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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The difference between sewing and knitting

I am starting to feel myself again but not quite ready for extended time in front of the sewing machine, unfortunately.

I replaced a zipper in a jacket for my husband over the weekend and I felt a bit off afterwards but I am not totally sure that wasn't because even the thought of spending good sewing time doing alterations, particularly zippers, makes me nauseous.

So I have been doing a lot of knitting. Knitting is a source of great conflict for me. The conflict lies in the fact I love the look of so many sweater patterns but I am so damned slow that I can't actually make them.

So far I have made one sock for my son and part of a vest for me. The sock looks better on a foot and the vest is more promising even over a nightgown with the circular needle under my armpit than it appears here.

This whole process has made me consider the differences between knitting and sewing, at least my knitting and sewing. Here goes:

I know how to sew, I don't really know how to knit. I can read "line coat" in a Burda pattern and I know what that means. "LL1" means an hour on YouTube and a distracted two more hours on Ravelry looking at all the gorgeous sweaters I could knit if I had a life expectancy of about 350 years.

Which brings me to time. I could sew an entire SWAP wardrobe, OK in knits, in the time it will take me to make this vest. Don't think I am not thinking about that. There are rumors, started by one of my sisters I believe, that crochet is faster but that must be the case for people who know how to turn at the end without it all coming out like crooked steps. And those instructions, nothing but numbers.

Which brings me to numbers. I am not so good with the numbers. I attribute this in part to doing the last part of my high school in Quebec where it was quite easy to sneak through the system with next to no math if you did enough French and arts. In fact I believe I was able to substitute drawing for geometry and an extra French literature for algebra. Seemed a smooth move at the time. Not particularly useful when you are knitting however when even accurate counting is a challenge.

You know I once had a job, that I was nearly fired from on a daily basis, as a counter. As a summer job I worked in the Hudson Bay northern stores warehouse in Montreal. The job was to unpack the goods, generally stuff that came in from China, count it to see if we had been stiffed and then send it over to be repacked and put on the ships that had to leave for up north before the ice set in. Myself and an MA in English were the counters. We would each start at one end of a pile of say baby rubbers pants or thin little pajamas that would have been totally useless in Baffin Island in the winter and count to see if the were in fact 500 pairs. We always got completely different numbers and then we would have to try again generally limp with hysterical laughter until we would decide to give up and say yes there are 500 pairs.

My knitting is like that only it matters. I can spend most of an evening seeing if in fact there are 236 stitches, not 237 or 231, between the markers. And ripping back down to the point where I was supposed to decrease one stich at the end of every ninth row, twice, and every fifth row three times, keeping in a pattern that has you knit 3 and then knit into the back of the next two stitches, twice, on alternate rows. I would write down what I actually did, three times, on even not alternate rows, on the right side, not the wrong side facing me, if it didn't make me too tired to think about it.

Does anyone have a cool cloth they can put on my forehead?

On the plus side you can get into knitting for about $20, although you won't stay there, and no one harasses you that you really need a fancy set of knitting needles that cost $10,000 so you can reproduce embroidery that looks like it might have been done on pajamas from China.

And knitting can be undone, unravelled, rolled into balls and reworked into something better, after you have had a little cry. Don't I wish I could do that with some of the beautiful fabric I have wasted on not the right pattern? Stuck it back together and tried again.

And knitting can be done anywhere at any time and turn time that might go wasting into something you can cross off the Christmas list, or even wear.

Which is a plus until I can get back at that sewing machine and then let me tell you.

Look out.


Anonymous said...

The answer to my problem about counting rows and stitches was to read Elizabeth Zimmermann and make my own patterns. It won't get you fancy lace, but if you just want a regular sweater that fits, it's much easier than following a pattern. Just try the sweater on at intervals and keep increasing or decreasing (or ripping back) as warranted.
I love your writing and I hope that you recover soon!

Rebecca Clayton said...

Yes--Elizabeth Zimmermann (esp. the aptly-titled "Knitting Without Tears"), and I also like Barbara Walker's stitch encyclopedias and "Knitting from the Top."

I started out knitting the way I sewed--pick out a cute sweater pattern and follow the directions. The sweaters never fit, the gauge never suited the yarn, and I could never tell from the directions what was going on until it was finished. (I feel your pain.)

Once I started making my own simple patterns, copying the shape and dimensions of a well-fitting RTW sweater and throwing in some embellishment like a pattern stitch here and there, I was hooked on knitting.

I wish altering sewing patterns were as easy as this.

kbenco said...

I really enjoyed this post, particularly the line about the $10,000 knitting needles.

badmomgoodmom said...

Knitting in plain English is full of useful tidbits like advice to put in markers every 20-25 stitches. Why is 20-25 stitches the sweet spot? B/c children can be made to wait 30 seconds for your undivided attention while you knit the pattern to the next marker; but you shouldn't push your luck any further lest they are trying to tell you that the house is burning down.

I got that book more than a decade before my first child and that became my child-rearing philosophy.

If you learn to knit continental (hold the yarn in your L hand and scoop the yarn while you pull the loop through in one motion), you can knit at a steady 50 st/min pace without breaking a sweat. It's worth practicing.

Calypso Flowers said...

Darn ! I was just about to start on socks as my new challenge, after having been inspired by Blog 'Handmade by Carolyn' (see Blog list to the right). I thought I'd start with a baby size and work my way up to my size. If I lose my way, can they be converted into legwarmers ??
Would also like to say that after the inspiring discussion on sleepwear, I made myself a beautiful reversible kimono (from an old Edith Head pattern). Beautiful, but totally useless because the sleeves catch on everything. Followed this with a linen robe in pastel-coloured plaid. Love it. Now have to make one for winter(i.e now), but I'm ready for summer !! Thanks, Barbara !

Kay said...

What you need is for everyone in the family to get tiny dogs - hairless chihuahuas, for instance. You can knit a chihuahua sweater in about 15 minutes, and if you use patterned sock yarn the sweater will turn out in approximately the same pattern, because a chihuahua sweater is about the same size as an adult sock. Better still, that naked little dog will really appreciate the sweater!

I know, many people don't like tiny or bald dogs; get over it, this is a knitting solution. Besides, they grow on you, take it from me. I didn't even like dogs until my son moved back home after college with his apartment-size dog.


jirons42 said...

I'm with you. Compared to sewing, knitting just takes too darn long!

Calypso Flowers said...

I think Kay's got a winning idea there !

babs said...

I agree knitting is a lot harder and more time consuming than sewing. I live in Florida and we don't have long to wear sweaters or socks. I also don't have a friendly local yarn shop so I don't know how to fix problems when they come up. I enjoy your blog so much.

Erika said...

My secret is that I DON'T CARE if I'm 5 stitches off. 10 starts to matter, maybe ...

I like badmomgoodmom's rationale though!