This argument goes in circles.

Before we get on with Stephanie’s excellent dye adventure, I’m going to take a minute to respond to a comment of Rams’ yesterday. (Don’t pity her. She can take it. She’s a fine, clever woman with well thought out arguments. She’s intelligent, funny and…well, holding an opinion contrary to my own.)
Rams saw that I had started Maddy out on straight needles, and was expecting her (a rank beginner, and a 13 year old one at that) to manage. She writes:
So…..No one else is going to comment on knitting across and purling back (for a beginning knitter) and, God forbid, sewing together to produce a tubular garment? Anybody? Just me out here with the lions? Okay —
(eyes rolled to heaven — think St. Sebastian stuck full of straight needles. With last breath–)
circular needles. circular needles. circular needles.
(What it is to suffer for one’s faith. Meg Swanson, don’t tell me you’re not lurking out there…)

Here’s what I think. I always start new knitters on straights, or at least working back and forth on circulars. I think that it makes for a better start. People who start with circulars often (not always) learn to regard purling as the crabby and difficult sister of the Queen Knit, hold dark and bitter resentment for sewing up seams, and spend their lives searching for patterns knit in the round, complaining bitterly when they are faced with back and forth knitting.
My theory is based on the idea that a knitter comfortable with knit and purl equally, able to sew a decent seam and think nothing of it, is a free and comfortable knitter. He/she can take up circulars later and not lose their “I can do anything”, “never say die” knitting attitude. Arans that need seams for stability and are better knit flat? No problem. Garter stitch baby sweaters in the round? Intarsia? No fears. Learning to regard the two stitches of knitting as simple opposites creates a knitter who can do it all. Even become a deeply committed circular advocate.
In my (admittedly limited) experience beginning with straights and /or back and forth knitting creates a knitter who sees knit and purl as sisters. Ying and yang, the two equal parts which make up all knitting. Know these two stitches, know it all. They accept making up as a basic skill of the knitterly, (which is is) and fear no evil.
You may now argue your points. Do not try the “but purling is really too hard” argument. I taught knitting at a toy store. I have 15- 20 six year olds lined up to mock you. (PS. If Meg Swanson read this blog I would die).
Big Dye adventure.
A photo essay with comments.
See me patiently soak the yarn with hot water and vinegar. Despite my personality traits I was able to soak it for the full 15 minutes.
Having been advised by Claudia K. (Countrywool) that this was toxic stuff, I did the mature and decent thing and performed the majority of the process outside. (Well, not outside. It was raining. I did it in the mudroom with the door to the backyard open and tried not to breathe) Here I am mixing the powder with water (in a disposable container) before adding it to Denny’s crockpot.
Denny’s crockpot has an issue or two, but it beats the pants off of my imaginary crockpot, so I love it anyway. The crockpot has some sort of electrical thing going on, and needs to be unplugged before you touch the water. This is really, really easy to learn. (Since if you don’t unplug it…the jolt it gives you is what you could refer to as “a teachable moment”.)
The dye is in the water. I unplug, stir, plug wait 5 minutes, unplug and stir.
I add the wet fibre, wondering only briefly if it is going to fit. (I was really worried for a moment there. There’s just no coming back from a mistake that big). I plugged back in the crockpot and waited 45 minutes. I wanted a variegated roving so I did not touch the crockpot during this time. No stirring, no peeking, no swirling the crockpot around. The threat of mild electrocution is helpful here.
After 45 minutes I dumped the whole thing into the sink. It needs to cool before it can be rinsed or it will felt. I got myself some “amenities” to help me wait. (Note: watching wool cool is not very interesting. I watched anyway, but I am not a very smart person. Anyone smarter than me would want a book for this part).
I filled the sink and rinsed the yarn. Despite my belief that there was no way that this could have worked (it was just too easy, ya know?) very little dye came off into the water.
Claudia K. said to put it in the sun to dry. This is Toronto in October. I improvised.
Ta Dah!
Before I leave you for the weekend I’ll share this. This is what I’ll be doing this weekend.
Pity me, for my enthusiastic 10 year old has taken up the french horn and loves to practice. There is no way to explain the completely random noise that comes out of this thing. I believe a noisy, constipated, elephant in heat would find it unsettling. May the force be with me.

96 thoughts on “This argument goes in circles.

  1. I’m with you on the straight vs circular. I have not problems with back and forth, and even do flat work on circulars. It’s kinda like not being afraid of dpn’s. They’re your friends, too.

  2. I understand the pain of one’s offspring learning a new instrument. (Think 7-year-old, tin ear, and a violin.) Walk outside. Far and away outside. Take your yarn, needles and a chair. I don’t care if it’s raining. It’ll keep you sane.
    Trust me.

  3. Hey – What color is that post-dye fleece? It looks sort of black with yeller… Kind of reminds me of a thunderstorm… that is when it’s dry. When it’s wet, it looks like a thousand baby seals…or eels even.
    Who’s meg Swansen?

  4. At least you have just one instrument. Feel worse for my parents who for at least 10 years, had a flute, french horn, trumpet, and trombone in the house. Luckily the brother who played drums quickly lost interest. It’s odd that my family is almost a band by itself. And I warn you, it takes at least a year for the french horn to not sound like an elephant. I think my sister would even admit to that.

  5. Straight! I (and my whole class) were started on straights, at age 8. A year later we did dpns. As a consequence, I’m fearless and get a blank stare when I hear people complain about purling being too “difficult”. I don’t understand that statement at all. And what’s wrong with having an additional skill, like, say seaming?
    In fact, I only found out about circulars a year ago and I love them to death. But straights are for beginners, so they don’t stay that way.

  6. The roving looks lovely!
    Re. learning to knit–I learned on straights, because that was what I’d found in the basement, and it was a couple of months before I knew what garter stitch looked like. We were in a fancy-crafts-and-art store, and I thought it looked interesting and different… The friend who taught me started me on stockinette, and I actually found purling easier for the first few weeks. (Since then, however, I’ve mostly used straight needles as hair sticks.)

