Monday, November 9, 2009

Two bits of knitting theory: the "work-to-glory" ratio and "product-plus-process"

Today's post is also available as an mp3 file: click here to hear TECHknitter on "Two bits of knitting theory--the podcast."
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I’m working a project now which I simply love—love far more than an ordinary knitting project.

This scarf is a simple lace rectangle, worked in the very easy "sea foam pattern" and made from Kauni Effectgarn lace yarn. But it isn't really the pattern or the yarn which are the subjects of this post. This scarf is merely a springboard. Thinking about why this particular project should be so special has dredged up two bits of knitting theory, and (fair warning!) I mean to inflict them on you today.

Theory 1: The "work-to-glory ratio"

This bit of knitting theory comes from my friend Carol (Rududu on Ravelry, where she is a Bobby Award Winner and a member of the Hall of Fame).

A quick-to-knit item which turns out beautifully is the ideal subject for hand knitting, it has a good work-to-glory ratio. Conversely, a hard-to-knit item which does not ultimately inspire has a bad work-to-glory ratio. Naturally, there are also items which are hard to work but result in a great deal of glory. Knitters must decide for themselves where the balance between work and glory ought best to lie to give the maximum possible results, the biggest "bang" for your knitting labor.

The scarf which inspired today's post has the best work-to glory ratio of any project I have ever worked. The gorgeous yarn of which it is knit transforms the simple lace into a simply gorgeous fabric. Even if you're not as excited about this project as I am, it's an unmistakable illustration of the concept. This all-garter stitch lace can be made by any beginner, but the use of a beautifully-spun, long-repeat, well-dyed yarn substantially ups the glory quotient with no additional work on my part whatever.

Yarn: Kauni Effectgarn lace yarn
Lace Pattern: Sea Foam, with several rows of garter stitch worked as a foundation, and 3 extra garter stitches on each side edge, modified by working 1, 2 and 3 yo's, rather than the more usual 2, 3 and 4 yo's. (This would also finish with several rows of garter stitch at the end before the bind off.)

Theory 2: Product Plus Process

When non-knitters look at hand-knit goods, most tend to focus on the result, on the product. "Why spend 42 hours making a pair of socks? Wal-Mart sells 'em for a buck a pair" is their attitude, their tolerably obvious attitude. Confirmed sock knitters, however, find that mass-made socks cannot be compared to hand-made--the custom fit, the warmth, the exact colors of a hand made sock cannot be duplicated. This excellence is sometimes the very heart of a successful knitting project--the seamless toe, the beautiful work, the perfect fit, the non-binding sock on the achy foot. Knitting as product (and, as a very superior product which you simply couldn't buy anywhere!)

Often, however, hand-knitted objects add another dimension, a process dimension. See your kid standing near the door in hand-made socks, ready to pull on shoes and head out? Those socks are loving that child--the kid is wearing a hug on each foot, and the knitter and the kid both know it. This is process and product combined: knitted object as connection between people.

Further, the knitter also remembers where the sock was knit--sitting on the sofa at home, perhaps, or on a splendid vacation, or maybe at the sick-bed of a beloved relative. Each stitch captures the tick of the clock while the curtains stirred the breeze, the vista of mountains unscrolling through the train window, the love and concern for the person in the bed. Process and product combine again: the knitted object as connection to personal history.

The same half-started lace scarf which inspired today's reverie about the work-to-glory ratio also carries a great many strands of this sort of connection. The Kauni lace yarn from which this scarf is being knit was bought in Zurich Switzerland, a city which I had the great good fortune to visit on vacation. Eva Grimmer, the owner of the Vilfil yarn shop there, had this ball of yarn as a display on her counter. It was the last Kauni lace yarn in stock, and she very kindly agreed to sell this display ball to me.

From its appearance, I assumed that the ball was machine-wound and came from the factory like that,. However, after allowing me to buy her display, Eva let drop that she had wound it herself, by hand while watching TV. "It wasn't difficult" she said "because I studied mathematics at University." As I knit on this yarn, Zurich, Eva, her shop, her astonishing mathematical winding and her generosity in selling me the hand-wound ball are all present before me, many strands of connection.

Excellence of fit, that is product. Object as connection to person and to history, that is combination of product and process. The more I knit, though, the more I think that there's even yet another quality of hand-knitting, a pure process aspect perhaps not much discussed, and that is the ephemeral joy of the knitting itself.

