Sunday, March 15, 2015

In Which I Sort Of Lose It, And Find It Very Informative

I don't spend a ton of time browsing or shopping on Etsy. I have bought the odd gift there, and some craftspeople whose work I love use the site to sell their work. But otherwise I'm not a big user.

I was aware that there are knitters selling handknits on the site - and there is the concern about the now-common practice of selling products manufactured elsewhere. Abby Glassenberg has a fantastic blog post on this topic.

The other day, I tripped over an Etsy shop selling handknits (to which I won't link, for reasons that will be obvious) . I was doing some looking around, as you do, to investigate how a particular design element was being used in fingerless mitts.

My reaction to this shop was visceral. I was shocked. I was appalled. I was offended. I was angry.

The strength of my reaction took me by surprise.

It was pretty clear from the photos that all the items in the shop were worked with twisted stockinette stitch. That is, all the stitches were twisted.

Image from blog

Now, some patterns use twisted stitches deliberately, for an effect.  Bavarian stitch patterns use them to create beautiful mini cables and travelling stitches.

And sometimes, twisted stockinette is used to create a denser fabric, or to add bias or change the fabric in some other way.

And indeed, some knitting traditions are based on twisted stockinette - specifically Eastern Crossed. It's not like it's not a valid technique.

But it's rare. Especially in North America.

The items in this Etsy shop weren't using Bavarian stitches, and given that they're all stuff like ordinary fingerless mitts and cowls, I'm pretty sure that they weren't using twisted stockinette for a particular effect. And the name of the store and the knitters and the (admittedly little) info given lead me to believe that they're not using Eastern Crossed.

I can't know for sure, obviously, but my immediate conclusion, therefore, was that the knitters creating the items for sale in this store are knitting wrong.

That's a loaded word, absolutely. And my reaction was loaded, too.

As a knitting teacher, I am all about options. I much prefer that students know that rationale behind a particular step or stitch or method, and understand where there are options. And I like, where possible, to allow the knitter to make her own decision about those options.

But I surprised myself with the immediately of my judgement about these items. My initial reaction was not to consider or allow any options - just that they were doing it wrong.

Technically speaking, what the knitters are doing is ok, it's is just not the common North American method.

When I calmed down a bit, and was able to open my mind a bit more, I went back to look at the store again.

And I realized what was making me angry. It was that it seemed pretty clear (again, the only info I have is the store info and the item descriptions, so I will freely admit to jumping to conclusions) that the knitters weren't aware that they were doing anything unusual.

And that was it. That was the bit that I was upset about. These knitters didn't know enough about their knitting to know that what they were doing was either worth fixing or worth explaining. Indeed, I was forced to conclude they didn't know enough about their knitting to even notice - and presumably wonder why - their work didn't look like the work of knitters around them, and as shown in books and magazines and in other pictures online.

And that makes me sad. If you don't see that your work is different, and then wonder why, and then learn more, then the conclusion I come to is that you don't really care about your knitting. And of course, I'm sad about that.

But then to sell those pieces to others... that's the bit that I got angry about.

Now. Does this matter? Not really! And I know there's lots of stuff of questionable quality on Etsy. It's not like Etsy is promoting these items as the best of knitting, or anything.

But ultimately, I realized, I was angry because I didn't want anybody to be disappointed with a knit piece. I didn't want anybody to not like a knit piece. I didn't want anybody to make something substandard, that would leave people with an incorrect impression about handknits.

So yes, as Kim said, I did "flip out" a bit. Probably more than strictly necessary... But I have to say that in thinking about it, I learned a little something about myself.

(As a side-note, I also learned that it's very easy to created twisted stockinette if you're working on a loom, although again, these items were described as handknits, and some of the patterning used would be difficult to work on a loom, so I don't think that's the cause of the issue.)

What do you think? How would you feel if you saw something being sold that was "wrong"?


Nadia said...

I saw your tweets about this at the time, but the character limit meant I wasn't going to respond there.

The strange thing is that I taught myself to knit using online tutorials (but not video tutorials) and for years I also twisted my stitches and had no idea it was wrong! I liked the look of twisted stitches and the denser fabric they created. Nobody mentioned anything was wrong. It was only once I took part in a KAL and everyone was showing their progress that I realised something was off. We were knitting socks and the first section contained normal stitches as well as twisted stitches. So from that day onwards I changed the way I knit. The reason I got it wrong in the first place is that the tutorials never specified how stitches should lie on your needle and how that will determine how you knit into them, so I didn't notice. I had no one to teach me in person.

