There Is Not Just One Way

Last week, I was watching the online graduation ceremony of one of the Offspring. The university did a lovely job, complete with cheesy “photo op” with the university president (he paused for a minute, smiling at the camera, with an empty space beside him so the graduates could stand in front of the screen and take a selfie).

One of the things that stuck with me was the speech of one of the valedictorians. He talked about how weird it was to address his talk to a camera rather than an auditorium of smiling faces; how different from what he had expected. He had expected one thing, but had to do it quite differently. And then he issued a challenge:

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

One way of doing things. The only way. The right way. And if we can’t do it this way, we might as well not do it at all. Isn’t that’s the way it works?

I learned how to knit when I was in Grade 3, or maybe 4, in needlework class in school. Well, actually, I think I already knew some of it before we got to it in class; my mother had shown me. But that was all right, because she knew the right way to do it, so I didn’t have to unlearn anything.

img_20200622_130231209

There is, of course, only one way to knit. You feed the yarn through the fingers of your left hand, hold the index finger up with the yarn looped around it, grasp the left knitting needle with the remaining fingers, take the other needle in your right hand, insert it into the stitch, and scoop the yarn through. That is the way to knit, the right way. Everybody does it that way – my mother, my grandmother, my teacher, all my friends… That’s how I learned to do it. That’s how knitting works.

And then I came to Canada.

I still remember the first time I saw a Canadian knitting. At least she said it was knitting, and she had knitting needles and yarn. But what she was doing seemed really weird. Awkward. She was somehow trailing the yarn from her right hand, poking the needle into the stitch, then picking up that trailing yarn, looping it around the needle, and pulling it through. With every stitch she did that loop-around thing. So odd, so slow. She’d obviously never been taught how to knit properly, poor thing…

But you know what?

That very weird and awkward style of holding yarn in your right hand and looping it around the needle with every stitch – which, incidentally, is called “English knitting” or “throwing” – is not only a perfectly legal method of knitting, but it produces a piece of knitwear that is indistinguishable from one done the “right” way. Honest to goodness! Take any handmade sweater, toque, mitten, sock, or scarf, and I defy you to tell just by looking at the stitches whether the knitter held the yarn in her right hand or left hand, whether she was “throwing” her stitches or “picking” them in “continental style”.

Furthermore, English-style knitters are just as capable of producing vast quantities of knitwear with just as many variants in patterns and colours and fancy stitches as us continental-style knitters. True, continental knitting seems to be faster, on average, and, once you learn it, run more automatically. But really, what it comes down to is how you learned to do it, and what style you prefer. Left hand knitting or right hand, it’s your choice.

But wait! There’s more! Yes, there’s English (or American or French) knitting, and Continental (or German) knitting. But then there’s Western style (needle inserted in the front of the stitch) and Eastern style (needle inserted in the back)! Needle held under the hand (standard American) or above the hand (British English or Parlour style)! Portuguese! Norwegian! Russian! Shetland! Combination style! Picking, flicking, throwing! Looping your working yarn through your fingers; wrapping it once, twice, three times; just letting it hang loose!

I had no idea. I was taught how to knit one way, and a very good way it is, too. I can make sweaters and socks and mittens and even little hats to put on boiled eggs to keep them warm*. But, contrary to what I used to think, it is, by no stretch of the imagination, the only way.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

Life is better when you like more things – and life is better when you can think of more than one way to do things.

I recently taught myself to knit and purl the “awkward” English way. I still prefer continental style – I’m literally twice as fast at it; I timed it – but now, when my shoulder starts to ache from knitting with the yarn in my left hand or I get bored, I can just switch to the right and fall into another rhythm for a little while. The slower pace and slight awkwardness that still remains makes the process that much more meditative, and at the end, I can’t tell which parts I knit continental and which parts English.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

The students to whom this valedictorian’s speech was addressed via a Youtube livestream are just as graduated now as they would have been if they had listened to it in a big auditorium, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow graduants. The times required that the graduation was held differently – with the yarn in the right hand, as it were. But it’s just as valid this way.

Life, the Universe, Graduations and Knitting. There is not just one way of doing things.

img_20200622_141949754 *This is an egg hat. In case you were wondering.

Author: AMOffenwanger

writer, editor, maker of things

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