Tomorrow, my pastor has asked me to bring my knitting to church. Now, usually, church is the one place I try really hard NOT to knit…I’ll knit just about anywhere else, but not in worship. Or during bible study. Waiting for the kids to get out of bell choir, though, is totally fair game and some of my best knitting time. Tomorrow, though, the sermon at the contemporary service is on something related to lifelong learning (I assume it will lead somewhere such as the lifelong process of learning to be Christian…could be wrong), so they have asked our music director/pianist extraordinairre to talk about learning to play the piano, and they’ve asked me to bring my knitting and talk about becoming a Master Knitter.

Here’s the questions Gail sent me to look over, and I’ll take advantage of having this space to start to sort through my possible responses.

Would you tell us what it means to be a Master Knitter?
It means I belong to the guild that developed the Master Knitter program, and that I have demonstrated my skills and understanding of knitting. There are three levels, each one more complex and demanding. They start with demonstrating competence in the basic skills of knitting, and move through increasingly difficult techniques, as well as research and written work to show my understanding of the history and traditions of knitting. I also was required to design and knit an original sweater and a hat, both using advanced techniques, and to write the patterns for these designs.
What was the first thing you ever knitted?
A square. I knit a lot of squares, actually. My first knitting teacher knew a bunch of things to make out of squares, so we could practice the basics and not have it be a big deal if we screwed up. One square turned into a very simple doll. One square turned into my needle book. Another one got sewn up and stuffed and turned into a toy rabbit. I knit a lot of squares.
Was there somebody who encouraged you in your early knitting learning?  Who, and what did they do?
I hung out with a bunch of other people who were also just learning to knit. We did have a teacher, but a lot of the encouragement we got was just from seeing each other try new things. When you get knitters together, there’s a whole lot of “wow, I want to do what you’re doing!” I still hang out with knitters a lot; it’s fun to see what everyone else is working on, and to get new ideas or help with a new technique. It’s fun to show off my own knitting, too.
Do you ever make a mistake in knitting?  What do you do then?
I make LOTS of mistakes. I make mistakes all the time. Less than I used to, I suppose…at least I usually don’t make mistakes with the basic stitches. Now I make really big, spectacular mistakes.
What do I do? I whimper. I complain to anyone around me who will put up with it. (This works best with other knitters.) A lot of times I can figure out what went wrong and fix it, by looking at my stitches really carefully, counting or checking the pattern or going back to the last place I knew it was right. Sometimes I can fix the problem by isolating just that one stitch or place where it’s wonky, dropping down to the bad spot, making it right, and chaining the stitch back up. Sometimes it’s too big for that and I have to rip out several rows to go back to the problem and start over from there. Knitters have words for that sort of thing: if you just have to go back a few stitches, it’s called tinking. If you have to take the needle out and rip it way back, that’s frogging. It happens to everybody.
Sometimes the problem is so big, or so frustrating, that the piece has to go into time out for a while until it can learn to behave. I have a sweater in time out right now (my Must Have Cardi, sadly enough) because one sleeve is bigger than the other. By a lot. I can’t stand to look at it so it’s in the basket until it is truly and deeply apologetic for what it has done.
What is your favorite thing that you have ever knitted?  Why?
This is a tough one. I have a lot of favorites. I love my lace silk Lily shawl because it is so beautiful it makes my heart stop, and because I knit it with a group of friends. I love the sweater I knit for Tom because it was so hard to do, and because he wears it. I love the vest I knit for Mook, because she wore it alot and took it home to Thailand with her and I know it makes her think of me. I love the brooklyntweed scarf I knit because it was so easy and the yarn is so wonderful to work with. I love the slippers and socks I’ve knit for my girls, because they call them Mamasocks and my work keeps their feet warm.
Did you make a conscious decision to be a master knitter or did it just happen along the way?
