Un-Charted Depths

Sally Melville taught me how to knit

About six years ago I found her book The Knit Stitch at the library, and learned to knit. I worked though that book, then The Purl Stitch. I learned to knit socks. I made hundreds of dishcloths. I felted a few things on purpose. I became a pretty confidant knitter — the master of small projects and whimsies. But knitting charts baffled me. They made me feel stupid, so I avoided them. Who needs to read those things? I can knit what I want, and not have to read charts.

By the time Scarf Style came out, I knew that I was wrong. I wanted to knit lace, and follow patterns with more complex stitches. I decided to make the Backyard Leaves scarf in Scarf Style. I enlarged the chart about 150% and taped the pieces together. I used crayons to color-code the stitches. I bought the yarn, and learned how to read that chart.

It was hard. I probably knit the thing ten times with all the ripping. But I did get it, and the finished scarf was beautiful. So beautiful that I gave it away.

Annie Modesitt designed that scarf; she taught me to read charts. Along the way, she also taught me how to read my knitting, understand how the patterns come together, and how to become a better knitter. Charts don’t scare me anymore.

Last week at Hill Country Weavers I met Annie in person. I learned how use that Scunci steamer I’ve had for a while, make invisible seams and weave in ends invisibly, in the Fabulous Finishing class. I learned how to make a bead pop around to the right side of the knitting when it really wants to be on the back, and how to add beads to a project without stringing them on first, in Knitting with Beads. And I learned to love cables, and make them without the extra needle!

I also got to watch her knit — she is really fast. I heard a couple of her stories a couple of times. I got most of her jokes. And I watched her pull herself together after a student threw down her knitting, insulted her, and walked out of class. Like all good teachers, she took it personally — only teachers that don’t care let criticisms pass without notice.

I’ve always respected her designs. To say they are different is not really it — they aren’t rehashed ideas, but often entirely new. They are challenging, and encourage knitters to try new things with confidence. In one class, a student wore an adaption of her corset design. When Annie realized it, she was obviously pleased, both that the student wore it, and with her additions. I then realized how much respect she has for other knitter’s talents.

So, Annie has taught me a lot, about beads, finishing, cables, charts, designers, life.


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