Personally, I am not appalled by twisted stitches being used in sold garments, really, but it does show that the seller does not know what he/she is doing there. However, this point alone does not mean they aren't excellent knitters in other ways. They may still be far more advanced than others. It is just this one (though very basic) technique that is wrong in this case. Maybe it's their personal aesthetic, who knows. I hope they will realise their mistake one day in case it is not because if this basic stitch is wrong, it will influence all other stitches.

Hm, this really wouldn't fit in a tweet!

Woolly Wormhead said...

My Mum twists all her knit sts, it's the way she was taught, and to her it's normal. She knows her fabric looks different, possibly not fully understanding why, but at the same time she's also learnt to compensate through practice, again possibly without fully understanding why.

Traditions are a bit like chinese whispers when they get handed down. As much as I'm keen to get technique right and pass that knowledge on, if someone's happy with their fabric, I don't think it matters. I wouldn't buy it, but my Mum sells her handknits at markets and sells well - the locals love her stuff (which is different from selling online, admittedly, but if the customer is happy too...?) And if there's one thing I've learnt from my mother is that there's no disappointment until someone bursts the bubble and points out that it's wrong....

Dr. Steph said...

My mom sorta taught me to knit but got it a bit wrong since she's mostly a crocheter. I knit twisted stitches for years. Many sweaters! This was before the Internet and knitting boom and I didn't notice until a coworker pointed it out and taught me what I was doing wrong.

It took time to unlearn but was worth it.

Really, for me the better lesson would have been on gauge and swatching. Some of those early sweaters were pretty weirdly proportioned!

woollythinker said...

I don't think I'd feel that strongly about twisted stitches, but I do understand your reaction. There's the sense that it reflects badly on other crafters, or that standards are being lowered, or just that this person has not earned the RIGHT to enter the ranks of (semi-)professional crafters! The more you drill down, the harder it is to justify that feeling, at least when dealing with something that doesn't actually affect quality. But there it is.

I sometimes get that reaction to posts on (for instance) Ravelry's Budding Designers group. Posts that read like "hi I just learned to knit and now I want to sell my patterns how do I write pdfs and how much $$$ can i make lol kthxbai". (These posts are few! And I am exaggerating for comic effect! Well, slightly.) Posts that, for whatever reason, make me suspect that the writer is not going to put out patterns that maintain a certain quality standard. In principle, I don't think I have the same feeling about designers who simply follow a different style? But if they don't seem to know what they're doing... yeah. I have a strong kneejerk "BUTT OUT UNTIL YOU KNOW YOUR SHIT" reaction.

Renee Anne said...

When I taught myself to knit out of one of those "Learn to Knit" books I picked up at Walmart, things like YouTube didn't exist and, let's be honest, the drawings in the book left a lot to be desired. They couldn't even be fussed enough to use real photographs; everything was a bad drawing. So, I had to kind of figure it out for myself. I knit for a couple years before someone pointed out that I was knitting through the back loop. She said it wasn't wrong but that it was a technique that some patterns used on purpose. I learned the normal way and now I have trouble doing it when I'm supposed to.

Unknown said...

When I started knitting as an adult, I decided to make my kid a "sweater". I thought I could swing it without a pattern, just another sweater that I was knitting against. And knit it in worsted dish cloth cotton. With twisted knit stitches.

My tension, however, was bloody awesome, even if the fabric was a tiny bit dense.

I abandoned it because I was having a hard time sorting out the proportions and life got in the way, and because my ex pointed out my stitches were wrong. I looked it up, learned more, and gave up on knitting for another few years.

Then Knitty. And then Ravelry. I cannot express how much Knitty and Ravelry have been a master course in knitting and exposure to new ideas and better practices.

Tracey Rediker said...

If there are pictures, the customers can see what they are buying. Most people who buy knits will have no idea this person twisted stitches. Just like they cant tell knit from crochet. MRRRRR, that one drives me nuts.

Victoria Bolton said...

I knit in the eastern European style, so my stitches are twisted, and untwisted on the purl side. There is no right and wrong, just what you prefer. I have a '20 foot rule' that says if you can tell from 20 feet away, then it's a mistake. No one can tell, and my sweaters, socks, scarves, hats and slippers are just as warm and full of love as anyone else's. To each her own, and let's hear it for the beautiful diversity of knitting styles from around the globe. Feel the love, not the hate.