Are you kidding? That sort of thing doesn’t “just happen.” I decided. I paid a lot of money to it. I had to join a particular guild. I ordered materials and I had to follow some very precise instruction. I had to make a very deliberate decision, and then recommit to it over and over again. There were a million small steps along the way, and I had to choose to do each one of them. I had to really want it, because I could have knit a lot of other things instead with the time it took to do that program.
Do you ever get discouraged with the way a knitted piece is turning out? 
Oh yes. I cut a whole section out of my Fair Isle hat because it looked horrible, and it didn’t look good with the rest of the design. The hat had to go into time out for a while too before I could decide what to do with it.
What’s the best lesson you have learned while knitting (not about the actual knitting but more like patience, calm, sticking to a task)?
Everything anyone ever knit, is made from one stitch at a time. Every single thing…one stitch at a time. Even the biggest, most intricate sweater can be knit by just working one row, then another row, when you have a chance. You don’t have to have a huge chunk of hours to sit and make progress on something. You can knit something big just by carrying it around with you and working on it for five minutes while you’re waiting in the car, or ten minutes while dinner is cooking, or while you’re hanging out with friends, or watching TV in the evenings. You can do huge things with small bits of time, and it makes those small bits of time important because they’re part of making something happen.
Have you ever given something you’ve knitted as a gift?  How did that feel?
It feels great, especially if the person you’re giving it to really wears the thing. And especialy if they’re knitters. One time I gave a pair of mittens to a friend. It was a terribly difficult pattern, actually it had started out as a hat pattern and I used the design to make up a pair of mittens. I’d spent hours with graph paper and colored pencils working out the colors, and then many more hours actually knitting them. It was an advanced technique for me at the time and it was a huge stretch. When I gave them to my friend, she said, Oh, Thanks, and she put them with all her other mittens. Since then, she’s learned to knit herself, and she came back to me and said OH, WOW, THANKS for the mittens! So sometimes you have to let go of your desire to be thanked and appreciated, and just know that you did your best and you’ve given from your heart.
It’s a real work of love to knit something for someone. When I’m knitting something as a gift, I think about that person with every stitch and every row. It really is giving your heart, and then afterwards you know that your love and your hours and your work is walking around them keeping them warm. It’s very personal.
Do you think that you still have more to learn about knitting?  What would that be?
There’s always more to learn. That’s one of the great things about knitting…you never run out of new challenges, new techniques, something surprising. I have a long list of things I want to knit. There’s a new book on Estonian lace that’s coming out next month, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it because I know there will be a lot of things in there that I’ve never done before.
If you were to teach someone else to knit, what is the thing that you’d really want them to understand?
I do teach, and one of the things I really try to teach knitters is to understand what’s happening with their stitches. How do the stitches connect? Why does one technique give a different result than another?  Every stitch is connected with every other stitch. If you really look at your knitting closely, especially when you make a mistake and you have to undo it, you can get an understanding of how they connect, and then you can figure out how to fix things. Or how to make it do something different. You don’t have to be a slave to the pattern instructions…once you get some understanding of what’s happening, you can make your knitting do what YOU want it to. It’s not that difficult once you see the connections.
The other thing I would really say is, don’t get discouraged by the mistakes. You can’t NOT make mistakes…everyone does it. But if you let your early mistakes get to you, you’ll never learn to knit. You can read as many books as you want about knitting, you can collect patterns, you can stash yarn, you can draw up designs of what you want to knit, but if you don’t PUT STITCHES ON YOUR NEEDLES, you’ll never get anything knit. If you do put stitches on your needles, you’ll make mistakes…but look at what went wrong, see how it happened and what you might be able to do to fix it, and learn from it. Get help from a more experienced knitter, or just someone with fresh eyes. Most things can be fixed, and probably more easily than you fear. The only people I’ve known who “can’t” learn to knit, are the ones who expected to do it perfectly the first time, and then when they made a mistake like everyone else, got discouraged and gave up. The knitters who go ahead and knit, and make the mistakes and fix them…those are the ones who can go on to create something beautiful.