  7. Stephanie,
    I’m a circ girl myself. I hate to seam but mainly because I am too impatient. I love dpns too.
    I didn’t like to purl when I was knitting English but now that I knit continental it’s no big deal. (Well, except for when I help my youngest niece with her knitting. She complains I’m doing it wrong and I tell her there is no wrong way to knit. She doesn’t believe me even though I am the one who taught her to knit!)
    Do you need some earplugs? And what are you going to do with your dye project??

  8. Hi again… the new roving looks really nice. I really like the variegated look.
    One question – do we get to see a nice shot of the completed Rhinebeck?! We had that one shot in there… but… after all that waiting and wondering whether it would be finished in time, I’d love to see the finished product!

  9. I agree wholheartedly on the learning on straight needles, however perhaps that’s because i learned the german way o knitting which is almost completely like the continental, but with a few extra loops on the left hand as it holds the yarn.
    I just snorted coffe all over my shirt unsuspectingly coming upon an elephant in heat.

  10. I prefer flat knitting. I like seaming and weaving in ends.
    One of the main reasons I prefer flat knitting for garments is the sense of accomplishment you get with each piece of the puzzle you complete. Knit it all in-the-round, and you don’t get all of that. Makes the project seem to take longer (and perhaps will, if one becomes bored by it).

  11. I agree with the needle thing, too. I hate to purl, and wish I had learned when the knit stitch was as hard to me to master. The I woul dbe able to do them easier. I will do anything not to purl.

  12. Totally agree with you about the whole straight/circular debate. The yin-yang comparison sums it up perfectly. And the french horn? It does sound awful at times, I agree, but it is one of the hardest of instruments to master. Hmmm, leave it to one of your daughters to take up a challenging instrument, yet at the same time be able to annoy the hell out of mom. Cool roving-fantastic color. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if Meg was out there somewhere, reading in the shadows…yes Steph, you are that cool.

  13. My family too had nearly every instrument known to man. It wasn’t enough that my brother and I went through many instruments in our own school days, we also both toyed with teaching, which involves learning to play everything under the sun, even the stupid instruments that no one really wants to play and the least argumentative student with musical ability has to get assigned to. I’m frankly surprised I didn’t have in-heat elephants staking out my home for most of my life.
    And yes to the “straights are for beginners so they don’t stay that way” – it’s best to learn to do it all as part of the process, not “this is how you knit, and this is how you complicate things so it’s hard”
    Oh, and wanna know what happens when you overfill a crock pot? I give you, Boogies post for today:

  14. Straight for me, too, for teaching beginners–though now I prefer circs even for “back and forth knitting,” but also regularly use double-points socks.
    French horn: I’m envious! I know it’s going to sound lousy for a while, but when it gets better…wow. (Can you tell I wish I’d played the French horn? Or the oboe? I don’t love the flute anymore.)

  15. I agree with you on the straight vs. circular debate, and especially about the knit and purl being two sides of the same coin. I learned both at the same time, and just cannot imagine being afraid of the purl stitch. It’s all about inspiring confidence as soon as possible and producing fearless knitters.
    Also, I’ve been inspired by you to take the plunge and dye the roving I bought for my thrummed mittens (no, the roving is not yet in the mittens, because I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to go back to them yet after my initial difficulties). Maybe once I have pretty colorful thrums, I’ll be more motivated to knit them!

  16. I personally love circulars. Though I have a friend who is scared to try those. She just doesn’t get it!
    Thank for all the info on dying wool. I have to try that! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. Count another soul for the side of learning on straights. I’ve never understood why purling is considered difficult. In fact, although I knit throwing the yarn, I purl faster than I knit. I use circs now for flat knitting but that’s because I find it easier on my wrists.
    When I teach people how to knit, theylearn on straight US8’s. The needles are big enough to be able to work easily but not the giant scarf monsters that so many people are learning on these days (I was recently told my 7s were “scarily small” by someone learning to knit a scarf on 19s.).

  18. I also learned on straights (in Japan from a neighbor, continental style). Never knew that purling was considered difficult until I read some of the comments just now. I still kind of prefer straights because I have big hands and find the circs a bit too short for me.
    I agree with Julie–we really need to see a great shot or two of Rhinebeck (The Sweater). The dye job is amazing!

  19. I was started on SPNs by my grandmother 30 yrs ago. While I couldn’t remember anything other than the hand motions (insert right needle into left needle yarn loop, throw the yarn), it did feel very comfortable to me to relearn the craft on straights. I now use circs for knitting in the round, but also for B&F knitting too.
    I’m of the opinion that one should learn to knit on all available types of needles, if nothing then to see what one prefers. Sort of like the knitting method itself, I’m an English knitter (throwing it), but I can do Continental. It does promote, the “I can attempt anything” attitude.

  20. I remember well the sound of the French Horn in the hands of a beginner. *shudder* At least she won’t stay a beginner forever! Much like those who learn on straights. I agree that you’re freed from the beginning if you can learn both K and P as well as seaming and the rest. Yay for straights!
    As for the newly dyed fleece, it’s gorgeous! I think I must try some dying soon. My husband will just love it… *evil grin*

  21. So that’s the infamous crockpot huh? Im glad to hear you managed not to elecrocute yourself this time. Well done! That yarn is very scrumptious looking. You’re bringing it to the SnB the next time you come out to play, right? Right??

  22. I’m with you on teaching a beginning on straights. I learned just in February and am perfectly comfortable on straights, circulars or DPN’s. I am happy to knit or purl and really don’t get what all the fuss is about. I guess I better chalk that up to a good beginning, eh?

