. I knit until I run out of a color bit, then decide if I want to splice on the next same-color piece of unknown length, or if I want to shift to the next color.
I’m about a third of the way done, and due to the smaller gauge am more or less winging it, holding onto the dimensions and shaping proportions of the original pattern, but blissfully ignoring stitch count directions. For the record, I’m getting about 8spi in very stretchy K2P2 rib, on US #4s.
The result, given the 1970s color set and random width striping pattern the result looks rather Whovian. My target nerdpal will be ecstatic.
Another descent into deadline hell looms on my imminent event horizon. Now in the past faced with something like this I’ve dropped all knitting, hung up the blog, ignored wiseNeedle, and pared my life back to the basics: work, do what family maintenance I can, eat, sleep. In that order of precedence. This time I’ll try not to disappear completely. At the very least I’ll farm wiseNeedle, even if I don’t have time to blog. Also I intend to keep a small project going as a stress valve. (Better that than loll in caffeine and chocolate).
I need something that’s pretty mindless, but not so totally dull as to be totally boring. Something new so that there’s a modicum of interest. Huge needles (huge for me at least) so progress is tangible. Socks are right out. Perhaps a hat. An unusual hat…
In fact I think I know the very thing. I make no secret that I fall on the geeky side of normal. I’m an aging grrlnerd with lots of friends who would wear Star Trek Underoos if they came in adult sizes; guys and gals who find joy in mathematical humor, and who view visual puns as an ultimate art form. (I say this with affection and respect, because as a group they exhibit amazing creativity, and wit, and are just plain fun to be around.) So if one of them – a self-described and documented ubergeek – deserves a special gift, what better than a Klein bottle hat?
Some of you reading this are saying “Hey! Cool! I want one, too.” Others are wondering what the heck a Klein bottle is. And I’m sure a couple of you are curious as to why one would need a hat. One might even ask “Where would a Klein bottle wear a hat?” The answer of course being “On the outside.”
(Bottle image shamelessly borrowed from Acme Klein Bottles, a source for all your topological oddity needs.)
There are far more erudite and far more scholarly explanations of what exactly a Klein bottle is than I could ever offer. It belongs to the same family of topological oddities as does the Mbius strip, another one-surface entity. In effect unlike spheres, cubes or pyramids that form an unbroken skin around an interior space, it’s a solid object that instead of having an outside and an inside, has only one side – the outside. Or the inside. (Which one is present in a Klein bottle is open to debate, but whatever the answer is, there’s only one of them.) The artifacts you see are actually representations of the Klein bottle concept because as a multidimensional trick played on the universe, one can exist as thought but can’t be truly built in the paltry three spatial dimensions we inhabit.
I am far from being the first person to knit up something like this. Acme has a nice selection of ready made Klein Bottle hats. There are several patterns on the web if you want to knit your own. Knitty did one; a good pattern but it’s not my favorite. I think it looks more like a teapot lacking a spout than anything else. There’s one by Sarah-Marie Belcastro, whose joy in her own mathematical geekitude is contagious. (She’s got lucky students). It’s very cool looking, but I think the intended recipient would find it a bit too massive. And there’s another all-prose pattern that I remember being offered as a holiday gift exchange pattern was back in the ancient days of the KnitList, circa ’94. Woolworks has it on archive.
The one I am taking for inspiration is none of the above. It’s by Nathanael Berglund, the sketchiest pattern of all but with a pleasing and recognizable shape. I think it’s conceptualized just enough to provide me with fodder for (minimal) thought. The simple shaping will be just complex enough to keep my interest, yet not so daunting as to require me to slavishly knit to the pattern. And at a DK or worsted gauge will go quite quickly.
So I as I trot along the sorry slope to yet another personal hell, I’ll be trotting along with an air of distraction. Not exactly overjoyed, but glad to know that my ultra-nerdy destressing mechanism is prepared in my backpack, sharing room with my computers and waiting for the least bit of “hurry up and wait” time to be appreciated.