I don’t know if you’re a new knitter, and struggling, or have been knitting since you were five, and are a whiz, or fall somewhere between those two extremes. All I know is that you’ve arrived at High Country Knitwear because you were probably looking for knitting patterns. There are, indeed, patterns here for all of you, and I’ve tried to let you know which ones are easy and which are not. I hope you like them, but I have special sympathy for new knitters and knitters who could use some help, because it took me forever to learn.
I had wanted to learn to knit. I had failed at it, intermittently, since my teens. My mother, who was from Kilsyth, Scotland, knit like a whiz, but she couldn’t teach anyone else, and I’d never been able to teach myself. It seemed so complicated, and I didn’t understand the pattern directions and all their abbreviations, nor am I patient. So I’d reached 50 as a woman reasonably skilled in other needlework, and other craft pursuits. But I did not knit.
Looking back those 15 years, it was, as I remember it, a perfect New England autumn day, the leaves just beginning to turn. I was running. Actually, I was running one second; I was on the ground the next. My left leg hurt. A lot. I managed to clamber to my feet and get home.
When I arrived, the late, great Jonathan helped me into the house, and eased the shoe off the foot. The leg was swelling so rapidly that he had to cut the sock. The thing was turning purple from toe to knee. He called the orthopedic surgeon, found the crutches, got me out to the car, and off we went. By the time we got to the doctor’s office, my lower leg looked like a device being used for smuggling eggplants. I had torn an Achilles tendon.
The doctor, understandably enthusiastic about his specialty, suggested surgery. A friend of mine, after the same surgery a year before, had had an infection that had nearly cost him his foot. “What are the alternatives?” I asked. “Twelve weeks in a chair, and until the swelling goes down, leg above your heart at all times. No standing for more than a few minutes. No weight on it for four to six weeks, at least. Come in every three weeks to have it checked. Might work. Might not.” He was dubious that it would, that much was plain. I figured it was worth a try.
I am an active person. Propped in a chair, needing help with everything, and growing grumpy, I had Jonathan’s sympathy, but after few days, he said to me--having helped me into the prison of the chair, and propped the leg for me, and brought me some more coffee—“You’re going to have to figure out what to do in that chair. You have two and a half months to go.” I grumbled. “I’m going to go up to your crafts closet and get you something to do.” I grumbled.
In a few minutes, he came down with my late mother’s knitting bag. I started in, “I don’t know how to knit, never been able to learn…” until I ran out of breath. He said, “You aren’t stupid, and you are stuck in that chair. You can learn. I’m going to go do the errands and walk the dog, and we’ll be back around four. I want to see you knitting.”
He leashed the dog, gave me a kiss on the forehead, left, and closed the door gently behind him. It was eleven o’clock in the morning. I had a knitting bag in my lap, with 2 balls of worsted, a pair of #8 needles, and an instruction book from the 1950s. I was stuck, the hours to four o’clock seemed endless, so I started in.
It was at this point that I grasped that knitting is not an arcane mystery, or a complicated craft in its elements, but a system for making fabric to measure, with minimal waste. It had two basic components, knit and purl. Everything else was sequence of stitches, or sequence of color, and technique. It was one stitch at a time. Any idiot could learn two stitches, I figured, even me. By four o’clock, when Jonathan returned, I had about 12 inches of neat, even garter stitch. By four the next afternoon, I had another 12 inches of neat, even stockingette stitch.
A few days after that, and some practice with increasing and decreasing, Jonathan was supervising my evening scoot up the stairs on my backside, when I asked him to help me sort through some old books and craft magazines for a pattern I might like. He handed me magazines, one modest stack at a time.
I riffled through, putting a few aside, discarding the rest. He put the discards back in the closet, until I was down to one, a black and white Setesdal sweater in an old McCalls. The next day he purchased the yarns and needles I would need, and bought me a copy of Montse Stanley’s wonderful Knitter’s Handbook. I cast on for the sweater. A week later, I was halfway up the body, and a week after that, I could actually sit up with my foot, now less purple than fading to yellow and green, propped on an ottoman. Two weeks later, I’d finished the sweater—cut and sewn armholes, and all.
By then I could move around on crutches, and was ready for a new project. When I graduated to a cane, he escorted me to a local yarn shop, propped me in a chair, and brought me pattern books and yarn for more than an hour, until we had the pieces for a second project, a sweater vest for him.
I kept on knitting. One friend gave it up, and gave me the three cartons of yarns that held her stash. Another died, and her niece gave me her yarn, as we were cleaning out her house to ready it for sale. I started designing, to use up some of this and some of that. Color-change work seemed like the answer.
Jonathan bought some handspun at a crafts fair that matched no known dimension, so I knit swatches, and designed and made a vest for him. I liked designing; I didn’t have find and figure out a pattern figure out a pattern to make something. And I needed practical things, so a lot of fashion knitwear just doesn’t appeal to me. It’s too much time and work for me to do something that will look dated in a year or two.
When Jonathan got sick, I knit through the long days; when he died, I looked up from a row I’d just finished to find he had stopped breathing; after his death, I sold the house, and packed up, and moved to Colorado. My knitting bag came with me.
And what a place this is for knitters! Lots of us, and lots of spinners, too, and plenty of organized and a few wildly disorganized events, and plenty of cold weather. Lots of help for those who need it, lots of people to help if you like to teach. My first friends here were the knitters who meet at a local shop, swap tips, laugh their way through weekly gatherings, and pat each other on the back when projects are finished. I’d design; they’d ask for written patterns; and it didn’t take long before I realized that I might be able to make a tiny business of it.
If you want to learn to knit, my favorite beginning book is Knitting for Dummies, a paperback that has no pretensions, just good instructions, and costs $21.99 suggested retail but $14.95 from Amazon. Except for its mysterious attachment to the long-tail cast on, which I have never learned (I knit on in pattern, in what is called a cable casting for no reason that I can figure out), this is a terrific book and a great buy. If you want to learn, buy a ball of modestly priced knitting worsted and a pair of #8 needles, a measuring tape, and a crochet hook for picking up dropped stitches. And start.
You don’t need twelve weeks in a chair. You just need to understand that it’s a system that you can make work for you. You do it one stitch at a time. The patterns here have tips on technique if the technique might be unfamiliar, and suggestions for variations, and plenty of charts. When you’re done, send pictures!