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."