Teach Me: Knitting

Sweater weather? Will be by the time I finish this project.

What do Leonardo Da Vinci, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Zhang Heng, Donald Glover, and Emma Watson all have in common? They’re polymaths — or renaissance men and women. Talented in fields across several disciplines such as astronomy, engineering, music, and literature. “Teach Me” is a new Local series about one reporter’s quest for knowledge, skills, and truth on the Island of Martha’s Vineyard.

It all began with friendly admiration for my colleague Teresa’s intricately designed fisherman sweater. She told me she made it herself, taking the better part of six months to complete. Astonished, impressed, thinking if I had a fisherman sweater and a mustache I’d look like Ernest Hemingway, and suddenly filled with an eagerness to make my own sweater— despite having never picked up a pair of knitting needles in my life — I asked her if she could teach me how to do it.

Teresa was more than happy to get me started, but I’ll say this first: When learning to knit you won’t be making a sweater right off the bat. I began (and at publication time am still beginning) with a humble knit hat.

The first thing I learned with knitting is, well, that it’s hard at first. Two needles, a ball of yarn, and a design pattern sounds simple, but putting it all together in practice takes some dedication.

But with a great teacher in tow, I was actually able to successfully “cast on,” which is getting the first row of stitches onto the needle. With Teresa’s help I was even able to “cast off,” which is the process of getting the stitches off the needle where they don’t immediately unravel.

What worked well for me was casting on, going a few stitches, then unraveling the entire stitch and starting from scratch — just to get the hang of it. It can be a little frustrating as casting on can be tough, but after a few tries the method sinks in.

Also: Search for a teacher. YouTube is great, but you can’t beat a hands-on mentor with a passion for knitting yarn. It also helps when navigating knitting patterns, which, for most projects, can look like a mathematical codex.

Never fear though, you’ll quickly begin to realize it’s just a series of knits and purls, two very important stitches that create all the cool designs you see on sweaters, hats, and everything else.

For any first-time knitters out there inspired by my effort, try crafting a hat as your first project. Many go for the scarf but the hat adds a bit of complexity, and people love putting things on their head, so they make a great gift.

For anyone starting out knitting, the best place to head to on-Island is Vineyard Knitworks at 10 State Road in Vineyard Haven. They’ve got yarn, needles, and even classes to help get you started or to refine your craft. Give them a call at 508-687-9163 or email vineyardknitworks@comcast.net.

While the process has been slow and frequent mess ups have occurred, I’ve set a fall goal to finish my hat. Who knows, maybe it will actually be done once the cold weather comes around.

Then, on to my sweater.