Sylvie Gagne said...

I'm going to sound like Kate paid me, but she didn't. She taught me pretty much everything I know and twisted stitches, unless a pattern calls specifically to ktbl (knit through the back loop) ain't it.

It's frustrating to me as a LYS owner when someone taught themselves how to knit on the internet. For heaven's sake, spend the $60 and learn to do it properly with experts who know what they're doing. Invest in yourself!

The internet is fine and good but as another commenter pointed out, you don't know unless someone else shows you that you're doing it wrong. So when I have to break the news to someone that they're doing it wrong, I'm the evil person, right? Well no! I'm with Kate 100% here.

Knitting twisted stitches will not get you gauge... and yeah, that's something else knitters at the very beginning need to learn about!

Kate (Hunter) Prater said...

I must admit, Ms. Atherly, that my reaction to this article was much the same as your reaction to the Etsy shop: shock, affront, and anger. As a crocheter who reverse-engineered knitting from a few pictures in a pattern book and trial and error, I knit twisted stitches into everything for 10 years before noticing that it was different than what I saw others doing. No gift I gave was ever sneered at, no garment was ever returned, and no lesson to a friend was ever refused. It wasn't until I ventured into Ravelry that my handcraft was declared "wrong"--because it wasn't done the way the person looking at it would have done it. And even there I found a group who all knit differently. Some were taught by family members, some were self taught, but all of us found our way to the group because someone had declared that we were doing it "wrong."

That's all this is, really. You would do it differently, or explain to a likely disinterested audience of purchasers what is unique about the style, and are affronted that the seller didn't do it your way. In reality, he or she is probably just a knitter who likes to knit, received complements on his or her work, and was encouraged to open a shop. The person buying her wares saw a picture, liked what she saw, and will be kept warm by it. Isn't that what knitting is about?

There is a cabal of very well educated knitters, and guilds to preserve the craft, and God bless all of you. You raise the craft, in many cases, to an art form. But cabals and guilds are, by their nature, exclusive: they set the standards for style, and maintain their authority by being the possessors and distributors of knowledge. Most of us don't want that. We want to make things that are warm, soft, pretty, and loved or, in this case, valued and able to support our families.

My husband's favorite pie is his mother's pecan pie, and his favorite dish at Thanksgiving is his grandmother's green bean casserole. Until I asked for the recipes, he didn't know they were from the back of a Caro bottle and can of green beans, respectively, and he didn't think any less of them once he found out. They satisfy his hunger and they mean love, and it doesn't matter that neither one of those women checked out the Cordon Bleu methods of making them better. I can only hope my kids--and anyone else to whom I give my handknits--feel the same way.

Caroline B said...

If the item looks good and wears well, I don't see the problem. However, and it is a very big however, if you are passing your work off as well made, charging people for it and basically giving them sub-standard garments, then yes it is wrong. I am currently re-knitting a sweater for a gentleman who was charged to have a vintage pattern knitted up and the knitter not only made a very amateur job of it, she missed off the whole intarsia pattern from the back! Unbelievable! Kudos to the man who has the courage to try another knitter in order to get what he wants and such a shame he has had to pay twice. That does make me angry.

Geri said...

I had a similar experience when I recently took a teaching job. There had been several knitting teachers before me, one of whom had left a sample they had knit up of one of the kits we were promoting. I was horrified to note the knit stitches were all twisted in the sample. I ripped it all out and re-knit it correctly. But what was even more horrifying to me was that this teacher was hired by someone who knows nothing about knitting (as was I) and a major portion of the job was to teach beginners how to knit. Yikes!

bodieKnits said...

I have found myself sometimes in the position of having to tell someone that they're either knitting into the back loop or wrapping the yarn backwards from the convention before, and although it can be tough to be the bearer of bad news, isn't it better to be properly informed? Knitters who twist their stitches are throwing up a barrier for themselves that means they won't ever be able to take their skills past a certain point. Simply put, twisted stitches mean you can do most lace patterns, your gauge will be difficult to predict (both row and stitch gauge), and if you're ever asked to knit into the back loop of a stitch on purpose, you'll be stuck.

My biggest issue is that someone is presenting themselves as a professional and earning money as such when they haven't really reached a level of skill that should warrant it. You wouldn't want doctors, accountants, architects, carpenters, etc. to be selling you a product made at a low-skill level, so why is it different to set a standard for knitters?

