What kind of knitting athlete are you?

I joined both the Knitting Olympics and the Ravelympics this year. I set my Olympic goals: To finish the Farmer's Market Cardigan. To knit a sock. To spin some luscious fibre. I made a schedule. 

I organized each knitting project in a pretty box. At the opening ceremonies, I jumped in with both needles and knitted, and knitted, and knitted.

I must be insane. What was I thinking? I'm not a gold medal kind of gal. I'm not even a bronze medal kind of gal. I'm the kind of gal that goes to the Olympics, skates a respectable program, finishes in 7th place, and goes home to teach "Skating For Self-Esteem."

I'm also the kind of Olympics gal who, if I fell on the ice, would get right back up and skate the heck out of the rest of my four minutes. I wouldn't listen to the commentators who say, "Oh, it's all over for her, doesn't matter what she does now, she's out of the game." No, I'm not. Even if I fall on the ice, I'm still an Olympian. I still have the skills, and the heart, and the courage to put my skates to ice, and to TRY. (Seventh place at the Olympics is really spectacular, all things considered.)

As you can probably guess, I've fallen on the ice as far as my Olympic knitting goes. I knitted my little heart out, and then life intervened. I got the stomach flu, and then, when I tried to make up for lost time, I ended up with wrists too sore to knit for days. My sock project didn't get finished by the closing ceremonies, it's still there in its pretty little red box. The fibre is only half-spun. The sweater…well. You can see the results in the photos. I'm still working on the collar, with all its complex shaping and short-rows and cables (and ribbing, oh my!).

In terms of the official challenge, I failed. While my friends tried on their glorious cabled and colourworked 17-day sweaters, I sit on the sidelines with a sleeveless, collarless cardigan.

What happened?

I'll tell you what happened: At some point, I remembered who I am as a knitter–and stopped trying to be someone I'm not.

I'm a process gal when it comes to knitting. (I know. You'd never guess from all the step-by-step stuff I do here. I bet you're shocked.) On other knitblogs, you'll find pictures of finished objects galore, or beautiful photos with captions such as, "Half-way to the end!" as signposts to the final garment. My knitblog is more like a glimpse into my personal knitting notebook, a journal telling the story of my handknits' journey from cast-on to bind-off.

I don't speed-knit through my projects; thus, I don't have a closet overflowing with finished sweaters (whimper…oh well). I stop and study how the yarn flows through my hands, the effect of different needle positions, what happens if I try this and do that and make the yarn go there. I'm interested in how the knitting gets to look like this or that. I also want to know how to explain each stitch to others, so I'll often slow down and look at where my fingers are, what shapes the needles are making as they move, how the yarn tension affects the results.

Does this mean I should give up on knitting large projects and focus on smaller, technique-driven items? I don't think so. I feel there's a larger story arc to a larger project, and I like seeing how the big things come together. It may take me more time to see an end result, because I'm stopping along the way to investigate a new increase, or slowing my pace to see if I can knit a neater cable. So rather than give up on the long road to a sweater, I simply need to plan more time for the inevitable sightseeing along the way.

What does this mean in terms of future knitting, such as holiday projects, or gift knitting, or other Olympic endeavours? If I decide to participate in timed challenges of this sort, I have to remember what sort of knitting athlete I am. I'm not a speed-skater (where every millisecond counts and the glory is the finish line), I'm a figure skater (where every detail of foot placement and jump execution count, and the glory is technical and artistic expression). Instead of striving to knit an entire sweater in 17 days, I can set myself more appropriate goals: chart a lace pattern, swatch two new cable patterns, take an advanced knitting class, design a small lace something. For gift knitting, I need to choose smaller, less elaborate projects that are more likely to be completed, say, before the baby is a first-grader.

