by Emma Duffany

Warning! The following blog is dedicated solely to knitting. Newcomers to this topic, do not get overwhelmed, and please hang in there and be patient with our detailed, obsessive descriptions.

Our stash is growing. Multiplying. Hidden under beds, on top of tables, in boxes in the classroom, and stuffed between chair cushions. Skein by skein, each of us is acquiring a growing stash of yarn, a common curse among knitters where yarn is accumulated in excess due to an obsession with the fibery stuff.

We are all taking Dr. Carrie John’s Natural Fibers and Sustainable Textiles class, which explores different fiber-types and yarn-craft techniques, but places a heavy emphasis on knitting and spinning. Most of us had some experience with knitting, but what we learned in the first week surpassed all of our previous knowledge. We began with knitting a sampler, a square piece that demonstrates mastery of different types of stitching: seed stitch, garter stitch, moss, double-moss, and stockinette. We struggled and swore and ripped out row upon row until finally, we were able to differentiate between a knit and a purl enough to be able to understand and read patterns. We were certainly not masters yet, but we were on our way. Stich by stich, we are becoming knitters

Our first project was a cabled cowl or scarf. Complicated and intricate in appearance, cables actually prove to be rather straightforward; if you can knit and purl, you can also cable, though most of us were rather skeptical of this at first. We loaded everyone into the van and took a field trip to the yarn store in Potsdam, where we were greeted with an overwhelming number of possible yarns to choose from. For over an hour, we debated color, softness, price, and material until we had each selected a skein or two of worsted weight yarn in a wide array of shades and textures.

Back at the house, we got to work, discovering the patience and fine-tuned skill required to slip stitches onto a deathly sharp double-pointed metal cable needle, hold those stiches in front while knitting behind, and then knitting the cable stitches back onto the much safer wooden needles, creating the classic twisted-cable pattern. Most knitters begin with a scarf because it seems simple and painless, but in truth, a scarf becomes a seemingly never-ending project, stretching on for miles. A new knitter often lacks the stamina for a scarf, setting it down after every few rows, which can turn into a two or three year project. We didn’t have the luxury of years to finish these scarves, because colored stripes, Fair Isle, and lace knitting lay just on the horizon.

Within three weeks, we had each completed the cabled cowl or scarf and had moved onto knitting in the round on circular needles. After supplying ourselves with new yarn, we began working on hats. Within a matter of days, the majority of us had finished our first hat, and were eagerly searching for new patterns on Ravelry, a free website where members can share patterns, ideas, and see what other knitters are up to…social media for die-hard knitters! We expanded our skills with two-color knitting, which involves using two skeins of yarn and switching back and forth between them. Like cabling, multiple-color knitting is much easier than it looks because again, if you can knit and purl, you can alternate colors.

Currently, we are involved in making final projects, anything of our choosing as long as it is complex enough to test our knitting abilities. Some of us are making socks, others bags and fancy Fair Isle hats, and a particularly ambitious individual is even tackling a sweater. We are also busy researching the production of different fibers-- silk, viscose, hemp, qiviut-- taking a stance on whether or not they are sustainable for the use in textile production. As the semester has progressed, we have become increasingly aware of the materials in the yarns that we purchase. Many of us started out buying cheap acrylic, but we now appreciate the more natural fibers that have a smaller environmental impact. True, these mohair and alpaca blends are more expensive, but they are produced in a more sustainable way than petroleum-derived yarns, and the proceeds often support small-scale textile businesses around the world.

This semester has turned even the most reluctant knitters into enthusiasts. Someone is always knitting, whether it be during class, late at night, or silently at the breakfast table. Knitting is stress relieving and strangely addicting because once you begin, you become hooked, with the mantra “just one more stitch, just one more row” running through your head. We take pride in our unique hand-knit creations that are the products of our labor and support the greater goal of knowing the place of origin of our consumer products.

~Bronte and Emma Duffany