  23. The only way I’m willing to teach people how to knit is if they have set enough time aside to learn back and forth knitting using both knit and purl stitches. This is how I was taught and I’ve never had a problem with purl stitches. I’ve known many people who learned back and forth in garter stitch and when they finally learned how to purl, they hated and would only knit garter stitch garments (well, unless they knit in the round – but I personally have a problem starting off a new knitter by teaching them in the round rather than back and forth, but that’s a completely different rant).

  24. I teach beginner knitting classes at my LYS. They all learn on straights. I think a lot of them would jump at learning on circulars because most of them automatically hate purling. But love of purling comes with practice. (I have to admit though, that I can’t purl continental without contorting my entire body for the life of me.) Thanks for the picture essay.

  25. I learned on straights and I still prefer them. I think I always will — nice, long ones, too. I can’t understand how purling can be “difficult,” either. It’s just the second of the pair of stitches you need to know — ying & yang, salt & pepper, ketchup & mustard, Fred & Ginger, knit & purl.
    A French Horn was a featured accompaniment at a vocal concert I attended this week and it was beautiful — the sound of that instrument is beyond compare, except, I guess, during the heat & constipation of the learning stage.

  26. I learned on spns from my grandma – a grandma who always enjoyed purling. I’m just now starting to understand that there are people who dislike purling, but I’m not one of them. I teach people to knit on spns too, it seems to work well. Its probably the same with types of needles as with knit vs purl — the faster you get used to a few different things, the more comfortable you are with all of them. I use straight, circs and dpns … everything has its uses.

  27. A 10 year-old with a french horn? I had a 12 year old with a tuba! And a band director who liked rock-n-roll. To my dying day I will know the low brass part of “Hang On Sloopy”! And I always knit on circular needles but learned and teach on straights for all the reasons you mentioned.

  28. It’s tough being right all the time isn’t it ? But you’re not wrong about the straights for learners. Teach them when they’re young and think they’re invincible. (Hah! No such thing when it comes to knitting, it always gets you in the end.) I knitted for more than 10 years before I ever used a circular – and then I knitted back and forth on it cos’ I didn’t quite twig how to do it …oops.
    My almost 10 year old just took up flute – want to run away together ???

  29. Knit yourself some earplugs, or better yet, use some of that yummy freshly dyed yarn to block out the noise.

  30. I *totally* agree. With emphasis on the “at least back and forth with circulars,’ as I have, in the last year, switched ompletely to knitting with circs, and wonder what the need is for straights anyway, knowing that there certainly some on the planet who can’t even *buy* a straight needle. But I TOTALLY believe one has to learn how to purl as comfortable as to knit. AND, I dislike the structureless form of seamless knitting, except for those extremely close-fitting garments. My 2c! ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. Knit yourself some earplugs, or better yet, use some of that yummy freshly dyed yarn to block out the noise.

  32. Your second to last sentence being based on first hand knowledge of what a constipated elephant in heat is willing to endure? Good grief! No wonder I started using the bathroom BEfORE sitting down to read your blog! LOL (Wet pants hold no appeal to me>) Still laughing out loud… I second your opinion about learning on staights and then some. You can knit/purl any width garment on staights without major complications. As much as I like circulars, it get to be a pain in the butt and expensive to boot, to invest in not only proper sized needles for a given project but there is the length to deal with. For example, I wouldn’t dream of knitting socks or say, a hat on circulars 80cm long. And any musical instrument is an instrument of art, regardless of how noisy. Just like knitting, which is the highest art form (my opinion), and which was a bit sloppy when first being learned. Practice makes perfect, and this holds true for all art forms. Invest in ear plugs and applaud her efforts! Have a great weekend.

  33. I am mostly a circular gal but I must qualify that statement…I knit back and forth almost exclusively on circular needles…They are never used to avoid purling. I do this because I’m a forgetful person. I would loose my head if it wasn’t screwed on so tight. I found that when I used straights I would loose one during the project. With circs they are attached by that long cable. If you loose one you loose both AND your project all at the same time. I used to go nuts looking for needles (and still do with DPN’s because I use them to hold my hair up).
    So, my point…circular needles aren’t the issue…not teaching beginners to purl is the problem.
    Loved the dye job, I might have to try that myself. Oh, and by the way, I played the french horn for several years and loved it. Just buy yourself some ear plugs and smile and say the music is lovely!

  34. When I was a teenager, I used to babysit for the mom down the street when her 9-year-old had to practice her brand-new violin. I had to always shut their poodle up in a room far from the kid, because the dog howled long and hard through the whole thing. I felt for that poodle.
    And that mom wasn’t dumb.
    All these years later, though, wow, you should hear that woman play!

  35. 1. I love your blog. You don’t know me, but I wish I knew you. You’re hysterical. I found your blog through knitty, somehow.
    2. I teach knitting to college students (being one myself) and knit on circs whenever I can, even to the point of purchasing circs when I have straights. Addicted, I know. But I always, always, always teach people on straights to knit back and forth and learn to purl. I’d rather they decide what they like instead of being forced (as if!) to abide by somewhat eccentric preferences.
    3. How does one go about setting up a blog, you master (mistress?) of all things bloggy? Thanks!
    elspeth (at) jhu (dot) edu

  36. I never thought purling was any harder than knitting, but I am a self-taught freak. The evidence? a) I am self-taught and never saw anyone knit that I can recall before then, b) I do a weird sort of thing where I pick up the yarn between finger and thumb, so I never had to worry about tension, c) for the first few years of my knitting, I had no clue that all of my stitches were twisted, d) I thought that you were supposed to knit back and forth alternating the picking hand (now I’m a right-handed knitter who knows how to turn her work), e) my first no-pattern projects were a stranded sweater and some HUGE socks (on too-small circs), and f) my first pattern-based project was a fisherman’s jersey on dpns. All of this was because I didn’t know any better!
    So now I have absolutely no fear at all.
    Unfortunately, this also makes me a teacher who likes to throw new knitters into the deep end of the pool (ask poor D. — now also a fearless knitter).