All hand-knits carry the invisible story of their own knitting--not just where they were knit, but also how--the color and texture of the needles which slid through the yarn, what the stitch markers looked like, how the yarn first looked on the shelf, how the project looked when first cast on and when half-finished, how the skeins of yarn then looked half-collapsed in the knitting basket. The older I get, the more foreground are these ephemeral joys.

Beyond the good work-to-glory ratio, beyond my connection to Zurich, my half-started Kauni scarf offers a great deal of this sort of joy, too.

Watching the yarn unwind from the smooth, even layers Eva put there is is a pure process joy. In fact, watching those smooth layers come undone with each tug on the running yarn is as much of a joy as the actual knitting itself. More joy comes because the yarn is dyed in long repeats. As I knit, the color of the ball keeps changing--first it was a green ball of yarn with colored innards, but now it is an orange ball. When the scarf is finished, its secret mother--the changing color yarn ball--will have been used up, but the pleasure of the changing color ball will stay with me until the scarf itself is lost and fades from memory.

This sort of ephemeral joy is sometimes so strong, it may result in unfinished garments. I think many knitters have a half-finished project somewhere--a project never to be disposed yet never to be finished. Sometimes, the pure process pleasure of the project underway outweighs any pleasure the finished product could bring. For many years I had a project like this too, a mohair hat. As a finished product, it would have been another hat, one of many, but as a project, the sharp golden lace needles against the green mohair with the hot-pink stitch markers was an experience in itself. In pure process knits, the knitter takes the project out every few months just to add a few stitches and savor, or even just to pat the yarn.

--TK YYou have been reading TECHknitting on two bits of knitting theory: the "work-to-glory ratio" and "product-plus-process."


Blogger Michelle said...

What a beautiful post! So many truths that that I never would have brought to full consciousness by myself, but which resonate in perfect tune once I read them. Thank-you!

P.S. I'm going to link to this post on my own blog in the near future; it's too good not to share.

November 9, 2009 at 12:34 AM  
Blogger Nicola said...

Wow. I'm with you on this one. Thanks.

(Also will link from my blog to spread the yarn love.)

November 9, 2009 at 1:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

YES! That's it exactly! I made a crazy complicated cabled afghan for my husband's sister when she got married. I tried for weeks to write her a note explaining that she wasn't receiving a mere blanket so much as three solid months of my time, love, and attention. I couldn't express it the way you did, in a way a non-knitter might understand.


November 9, 2009 at 2:07 AM  
Blogger La Noisette said...

Vilfil, you talk about the knitting's cavern in Zürich? Are yout here for holyday?

November 9, 2009 at 3:51 AM  
Blogger Crafty Cripple said...

What a wonderful post, it really encapsulates why we all knit and why we choose our projects. Though I know in my head why I do it, sometimes it is nice for someone to confirm "outloud" that I am not the only one who feels that way.

November 9, 2009 at 4:34 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

What a great thing to read first thing in the morning. Thanks.

November 9, 2009 at 5:15 AM  
Blogger Ellen said...

Thank you for this lovely meditation on all the things that make handcrafted textiles so meaningful.

November 9, 2009 at 7:05 AM  
Blogger Cathy W said...

An absolutely wonderful post! I'll also be sharing it around.

November 9, 2009 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger kmkat said...

Lovely post, thanks! I now carry in my mind an image of golden lace needles, green mohair yarn, and hot pink stitch markers. I may need to recreate that for reals.

November 9, 2009 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I definitely have one or two projects that are hard to make myself finish because they're so much fun to knit!

November 9, 2009 at 10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for an excellent post.
1) a beautiful example of a simple pattern and the perfect yarn for it.

2)helping me remember that the process of knitting is what I love.

3) reminding me that my yarn is the equivalent of souvenirs when I travel and that using it merely adds to the memories. (although it makes it harder to get rid of that acrylic dk weight I purchased on a trip to CA a few years ago)

4) getting me to start thinking about work-to-glory ratios for the remaining holiday knitting I need to complete.

November 9, 2009 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger subliminalrabbit said...

just... lovely. thank you.

November 9, 2009 at 10:57 AM  
Anonymous Meshanna said...

WOW!! LOVE the accomanying podcast that went with it!! I loved listening to you as I followed along with the post. I would love to see (hear) more!!

November 9, 2009 at 12:13 PM  
Blogger C said...

That was such an eloquent and well-written post! Thank you for reminding us about the things that made us fall in love with knitting. Bravo!

November 9, 2009 at 12:17 PM  
Blogger Angeluna said...

What a delightful post. Thank you. Planning to listen to the podcast tonight.

Seafoam lace resonates with me. It makes me happy to knit it and to wear it. And I'm still agog over Eva's hand-wound ball of Kauni.