Sometimes I kind of forget myself, there, for a while. I think we all do this. We get caught up in the excitement of the challenge–whether that challenge is holiday knitting or a state fair competition or the next Knitting Olympics–and set goals that are wrong for us. We enter speed-skating when we ought to have entered in the half-pipe snowboarding competition. This can set us up for feeling like failures when we can't achieve the goals. The only thing we really failed at is knowing ourselves well enough to choose the right challenge.

Sooo. What sort of knitter are you? Half-pipe snowboarder, with technical tricks to show off, or speed skater, with stamina to speed to the end? Hockey or curling?

Knitter, know thyself. That's the real Olympic sport I unwittingly entered this year, the challenge to (re)discover myself. In that arena, I do believe I earned a gold medal. I'm proud of the work I've done on the Farmer's Market Cardi. Every stitch is neat, and difficult problems have been resolved in clever ways. I'm still learning new things with this project (I FINALLY learned to cable without a cable needle, thank you, Glenna!), and I know the finished result, whenever it is ready, will be something I can be proud of.

How was your Olympic experience? Did you learn anything new about yourself as a knitter?  Share it with us in the comments!

Next week : What about a sewing-in-sleeves tutorial? I'm thinking I might have sleeves to sew in next week. Several of you mentioned you would like a tutorial for this, so let's see what I can do for you there.

May your knitting continue to surprise and delight you.

– Sandi

Sandi Wiseheart is the founding editor of Knitting Daily. You can find her blogging here on Knitting Daily every Thursday. Want more? Visit Sandi's personal blog, wiseheart knits. Or, if you're on Twitter, follow her tweets: alpacasandi.

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12 thoughts on “What kind of knitting athlete are you?

  1. Hi Sandi,
    I’m a process person myself. I too examine what I am doing and slow down to figure things out. I’ll try things a variety of ways and am not displeased to frog a few rows into an experiment and retry a new and hopefully better way to solve a problem. Thanks for the post!

  2. I am a bit of everything, all at once!! I always have several projects on the go at any one time, each one being a different skill level, requiring different levels of concentration. There’s always a very simple sweater, scarf or blanket/afghan that needs little/no attention, for times when I don’t have a lot of time, or when I am ‘winding down’.

    I’ll have a sweater or cardigan that’s more complex, needing more time and attention. And there’s always something in Shetland Lace, made to my own design, for when my brain is at 100% power and time is available to really concentrate.

    I also set time aside to just play with yarn by trying new stitches, using different needles or hooks (I’m also a very happy hooker!!) to see what looks ok or not. At the moment, I’m trying out the technique for making nupps – I have Nancy Bush’s excellent book on Estonia’s knitted lace, and want to make something once I can do the nupps.

  3. I’m a process gal as well. I’m perpetually fascinated by how my two little (Okay, rather large) hands, two sticks and some string can make clothes, lace, and the most comfortable socks you’ll ever put on.

    My friends and family have learned to indulge my waving my knitting in their faces when I do something that fascinates me.

    I did finish my Olympic project mostly because it was a top down raglan cardigan done entirely in stockinette. I learned about Raglan construction, and really worked on swatches before deciding on what size to make, but the actual knitting went like lightning.

    Personally, I can’t imagine being all about the finished object! I love knitting because I enjoy the object twice. It entertains the stuffing out of me while I’m making it, then I have something useful when I’m done!

    Thanks for reminding us that we all have different styles and we should be true to them as often as possible.

  4. Hi Sandi

    Thank you so much for this post. Over the years I have tended to become a “closet” knitter to avoid the dreaded question “when will you get that finished”. In the past I liked to think about the hare and the tortoise. Now I can think of your skating analogy while I savour my knitting and enjoy the “me” time that it generates.

    VictoriaM, Melbourne Australia

  5. Thanks for the post Sandi! You made me feel better about my perpetual tension with knitting. It always seems like everyone else has made stacks of sweaters and has knit all the latest hip patterns in a matter of weeks, while I’m still working on something I started two years ago. I usually have a large project on the needles and get distracted by smaller projects along the way. I love your skating analogy. To be a wonderful figure skater would be a dream come true. Maybe I can achieve that through knitting.