LRD said...

I was a bit surprised by this post. Why do you surmise that the knitter didn't know what they were doing? I knew a perfectly good knitter (who, btw, is also a really good teacher of other fibre arts) who twisted her stitches due to her knitting style. It was still perfectly good knitting, just different knitting. Why would someone be disappointed to buy this knitting? I can see there would be times when this would cause you issues (e.g. when a pattern called for knitting through the back loop) but the rest of the time there are no knitting police and, IMHO, people should be allowed to knit as they see fit unless there's a good reason not to. Really, where's the harm in this? It's knitting, Jim, just not as we know it...

@KnitMairwen said...

I was taught Eastern Crossed, without explanation. As I ventured into written patterns, I realized that the stitch instructions didn't make sense to me (I was alreday knitting through the back loop!). It took some work (since I was effectively knitting in a vacuum) to fgiure out the problem. There is an illustration in Maggie Righetti's "Knitting in Plain English" showing the slant of stitches on the needle which was an epiphany for me. From that moment I started understanding the path of the yarn in the knitting rather than just making motions by rote. I switched to standard Continental knitting so that pattern stitch instructions would make sense - though I can certainly convert back to Eastern Crossed when it's useful, now that I know when and why it would be nice to use it. Obviously there's nothng wrong per se with crossed knitting but I agree that it's unusual to see items for sale with all the stitches crossed and no mention of it, since it's non-standard.

Justine said...

I marvel at least once a week at the power of the Internet, which did not exist for a good part of my life, to make information and knowledge accessible! I am not a LYS owner but I am thrilled that people can learn how to knit and many other skills on the internet and do not have to spend $60 and the effort to go to a particular place at a particular time where you don't have close ups, you can't view the process again and again, and you can't see it again later when you've forgotten.

Just my perspective.

Alli said...

This, a thousand percent! :)

Alli said...

When I was in middle school, I learned how to knit from library books, and I'm proud of that. I would be happy if a shop owner took the time to correct a mistake I didn't even know I was making, but I would not appreciate it I knew she was judging me for having learned from books.

Wendy said...

I taught myself to knit from a book, have been complimented by very accomplished knitters for my skills and only ever been judged by my husband for "not investing $60 in myself". And his judgment is that it's pretty freakin' amazing that I taught myself to knit from a book. It makes me sad that such judgment is being thrown around. Frankly, if you end up with a project that meets your expectations, doesn't fall apart and fits correctly you're not doing it wrong - you're doing it differently, and there's nothing "wrong" with that. said...

The knitting police, like Santa Claus, are myths, and don't need to be obeyed. Eastern crossed, as shown in the photos, and eastern uncrossed or combination knitting are perfectly legitimate ways of knitting. There is nothing wrong about the sample, it's just different than the way Ms. Atherley knits.

There is probably more than one way to do brain surgery as well.

Patricia said...

I recall sitting on a subway, knitting. A woman walked over to me and said "you don't do that right" and walked away. I was so offended. I think she was a Continental knitter and I was not. It's what one is taught, and if I'm pleased with the look, then it's alright with me. I do this for fun. And, if someone chooses to buy what I make, perhaps they just like the look of it.

etoile said...

Wow, what an insular post. Guess what? Not everyone favours North American knitting style. My mother in law is Swiss, she knits this way. As did her mother. It's not "wrong" it's just different. I think you need to understand that not everything revolves around "North American" knitting style. Did you ever think that they think that your knitting looks "wrong", "weird" or done by some ignorant knitter? That shoe doesn't feel very good does it? This is a great page and I am pretty disappointed in the attitude displayed here. I am not sure I would recommend it again. Knitters knit different way in different places. I'm not sure why this is surprising.

Rayna said...

So you saw something in a style that you didn't like the looks of. So what?

Maybe you personally don't wear blue dresses either. Suddenly that makes blue dresses inferior in workmanship to dresses in other colors? No one else is allowed to admire and make or purchase and enjoy wearing blue dresses?

As I read this post, I kept waiting for the part where you realize that there's something wonderful about the craft when anyone can make knits lovely enough to sell them, whether they've been knitting two days or twenty years.

Alas, you had no such epiphany.

Hurray for the internet! Where a person can help the family budget by selling lovely handmade items for a mere pittance of an hourly wage, and where they don't have to pay someone $60 just to be told to knit through the other loop.