November 9, 2009 at 1:52 PM  
Blogger GJabouri said...

This was one of the most thoughtful articles about knitting I've read. Thanks!

November 9, 2009 at 1:53 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

Yes and yes! A friend of mine said she was tired of knitting "just scarves" and I did not know how to respond. Now I do - thank you!

November 9, 2009 at 4:31 PM  
Blogger adriene said...

This is exactly the sort of sentiment I wish I could share whenever people give me the "Why would you make that if you could buy it at Walmart" spiel. I shall keep it for future reference. Thank you!

November 9, 2009 at 4:55 PM  
Blogger Frankie said...

Wonderful post! You've captured the real "essence" of knitting for me -- love it! May there be many happy, memory-making knitting days ahead. :)

November 9, 2009 at 5:09 PM  
Blogger quinn said...

This essay will strike a chord with most - if not all - knitters who have the good fortune to read it.
Love (1)

November 9, 2009 at 5:38 PM  
Blogger O'chica said...

Don't we have a way to "favorite a post" on Blogger? Thanks, TECHknitter, for this beautiful post.

November 9, 2009 at 6:34 PM  
Anonymous twinsetellen said...

I always say if you want a sweater, go to Target. If you want to knit, knit. And sometimes when I knit I end up with a great sweater - how cool is that?!

Thanks for the well written thoughts.

November 9, 2009 at 8:26 PM  
Anonymous =Tamar said...

Yes, yes, especially the last part about the sharp needles, the fuzzy yarn, the utterly different stitch markers and the hotly contrasting colors - ah! Intense. That's the part that other apologists have left out.

November 9, 2009 at 9:04 PM  
Anonymous ifdefelseif said...

Lyrical and lovely, sweet and true.

November 9, 2009 at 9:50 PM  
Blogger Ed Scott said...

Thank you. That was absolutely beautiful.

November 9, 2009 at 10:54 PM  
Blogger La Cabeza Grande said...

Pure poetry! This post is right on time for where I am creatively, at present. Thank you for putting into words that ephemeral joy that is crafting by hand. One is both in the moment and transcending the moment.

I had forgotten.

November 10, 2009 at 4:10 AM  
Blogger cherylsterling said...

Well said. I will definitely be showing some blog love to this post.

November 10, 2009 at 4:19 AM  
Blogger zoe said...

You express the same sentiments I have for handmade items. Your post reminded me again of why a small handbroom that my Mom gave me years ago is hanging in my livingroom. This is not a cozy knitted item that she made but the sentiment is the same. When I look at this broom, I know that my mother's hands carefully touched each midriff and I feel her essence as I remember how she loves to work with her hands making things for the family.

November 10, 2009 at 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Aoi said...

It was very inspiring and moving. Thank you for the wonderful post. I would love to share it with others too.

November 11, 2009 at 12:14 AM  
Blogger The Billats said...

I love the eloquence of your posts! If I am going to spend my time reading instead of knitting, your blog provides the perfect joy-to-word ratio. Merci beaucoup for your words. Gayle

November 11, 2009 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger Judi P said...

Beautifully said. And a great reminder. On bad days I sometimes ask myself why knitting is so important to me. I'm going to print this out and carry it in my knitting bag so I can read it "as needed." Thanks!

November 11, 2009 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Purple Butterfly said...

What a wonderful post, such a delight to read. I will definitely link to it from my blog

November 11, 2009 at 9:43 PM  
Blogger Diana said...

Thank you for articulating just what it is that draws us to making things by hand. The next time someone asks me why I spend hours making things, I'll just refer them to this post.

November 12, 2009 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger a stitch in time said...

Thanks for your wonderful blog - I have linked to you from mine (and spent much too much time reading up on knitting theory and details...)

November 13, 2009 at 2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perfectly phrased. Sums up all of our knitting hearts!

November 13, 2009 at 10:52 PM  
Blogger Alwen said...

"TECH" indeed - in this case a poem of a post!

I am knitting from a changing colored ball, so this especially resonated with me today.

November 14, 2009 at 8:11 AM  
Blogger Evelyn said...

I love your tech=y posts, but I hope you will post more posts like this as well. Very nicely said! And gorgeous scarf!

November 15, 2009 at 8:55 AM  
Blogger Clementine's Shoes said...

Great post! So many wonderful "YES!" observations about knitting, the process and what it brings to us- those who knit, or facilitate knitting, and those who recieve.

November 15, 2009 at 2:52 PM  
Blogger Shanel said...

Well said!