  37. Elsbeth — if you’re not comfortable with computers (or don’t have a friend who is), go to either (my preference)
    or (easier for the beginner, but you may outgrow it)
    and follow their instructions for setting up a free account. All you need is an internet connection, and there you go! There will of course be a few bumps at first, but it is really quite easy.
    (Now, I realize that my previous post is not conducive to trust in my judgement of “easy” but in this case, it really is. The harder stuff only comes when you get bored with the template and when you try to get the hang of the social aspects of blogging (like how often to post). But it isn’t that hard, truly.)

  38. I use circs for everything, including teaching. But I’m mostly a flat knitter. I like it like that.
    Hey! Don’t mock my instrument! Your daughter gets a big high five from me. I started playing the French horn in 6th grade and by 8th grade the guy playing saxophone behind me was playing footsie with my chair. He used to hook his foot under my chair and move me back and forth. This was particularly upsetting during public concerts. I wanted to kill him. Instead he became my high school beau. Hmmmmm. On second thought, maybe she should switch to the drums? (No one behind her to harrass her.) Go 10 year old daughter of Yarn Harlot!!!! Make those pink elephants dance! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  39. My sympathies on the french horn. My brother played it all through junior and senior high. We could hear him practicing all the way to the bus stop outside the house. Praticing in the early days often involved trying to make just OnE note sound properly. Over and over again. The other brother chose trumpet. More bus stop accompaniment.
    One brother has kids now. I send them toy instruments at every opportunity.

  40. I prefer circular needles, but I also use them for knitting back and forth, which is how I do most of my knitting. For me, the benefit of circulars was more that I didn’t get them tangled and stuck in awkward places. But it’s so important to know how to purl for so many different reasons, most (if not all) you covered in your very eloquent argument.

  41. Rana — Thank goodness, I thought I was the only one who at first thought you had to knit back and forth.
    So, for those people who thought learning to purl was difficult, try figuring out how to do it from left to right as well as from right to left. Whee! Most knitting pattern books only show how to form the basic knit and purl stitch, and make no mention of the fact that you should *turn your work around* before starting the next row.
    I think learning on straight needles is fine, especially if you have someone to teach you the process. ๐Ÿ™‚

  42. I agree with the circ/straight thing. Although often beginner knitters who learn on straights are intimidated by circs. I think intimidated people are going to be that way no matter what. I think we’re born fearless or we’re not. Whatever we can do to make more people fearless, I’m all for. Fearless rules.
    Re: french horn. That was my instrument of choice in junior high as well. I sounded like an elephant in heat even after hours and hours of practice and I was even first chair elephant in heat. It was an awful time in my house. Oy.

  43. Sue, Rana – OMG! I would have never thought of that! I was KIPing at a restaurant and the waitress said she’d just started to knit, but she didn’t know nor understand what to do at the end of the row. I didn’t understand her question, and said I’d show her when she had a moment. She then took off, as it was the end of her shift. I was confused at her question until Rana’s explanation. She must have been learning from a book!

  44. I don’t think arans need seams for stability. Personally, I don’t like seams on arans (or any other knitting because I don’t like edges on my knitting (I am one of those people who use invisible cast on as their normal caston).
    Seams keep the sweater in a cage in my not so humble opinion. The only time I use them (usually) is when I really really really want to do blackberry stitch. I have yet to come up with a way to do blackberry stitch in the round without working inside out.

  45. We offered a knitting class here at work as a United Way fundraiser and had 17 students, including one of the guys from the warehouse! The girl who ran the class started them all on novelty yarn scarves on fat straight needles. Not the easiest to manage as a first project, but several of them had their scarves done within a week, and went on to do more.
    I was fascinated, too, with the number who had the most spacial difficulties with turning the work at the end of the row. They would have the basic knit stitch down pat, but then you’d look, and there they’d be: staring befuddled at the two needles, one with a completed row of knitting and one empty. “What now?”
    My 13 year-old has taken up the didgeridoo, but I am lucky because when he DOES practice, it sounds great! Since it’s more of as rhythm instrument, I just think of it as free-form jazz and enjoy the buzz and barks, and his own invention, the “Screaming Chicken”.

  46. only the Harlot could *bake* roving and have it turn out that beautiful. Can’t wait to see the final yarn. Am I the only one who read that bit about not rinsing it until it’s cooled or it will felt….and thought hmmm, that might be a cool way to make felt. Then I could sew with it. would it work?

  47. When Rana says that she threw me in at the deep end, she isn’t kidding. She taught me to knit over the course of one evening. As soon as I had gotten reasonably comfortable with the knit stitch, she started me on purling. By the end of a few hours, I was doing ribbing.
    Oh, did I mention that she not only taught me on straight needles, but also with a somewhat splitty cotton yarn because that was what she happened to have a lot of around? And that my first project (a ribbed scarf) was made with the awful acrylic yarn that she wanted to get rid of on needles that were too small?
    But it worked. I know that nothing is too hard to try. Within a few weeks, I was trying complicated textures out of the knitting books she lent me. She made an off-hand comment about trying lace, I did, and I’m now knitting it regularly. So, I’m saying that I absolutely agree with you, Stephanie.

  48. Like Rana, I am self taught. About a year ago, I decided I wanted to learn how, so I marched into my LYS, bought the first book they threw at me, some yarn, some needles and just set at it. the book started with straights, so I just followed along. I didn’t learn about purlophobia until very recently when I read an article that mentioned knitters who avoid it at all costs. I will admit that I feel more awkward when purling, but I just figured that it would take time for my fingers to get used to it. I still consider myself a baby knitter, but I’m certainly not afraid of purling–definitely agree with Harlot’s yin-yang theory!

  49. I don’t see what the big deal is, either way. I learned on straights, but I think if you learn on circulars you can pick up purling, in oh, say, 45 seconds, and get fast in half an hour. Not allowing yourself to be psychologically intimidated by any new skill that normal people can learn (I still can’t samba, but that’s weird in upstate NY) is one thing – having lots of experience with one style or another is well, another.
    Reminds me of knitters who don’t want anything to do with crochet, even when it would be useful – its just a skill, not the first step to the apocalypse.

