Friday, February 06, 2009

Zen and the Art of Hand Knitting

I have come to the conclusion that I just cannot follow some one else's pattern anymore. Or, rather, that I will not follow some one else's pattern. It's not that I don't want to. There are so many great patterns out there! But I just can't seem to do it.

Case in point: my Almost Annetrelac Socks.

Oh, they look great, but the closest I came to following the pattern was to look at the picture. You see, this yarn (Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sock) was given to me for my birthday, with the proviso that I make myself some socks. Yay! And after a fall and winter of making socks for others, it seemed like a thing to do in January. But I was tired of knitting basic socks, and, frankly, I thought that both the yarn and I deserved something a little spankier. So I started perusing patterns on Ravelry and The Annetrelac Socks from Interweave Knits Holiday 2007 fit the bill. I wound the yarn into balls and pulled out my Lantern Moon rosewood dpns and away I went.

Now, I will admit that I did skim over the text of the pattern. I cast on the wrong number of stitches out of habit. So, instead of starting over and adjusting to the pattern, I made the right number of base triangles to suit the smaller number of stitches. Once I started working, I found myself stopping and thinking "Oh, crap! I should check the pattern!" Which I did, then discovered that I would have to tink out several squares of entrelac to get back to where the pattern said I should be. So I tucked the magazine away and knit on.

The socks are great--I'm wearing them as I type--and they look just like the Annetrelac Socks (as well as any number of other entrelac socks out there), but there was no actual "following" of patterns involved.

This is certainly not an indictment of the pattern--in fact, I read it over before I sat down to blog and found that, aside from the fact that I cast on and worked with my own number of stitches, it was pretty much what I had done anyway. So did I follow it, or not?

Well, I figured, socks are one thing. I mean, aside from stitch patterns, knitting a sock is knitting a sock (hush up you Kat Bordhi fans!). Perhaps a larger project would be different. And it just so happens that I was looking for inspiration for a shrug. So off we go to Ravelry's pattern search again. And, lo and behold, a perfect shrug pattern, from, presented itself. I printed it off, balled my yarn and cast on. And frogged out. And cast on. And frogged out. And cast on, and knit 4 inches, forgetting to decrease. And frogged out. And cast on and knit 6 inches before I realized that I really didn't like the way the lace pattern was working out in the handpainted yarn.

So I pulled out my Barbara Walker Treasuries, and Nicky Epstein's Knitting On the Edge, found a lace pattern I liked, cast on and away I went. There are 7 inches on the needles and it's looking fab. And I am happy with the knitting.

Okay, so maybe this was more a case of choosing a pattern that didn't suit the yarn. But it also reminded that I just don't like following patterns. Even as a novice knitter, I would alter patterns by substituting yarns, changing the ribbing, adding a stripe or a cable. As the songs says, I did it my way.

It hasn't helped that I have been reading a great deal about the nature of craft and its place in history lately. That sort of reading always seems to lead to a bout of navel gazing, making me ponder each thing I do in way too much detail. Some authors seem to trigger more pondering than others and the current crop are far too effective in that department!

Right now, the culprit is Soetsu Yanagi, a Japanese Zen Bhuddist art critic from the early 20th century. He was a great proponent of the preservation of traditional craft in Japan and Korea, with a soft spot for pottery, but his comments on craft, handwork,and art, should be inspiring to artisans in any field.

Yanagi writes about craft as "true art", springing from instinct, with none of the pretensions of fine art. Once the craftsman had mastered the form of the craft, anything is possible and instinct dictates the actual execution of the product. There is expression of the individual through the process, not through the brilliance of the intended message. And it is the improvisation of the individual maker that makes each piece a work of art, rather than the cleverness of a preconceived design.

So, as I read this, and I struggle with the words some other clever knitter has laid out to lead me through her/his design, I find my own Zen state of being. This is what I make, and this is how I make it. It is what it is.

And I'm okay with that.

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