  6. Medals, shmedals! I plan my project according to where I’m going to be. Socks for the short trips–dentist, kid drop off at piano, etc. The big stuff for when I can sit on the porch with the beasts and knit until the kids come home from school. I also sew, but find that I have to do chores before rewarding myself with finishing tops, pants and jackets. Seasonal knitting is limited to Christmas with a few knitted ornaments at a time. Big projects take a while. I’ve been sitting on a Starry Night (wooby/afghan, my second) for 18 months waiting for nothing on the schedule so I can sit and get absorbed. This winter’s been a real bear. Where’s spring!

  7. I’m with you, Sandi. Lots of stuff on various sets of needles. Always trying to learn something new, always trying to make it better, enjoy it all along the way. When I finally realized that I knit just because I love to knit, it gave me great permission to not hold tightly to when I’d have the finished “product”. Many of my projects take years to finish. I spin because I love the feel of the fibers and the sense of magic at creating something so cozy out of fluff. I knit in part, because I love to knit what I spin.
    I’m a 4th grade teacher and I teach kids to knit at the school where I work. I buy needles at garage sales and I find yarns for the kids wherever I can. I work at a low income school, so nobody pays me for this. Since it isn’t on the state standards, we do it during all recesses. One little boy learned to attach fringe to his very first knit scarf today. We made a project of finding dropped stitches and learning to hide the ends of yarns we tied them off with. Not a technique you’ll find in any knitting book, but he didn’t know that. I knit for the happiness it brings to me, to my head, to my hands, to my heart… I knit for joy. they don’t have to give medals for that, because I guess it is its own medal in the secret center of your being.

  8. That’s such an interesting perspective, Sandi, thanks for the insight……..I have been wondering why you took the extra work ‘detour’ of doing the whole steek thing, when it would have been sooooo much faster just to knit the fronts traditionally….but now I see from whence you come!!!
    Me, I rarely have more than one project going at the same time – whether that’s just lifetime training or my personality ‘cos I do multi-task in other areas! Have been knitting a loooong time – about 50 years (am 57) – and am not of a competitive spirit so probably wouldn’t have entered the ‘olympics’ even if i had known about it! But, I agree, KNITTER, KNOW THYSELF, and that includes personal measurements, and a whole raft of problems do not even begin.

  9. Thank you for the post, Sandi. So lovely and so reassuring!
    I’m a process knitter, most definitely (even though I do enjoy see the project finished and put it to use immediately!). I’ve suffered a great deal recently because I have so little time and I just cannot finish anything on time (all the presents since 6 December are belated – that tells something, eh?) while the others seem to finish one top after another! You made me feel so much more relaxed about the knitting times. I ‘m enjoying the precious moments I spend with my favourite hobby a great deel more. I fact, I have finally finished (Ya-hoo!) the first little project this month and feel very proud of myself.

  10. I’m still plugging along, Back, right front, both sleeves done. Casting on for left front (colorwork, but only 2 colors) tomorrow. I too overdid it in my quest to finish. I couldn’t even knit the last Saturday. I have tendonitis in both forearms — mostly from keyboarding and mousing. I haven’t given up, but am knitting much (much) slower. More error free too! I hated the deadline, have enough of those with gift projects!

  11. if you haven’t done your sleeves yet, wait to hem them until you sew them in…I am daunted by all the finishing on the FMC, and so I thought, “I’ll do this little hem now and my sleeve will look nice as I finish knitting it.” Now the sleeves are in and they are TOO LONG!!!

    I totally agree with this post-MY FMC isn’t done, but it will be!

  12. What kind of knitting athelete am I? I’m the one who trips over the first fence-thing (horse?) !! past the starting line, falls on my face and is out of the race. 🙂 I joined a spindlers team on Ravelry and finished only 5 yards of yarn before quitting. I think I, like you, am I process knitter/spinner.