  50. …delurk…
    If your 10-year-old has an ear and lip that caused any sane music teacher to agree that she could play horn, it won’t sound like a dying elephant for *that* long – especially if she loves to practice! I’ve played since I was 9, and I’m sure I was making non-random noises by our first school concert a couple months after I started…now, whether they were the right notes, though, I can’t honestly say. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Oh, and I don’t force beginners to start on straights, but I always teach them flat knitting first, because if you can knit and purl you can do anything. I let them choose if they want straights or circulars, and whether they’d rather hold the yarn in their left or right hand.

  51. after all the comments on this, i still have something to add! i teach at a knitting store in arlington, and one time a woman couldn’t make it to the first class in which we taught “the knit stitch”. she learned how to PURL FIRST. and guess what? when i taught her how to knit afterwards, she said KNITTING WAS MORE AWKWARD THAN PURLING!!! HAH!!! i explained it all to her before i started to teach her to purl, and she was cool with being part of the “experiment”, as it were ๐Ÿ™‚ so there you have it – undisputed proof that in one isolated case someone found purling easier than knitting because that’s what they were first taught. interesting? yes. important? maybe. will i ever teach someone to purl first again? no.

  52. Another vote for straight needles, for all the points (no pun intended) you mentioned. I actually find that I end up wrestling with the circ’s sometime. And it always seems to be when my dear hubby is watching me. I look up to see this questionable look on his face. You know the look, “Are you sure this is a safe craft for you” or the “Is it supposed to do that” look.
    The dyeing looks like it came out great. I can’t wait to see how it spins up. And maybe you could convince your daughter that the french horn sounds better in wide open spaces in the rain, under an umbrella. No??? Oh well…I tried.

  53. I agree on the straight way too. Even Picasso learned traditional stuff first before he abstracted…
    Right on Steph!

  54. Actually I can purl fine but had trouble with the knit.
    My problem was that I learned how to knit but stopped for a few years. Then I made some baby blankets using Afghan crochet/Tunisian knit. One long crochet hook that is full of cotton yarn stitches.
    Then I thought I’d try knitting again. I know I hold the needles “wrong”. I managed good purl stitches but was putting the needle in the wrong side of the stitch when I went to do the knit stitch. Can you imagine 2 little red sweaters that look like I screwed up some fancy stitch?

  55. I kind of adapt my teaching to the project at hand. Therefore, when all the kids in the knitting 101 class at my kids’ alternative school wanted to knit scarves (yikes) they got straight needles and started with plain, garter stitchity work – and as time goes by they get to make a bit of a springy section in the middle, with ribbing, or a checkerboard pattern, made with knits and purls.
    But there was one brave soul who wanted to make leg warmers got circulars, and she’ll get a chance to do the same thing in the middle of her circs – some kind of ribbing pattern, with knitting and purling. My theory being: you can do ribbing on circs, learning to knit includes learning how to purl, and I’ll make sure every first project a kid does has both knit and purl.
    That said, the knitter who wanted the leg warmers found herself entangling the yarn with the wire and the project and her fingers and her rather long hair and mascaraed eyelashes… …and that may be a good reason to avoid circs for beginners. At least for those of our students whose mascara bill is greater than their auto insurance.
    And I sure hope Meg Swanson’s reading your journal. I’ll bet EZ would have just *loved* it. I had the impression she was a bookish type, loving good writing wherever she found it.
    Oh, and about that contagiousness thing…. I hold you PERSONALLY responsible for my newly-found fascination with spinning. And for my almost running into an elk or five on the way to a spinning lesson. And for the fact that I was llooked at by a llama. YOU DID THIS TO ME. (The fact that I find this whole fiberartness a total joy is neither here nor there, and stop laughing at me for bringing my drop spindles to a playdate for my daughter, and my son to the local library’s knit-in.) (Stop laughing at me! I didn’t mean to get addicted!)

  56. I learned to knit on straight needles and moved to circulars when I felt comfortable. It just made more sense to me. That, and I don’t think my grandma owns a set of circulars, and since she taught me… ๐Ÿ˜€
    I think it’s very cool that you not only have a daughter who knits, but also you’ve been able to induct one of her friends into learning the same. I’m sure her parents will be thrilled.
    (Turning Row : P as emoticon. I die laughing now, as when I am tired I also see rude books instead of instructions.)
    THe french horn is a lovely instrument, and this little corner is incredibly proud of your Very Musical Daughter (this is from my over-shoulder-reading mother, who is Very Musical herself.)

  57. That last comment was from me, who not only forgot to type her full name (a sad state, since it’s only three letters long) but also forgot to insert the paragraph cooing over the hand dyed roving and insane jealousy of the trip to Rhinebeck, the beauty of the sweater and the incredible increase of the Stash. Need more coffee.

  58. WOW! So many comments, I wonder if I should post one or not? Oh well, what the heck.
    I am a relatively new knitter. I have been knitting for about 5 months. I started on straight needles. Then I knitted back & forth on circulars. Now I am also able to knit in the round. I am EXTREMELY HAPPY to have learned this way because, as our trusty yarn harlot pointed out, I now feel I can tackle almost any project. I feel like I have a wealth of basic inofrmation on which to stand, and very few knitting projects frighten me now. It’s just like in music theory & composing: you must learn the rules & be comfortable with them if you are to use them, bend them, break them, in order to create your opus.
    I love your blog & am very impressed with the wool you dyed. The colors are gorgeous!

