My husband is from Canada, and one of the suprisingly many cultural differences between us that we discovered early in our marriage is how we evaluate skating skills.

I grew up in the northeast, and we had a pond in my backyard that froze every winter, so I grew up skating a number of times each year. I don’t think I ever took lessons, but I could get where I wanted on skates, and be confident that I wouldn’t fall over or crash into anything, so I figured I was a fairly decent skater.

My husband, on the other hand, considered himself a poor skater because he couldn’t do back crossovers.

I sometimes think knitters and non-knitters are like this about evaluating knitting skills: non-knitters are amazed that knitters can produce fabric out of string, while knitters aver that they’re not really that advanced because they struggle with purling five stitches together.

When I started knitting with purpose (rather than putzing around as I did when I was a kid), my first project was a hand puppet from a kit. My second project was also a kit – because I didn’t know how to choose my own yarn, needles, and pattern; a kit was so much simpler – and it was a beginner’s sock kit. Hey, I was a beginner – perfect.

This was back before Ravelry and easy access to patterns, and the instructions came in a little stapled xeroxed booklet. They were also excellent (I wish I still had them) and I followed them carefully, and created a perfectly good sock. I had no concept of gauge, so it was more like a really big house slipper, and I never made the second, because I think I knew I’d never wear these really big house slippers, but it was an honest to god sock.

At some point after this I went to the yarn shop where I bought the yarn for this scarf. The very nice lady there asked if she could help me, and I explained that I was looking for a beginner project. She asked what else I’d done, and I told her I’d knitted a sock.

She looked at me kind of funny. A sock? An actual sock?


Continued side-eye (in the nicest possible way).

So maybe that wasn’t a typical beginning project?

The thing is, I absolutely was a beginner – I had no idea what I was doing. I could read and follow instructions, and I did, but I didn’t know why I was supposed to do anything the pattern said, and I didn’t have actual skills.

That was almost eight years ago now, yet I’m still not sure how to evaluate my knitting skills. On the one hand, sweaters require quite a few different knitting techniques, so I’ve learned some more techniques. On the other, a lot of sweaters just aren’t really that hard (especially the ones that I make, which tend to involve miles of stockinette). Lace – now, lace is hard. I knit lace at a pace of knit one, frog back two. I negative knit lace. (We won’t even talk about color work.) Yet I’ve seen people online who knit the most beautiful, complicated lace say they’re “not ready” to knit a sweater.

Of course, it doesn’t matter how good or bad I am at any of this – I enjoy it and that’s what’s important. But when I see patterns labeled things like “beginner,” “intermediate,” or “advanced,” I have to admit I’m never really sure whether they’re Americans talking about skating or Canadians talking about skating.

IMG_0213Okay, this lace wasn’t very hard. But it’s a big yarn, in a swatch, where I didn’t have to worry about shaping anything at the same time or even keeping track for very long. It’s the turtle tracks lace found in Veronique Avery’s pattern Helene for Quince and Co.

2 thoughts on “Relativity

  1. My first project was a St st doll blanket, no edging st so it rolled terribly. So I then got a book of pattern stitches and created a seed st edged doll blanket with a diamond patterned body. The 3rd item was a stranded baby sweater. The reason I accomplished these items, although not with perfection, was because I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to be able to do them since I was a “beginner”. I hate labels on our skills. I am amused by those who knit argyle socks but think they can’t knit lace. It’s all stitch manipulation whether it’s with 1-2 colors, YOs, or knits and purls. BTW, my first pair of socks were huge! I didn’t care, they became the most comfy house socks.


    1. I agree about labels! I see a lot of designers now listing what skills a pattern requires rather than saying “beginner” “intermediate” etc., which I really appreciate and think is a much better way of handling things. I find that sewing patterns still seem to do “beginner” etc. much more than knitting patterns, and it does make me stop and think, does that mean I’m guaranteed to screw this up??


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