November 18, 2009 at 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Alpaca Farmgirl said...

I loved this post and your project. It's lovely! Thanks for sharing your perspective.

I'd love for you to share a post with us at Fiber Arts Friday sometime.

November 20, 2009 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger Rzimmerman said...

How well thought out this post is! When I first began to subscribe to Knitters I liked the thoughtful approach to the craft that i found there... your contribution resonates with so many people, so well... thank you

November 20, 2009 at 1:35 PM  
Anonymous Susan said...

Brilliant post. A treasure. The work to glory ratio has so many applications outside of knitting, too.

November 20, 2009 at 7:06 PM  
Blogger Bullwinkle said...

Excellent post! Thanks for writing.

(Found you via

November 23, 2009 at 8:14 PM  
Blogger mebellus said...

You got it. That process explanation is exactly why I knit. There are some other reasons, but that's the biggest one. It's the only "hobby" I've kept up with consistently.

November 24, 2009 at 1:11 PM  
Anonymous tasterspoon said...

What a wonderful essay.

Frankly, as a new but eager knitter, I have been trying to explain to MYSELF why I should spend so much time knitting something that I could have bought in its finished form so much more cheaply (and, let's face it, probably better looking). I find myself drawn to patterns way above my skill level so that my input will be "visible" and "worth it," but then I get frustrated because I am terrible and can't see the light at the end of a project. Your post reminds me that completing a masterwork - or even churning out a wardrobe - isn't necessarily the point, but just one of the many facets, of this art/craft. Thanks so much.

December 4, 2009 at 4:46 PM  
Anonymous Caroline said...

What a great perspective! Now I might understand why Mom never finished the sz 3 pink mohair sweater, ("butterfly stitch") kept in a crinkly dept store bag. I found it from time just to hug it. She is gone, but I still have one ball of the much connection to the heart!

December 9, 2009 at 1:08 PM  
Blogger spinningmaid said...

A really beautuful, very well written account of the joys of knitting!

December 11, 2009 at 4:04 AM  
Blogger Nothing Fancy said...

Yanno, for being a "tech" site, that was one of the most beautifully emotional things I've ever read about knitting. All through reading it I kept nodding, and thinking "yes, exactly." Thanks for a great read.

January 7, 2010 at 8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post on creativity and Why we do it. I sent it on to my artistic sister who made a wonderfully personal quilt as a wedding present for my son and his bride. She was so moved. I think these will be our new "secret" code words..."work-to-glory ratio" OR even "Did you get this at Walmart?" when we are feeling particularly snarky about others comments !

May 27, 2010 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Natasha said...

I love your post and I completely relate to every single word. What an eloquent piece, it describes exactly how I feel about knitting and crocheting. Thank you so much for taking the time to put into words what so many of us share in common.

January 24, 2011 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Pascoag Girl said...

This post captures muhof what knitting is for me. But, for me, there is another side. Many of my knitting projects are connections to sorrow or tragedy - the sweater, still on the needles, that I just had to knit as I flew across the country to attend a funeral for the sudden death of a young relative, the colorwork sweater that I started, when I was with my grandmother (who taught me to knit at 6) before the alzheimers turned her from a kind, loving woman into an unrecognizably mean spiteful being. That I continued to knit as I spent time with her through her decline, and that I have not been able to work on (or discard) since she died, twenty years ago. The baby sweater, finished all but the buttons and buttonholes, that I was knitting for my only brother's first child-and abandoned when the baby was born stillborn, that is carefully stored out of sight in my grandmother's cedar chest.
While I do complete projects and take great joy in those items, there have always been those pieces that connect me even more deeply with some of my life's most profound moments, that somehow will not be finished. Knitting is life's stories made tangible, absent friends made present, and distant times made nearer.
For me knitting is a long conversation with the past and with the future, a bridge that I can cross over and over again. And that is why I knit.

February 25, 2011 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger angeluski said...

Thank you for reaffirming all the reasons I'm still knitting in earnest, 50 years after learning how.

March 23, 2012 at 4:46 PM  
Anonymous ElyseKnox said...

The work to glory ratio is a wonderful concept and very timely for me. I just finished a shawl knit in very fine yarn--started it one year ago and it just came off the blocking board today. It is really not that complex a pattern when broken down into its component parts, but is beautiful, 100% lace and it took concentration and persistence.

I posted a photo of it on a knitting website and already many have been highly complementary of it. The 'glory' of this already is worth the 135 plus hours of time I spent knitting it, to say nothing of the enjoyment of actually wearing it.

October 17, 2014 at 6:56 PM  

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