  59. Ahem.
    It’s a good thing that I teach my beginning students (besides English and continental, knitting and purling, increasing, decreasing and carrying a color in each hand)that any knitter worth her wool has opinions. Phew.
    But let’s focus, here, campers. The comment wasn’t so much intended to address How Shall We Teach Beginning Knitters — Fearless and Flexible seems to work for most everyone here — as Right Tool for the Right Job. (I did consider calling Joe as a witness for the defense. “Joe, this is the knitting equivalent of using a screwdriver as a chisel. You in favor of that?”)
    Side Issues: Fear, sloth and “Because I learned it first.”
    Valid points: Intarsia. Intarsia in the round would be mad. Now remind me why you want to do intarsia? (No, no, I live in my Carpet Jacket all winter, honest. Right skill/right job.)
    Somewhere In Between: Fit. My Arans hang just fine, thanks (thanks, lizzie.) Of course, I put my coffee cups mouth down, so there is room to question my standards. (Here the Kalamazoo lurkers roll their eyes, knowing that that’s the least of my housekeeping sins.)
    The human body is made of cylinders. Circular knitting produces tubes. Skewered with straight needles though I be(oooh, *BRIT*tanies!)I maintain that knitting legwarmers back and forth and sewing ’em up is duff. You want to teach purling, let her do welts. Then you could switch her to dpns and let her dazzle herself with her skills. Of course, if she took those to the airport instead of a lovely little circular, Homeland Security might get worked up…
    And one last word?

  60. Great dye job! That is what an oven is supposed to be used for.
    And people need to learn to purl sometime, whether they like it or not. If you learn to do it right away as a sister (albeit sometimes ugly) sister, you are further ahead and less frustrated learning it later IMHO–you know, as you are oh-so excited to do a new pattern and get p!ssed off because no one bothered to teach it to you and now you need to learn something new and think you are above all that, and wondering why no one bothered to teach you something so important in the first place.
    I’ll go back into my quiet corner now.

  61. Not only do I agree, I went one further. My beautiful 10 year old, knitter for months… well, just say her mom decided to make her “really” comfy with her needles. I started her on a pair of socks. On 5 DPNs. Ribbing. (they haven’t gotten far, but she was easy with knitting on DPN’s)
    She prefers knitting flat on straight needles. She has both straight and circs, but invariably is knitting away on the straight needles.

  62. I too learned on straight needles first. My grandmother is of the mind “Throw her in and she’ll learn how to swim”, so I learned how to knit, purl, and then make a feather and fan-ish afghan, complete with yo’s, k2togtbl and all sorts of exciting things. I think the most formative part of my early knitting education was that I knit by rote initially. My grandmother would dictate, and I would knit. I’ve found it makes knitting much more intuitive, and memorizing patterns very easy.
    On the music note, be not afraid! The only song I played with any success for my first three years of piano was “Goodnight Ladies”, and I’m only a few credits away from a BMus degree in piano now. With time, with time! If the noise is just too much, I recommend a bubble bath, a glass of wine, earplugs and a good book. It’s gotten my mother through four Grade X RCM exams in piano and every band instrument under the sun. She recommends a trashy romance novel for the distracting mental imagery, and because they’re still comprehensible after most of a bottle of wine!

  63. Ok–I’ve gotta say it: Does anyone else think the wet roving on the baking sheet looks like entrails? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  64. Well, you did the dye job proper and I think your roving is nicely variegated. Look at the great yellows and blues you got in there! Can’t wait to see how the yarn comes out.

  65. Just for fun, picture this. I was learning violin at the ripe old age of thirty something and my next door neighbor at the ripe old age of twelve was learning french horn. Our lessons converged, and we were both practicing some flag song at the same time. I ran out of my hose with the violin and played under her window. So much for the peace of the neighborhood.

  66. Stick to your guns! I think that straight needles are hard to manage but I think that conceptually they are important for a beginner–I have even heard it suggested that Beginners should start with needles the same size but two distinct colors just to make things clear.
    As for the fear of purling thing you thought beginging with circs might induce, I am afraid you are right. For some reason there is an anti-purling lobby that has taken on a sinister power. Purling is great, and I think everyone should learn to sew a fine seam while knitting is still fresh to them–not having to knit everything in the round gives knitters a lot more design options. It’s also good for large items or gfine yarns with many stitches in a row.
    Valerie–who is nearly finished with a reverse stocking stitch sport weight pullover, which was knit on circs up to the armholes and hence (gasp!) purled every row. Purling is great, long live purling.
    It’s truly aces that your daughter has the patience to play something as difficult as the French horn.

    It is in the same spirit that I am trying to teach myself an alternate “throw” method. I think what I’ve mostly done is English… but my fingers and wrist were wearing out, so I’m working on a smooth Continental.
    The first darling son played his BASSOON at home his sister was sure that either a) the world was coming to an end, b) there was the proverbial constipated elephant in his room, or c) the smoke alarm needed a new battery but was trying to go off.

  68. Oooohhhhhhhh……….that dyed fiber looks lovely!!! Claudia is a great person, one of my favorite rabbits here went to her in Hudson, NY ๐Ÿ™‚
    Happy Spinning!

  69. dear Stephanie –
    As you wrote the words, “I would die if Meg Swansen read this…”, you must have guessed that SOMEone would rush to send it to me… sure enough…
    Actually, I do not dislike Purling (nor did my ma) as much as some knitters seem to believe. Without Purl, there would be no Arans or Ganseys … and no ribbing – for gawd’s sake!
    Purl has its place and I am grateful that it exists – I just choose to avoid it when possible.
    Keep teaching those new knitters to Purl… and know that Joyce Williams (author of Latvian Dreams) taught her sweet little innocent grandchildren to Purl FIRST – and they now prefer it to Knitting. So there.
    Meg Swansen
    Schoolhouse Press

  70. I’m with you on the back and forth deal. I have never really disliked purling. Just like ripping, a part of knitting. And I love finishing.
    My Meg plays the oboe. It was ducks, ducks, everwhere ducks for awhile. Now she plays loverly and only occasionally has a Canada Goose moment. So when Erin was choosing a new instrument I pushed for the horn, but all I got was more ducks! Quack!! Honk! It’s all music to somebody’s ears!

  71. Hooray for your first dyeing success! If you are anything like me, you’ve only just added to your obssessions =) I dye faster than I can spin these days!
    I also wanted to say that I think you may have helped me out. Until this past weekend, I had only used Gaywool dyes. This past weekend, I tried the Cushing brand in the color garnet. Unlike you, my color kept going and going in the rinse. I think that it may be that I didn’t leave it for 15 in a vinger bath before dyeing. I have 3 more colors to try so I guess I’ll try that next. The color did come out gorgeous though =)
    I have a suggestion for you if you continue to dye. I use a face mask, like a dust mask while the dye is still in powder form. That is when it is most harmful to you. The kind I bought, you get a few in a pack and it wasn’t that expensive. If you decide to move on from the crock pot, I use an electric burner I bought at KMart and some cheap pots. It’s still portable, can be stored away if necessary, but gives the opportunity to use a variety of pot sizes.
    Happy spinning now! I look forward to seeing the beautiful yarn you end up with!

  72. I too learned to knit on straights. After knitting for almost 20 years I have just recently overcome my “fear” and learned to knit on circulars. I find that I don’t have a preference of one over the other. Circulars are less dangerous to people standing beside my knitting bag (no sharp ends pointing out in search of unsuspecting legs!).
    I may be one in a million here but I actually prefer to purl! I am much fast purling than knitting – don’t know why.
    Love this blog – and yes Stacy, I too thought of entrails when looking at the wet roving on the baking sheets!

  73. Holy crap! Since you have 75 honkin’ comments you’ll probably never see this one, but here goes anyway.
    I’ve been dying (pun intended) to do the crockpot dye thing. Your dyed fiber looks great. And—watched wool never cools, dontchano?

  74. Oooh! I’m excited that you got a comment from Meg Swanson!
    Your readers crack me up. You’ve got a wacky bunch of fans (and I do mean *fans*)~ the comments are hysterical. Wow.

  75. Wow… a comment from Meg Swanson. I am a self taught knitter. I was given a little instruction book when I was eight years old. Being a lefty, noone had the patience to teach me. I agree that straight needles are important . I am going to teach my niece who is seven how to knit. I was going to start her out on a garter stitch project. But, I think know I will use a stockinette project. Love your blog and enjoyed your dyeing adventures.

  76. More on straights.
    I keep 4 (non-matching) straight needles by my knitting/tv chair. They are (of course) in an old scotch cylinder. I use them for casting on. I think casting on is more even (and much easier with the invisible caston I use) on a straight needle. This does NOT work when casting on 350 stitches for a fair-isle. You are pretty much stuck on circs for that little adventure.

  77. Absolutely, Knit and Purl go hand in hand,
    I feel that beginners need to learn both, even if they only use circulars later. You can’t get to 3 with out 2, right?, and I agree, what’s wrong with learning new skills, and also, Knitting anything is a process, you want a very nice looking somewhat professional finished piece, purling is nessacery, seaming is nessacery.
    Who wants to knit a lifetimes of Drop Shoulder pullovers, and roll brim caps?! Pshaw!

  78. Several comments: One, I agree with your straight vs circular thoughts. My mother taught me to knit when I was 7 and I started with stockinette on size 7s for what seemed like miles. It’s my favorite; I love to purl. Two, your daughter is adorable. My little brother played the French horn and eventually improved. Three, your dyed wool made me drool on my desk. Thanks a lot.

  79. You wouldn’t expect a baby to only crawl through life, you wouldn’t think your driving test would be only right hand turns, without left turns and backing up, not to mention parallel parking. You shouldn’t expect knitting to be only knit stitch without purling, yo’s and k/p togthers. How boring if you only used a knit stitch for 37 years? ULG – I shudder to think! My aunt taught me to knit with dpns! I sit people down with cotton yarn on straights, start with 10 rows of garter stitch, then to st st, then onto ribbing, before casting off. then…I clip the thread…and have then KNIT ON their cast on row and begin a dishcloth pattern that uses k and p stitches. It’s a small project that won’t get too tedious, and is usable. No matter what their tention is. Afterall, one trip to the garbage disposal will make all things equal. And at the time I’m teaching them, I remind them my first ‘swatch’ went from 10 stitches to 30something. I had saved it for many remind from whense I began, but it somehow got lost durning the last move.
    As to the French Horn…I have 4 kids, they were all *sigh* brass players, as much as I tried to make them into woodwind players! The 3 girls all started on the flute (they absolutely refused my clarinet)…and for the first 3 weeks of school the oldest came home crying and hating me for insisting on 1 year of instrumental music(better math grades the research says). Once she switched to the French Horn in high school(mind you her 3rd year of playing), having all her closest friends in music class, her 2 sisters switching to french horn, she was a much happier camper.(Brother never left his trumpet) High school found them in competitions, Macy’s parade, trips to Hawaii, Las Vegas, and other national competitions. In college, she ended up being the section leader, and as a brass player, was able to travel for 3 years to NCAA tournaments(no woodwinds allowed to go) – great chance for family across the country to see your kids when you call and say..TURN ON THE TV FAST! and there’s your daughter’s face on the 27foot screen at ESPN ZONE resturant! It also gave her the chance to perform for a former President’s Birthday party, record music for multiple movie sountracks and she’s in the current movie, President’s Daughter, with one of her all time favorite actresses, Katie Holmes. Not to mention it gave mom and sisters 4 years of free football and basketball tickets to the UCLA games. Not too shabby for a kid who found practicing in a walk in closet (HINT HERE) was a good place to have some time away from the rest of the masses called the family. Her private lesson teacher in high school is a professional French Horn player, who gave her valuable instruction, experiences, introductions, not to mention numerous babysitting dates. (ching ching to a teenager’s pocket).
    Oh, the drum set took up residence in the garage behind racks of ‘stuff’ which kept the neighbors from knowing it was here, until it was sent back to the school at the end of summer! (another hint)
    And, she’ll most likely get married to her bf of 4 years who is a trumpet player she met in the college music program. I say sticking out those first 3 weeks, gave her a pretty good payoff.
    Happy Knitting, and may your video camera never run short of film for the upcoming concerts you will be attending (use a tripod-another hint).

  80. Is the dye project the “heathered socks Kit” in bronze green you posted eariler in the week? It’s gorgeous. So so jealous.

  81. oooh – Meg Swansen read your blog!! Though your scary crockpot did a swell job of dyeing your wool, would you please consider getting a brand-new one that doesn’t electrocute you? Fried Harlot is no good.

  82. I have just recently taken up knitting, and I wound up learning on double pointed needles (because that’s all my mom had – and an old set at that). I treated them like straight needles for the purposes of learning, though I did make an attempt or two at knitting in the round with them (not overly successful, but not overly disastrous, either). All this talk about purling being difficult makes me a bit wary that perhaps I’m not doing it right, because I honestly don’t see too much of a problem with it.

  83. I’m late to the party but I agree that learning to knit and purl is the way to start. You said it.
    The french horn is one of the most difficult instruments to play well. Bear with her, for she builds character!!! Also if she’s good she’ll be famous.

  84. Stephanie, I’ve been a long time lurker, but had to come out on this one. While you do have my sympathy on the horn learning daughter, I’m a retired professional horn player, and I’m ALWAYS thrilled when we’ve snagged another convert. (My mother, was another matter. She wanted me to do something feminine, like piano or harp…)
    However, I will warn you–it will ALWAYS sound like an elephant in heat, though perhaps not as frequently. I performed for 20++++ years, and there were days when that was the best that I could hope for… It IS a lot of fun, and the experiences you get are fantastic (as another poster mentioned).
    For you, I suggest earplugs and/or shooting muffs (aka sound deadening ear “muffs” that you see many gun shooters wear).
    Good luck and congratulations on such talented children.

  85. Hi! I had to come straight to your blog right when I got back from China. I did finish my Cape in time for the trip, and didn’t need it! It was such nice weather there.
    Glad to see you had such a great time while I was away… Rhinebeck is going on my “Must Do” list.
    Oh – and I made the mistake of letting one of my friends start her knitting life on a hat knit on circulars, and yes, she HATES purling. Wish I had your knitting wisdom when I started teaching her.

  86. Hi! I had to come straight to your blog right when I got back from China. I did finish my Cape in time for the trip, and didn’t need it! It was such nice weather there.
    Glad to see you had such a great time while I was away… Rhinebeck is going on my “Must Do” list.
    Oh – and I made the mistake of letting one of my friends start her knitting life on a hat knit on circulars, and yes, she HATES purling. Wish I had your knitting wisdom when I started teaching her.

  87. Playing the horn is like driving down an icy mountain road at 90 miles an hour. Hooray for your daughter for taking the scary route instead choosing what the rest of her friends chose!!
    (Full disclosure: I am a horn player and am biased beyond belief…)

  88. I too learned on straight needles. Does this mean that I regard knit and purl stitches equally? No it does not. Does this mean that I enjoy sewing garment seams? Again the answer is no. Can I do it? Of course.
    Recently I have been knitting smallish patches for a charity afghan. Turning the work every 35 stitches annoyed me sufficiently that I have been knitting “backwards.”
    No fears.
    BTW – My mother swears that the best way to teach someone to knit is to give them 2 different color straight needles. That way you can refer to the needles be color (no right left confusion)

  89. Your blog is so popular & your email so full, that, thankfully, you may never know that there is yet another knitter who holds an opinion contrary to yours. Aaaacccckkk! I learned to knit (and purl!) on straights. I never really understood circular needles, since I thought you could only use them in the round for something that size, and I rarely wanted to make something just that size. Decades later (really! well, two is a sneaky way of getting to use the plural) I saw someone knitting back & forth on circular needles!! A huge revelation to me. Since I was living abroad at the time, and locally bamboo circular needles could be had for about $1 (canadian, even!) I was suddenly in HEAVEN! But gradually I learned about using two circs for any size round item, two socks at once on circs, and then the magic loop. Suddenly knitting flat bits and sewing just no longer appealed. I don’t mind purling. I don’t think I would ever mind purling (I knit continental; I don’t know if that matters), whether I learned on straights or circs. I just strongly dislike (okay, HATE) having to sew seams when I know there’s a way to do it without! Seeing raglan sweater patterns with SEWN-IN sleeves is just plain nauseating. On occassion there is a reason (intarsia pattern, amybe) but most of the time there isn’t. The publisher either didn’t want to deal, or somehow thought that knitters LIKED to sew and NOT KNIT! Crazy………not unlike those bodice thingies…..All right–enough ranting for a pre-dawn Saturday…….back to my top-down v-neck raglan in the round……an old Bernat pattern I uncovered and am very excited about because work keeps me too busy to work out the “recipe” from Barbara Walker’s book…….though one of these days I will. Here’s hoping your house is far enough from the zoo that no elephant hopped up on hormones will ever mistake your daughter’s French horn for their one true love!

  90. This is such an interesting post and thread of comments!
    I learned to knit on straights–our beginning knitting class knit a basic cotton dishcloth pattern, which got us knitting, purling and reading patterns quickly. Knitting a dishcloth using basic kitchen cotton was also an advantage since if one’s stitches or gauge were WAY off, it didn’t really matter. After all, “It’s just a dishcloth.”
    I’m sure your French Horn player’s tone will be sounding quite lovely sooner than you might expect it. My sister played French Horn, but my parents had already suffered through two years of my beginning oboe playing when she started. Oboe and French Horn were then followed by drums, flute, bassoon and alto saxophone. Enjoy the squeaks and squawks while they last.

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