I am not athletic. At all. The End. I was that ‘slightly-taller and bigger boned than everyone else in class’ girl who stood in silent agony, waiting to be picked last for any and all sports during gym class. Truthfully, I was never picked last. I was never picked at all. Cross-eyed Tim was picked. The annoying girl no one could stand any other time of the day was picked. Even Chelsea, the gorgeous blond who never did anything but stand there and look disdainful got snatched up. Our PE teacher, a benevolent and incredibly handsome grad student named David, had to *place* me on a team.
When I realized that I would never be one of the greats – or even one of the slow-but-steady support players – I gave up on sports, all competitions really from dodgeball to Monopoly. I threw myself into other activities like writing, reading and knitting. Things people could do while sitting down, preferably with tea and muffins.
I am a good knitter. I would never say so in public, but it’s like a secret super power I carry with me everywhere I go. If all the jocks and I were on a desert island with nothing but bamboo and wild goats and coconut fiber, when they had all exhausted themselves kicking around the coconuts and worn out their gym shorts – I could knit them new ones. Sometimes I daydream about this scenario.
When Mim told me about the Maine’s Fastest Knitter Competition that is being held during Rockland’s World-Famous Lobster Festival, I felt a little betrayed. Someone had taken my beloved refuge and turned it into… a sport. Vulgar. It was the same creeping feeling I get when I watch the movie adaptation of a well-beloved book and they’ve absolutely butchered it. I don’t care if they say it’s all in good fun – something sacred has been mingled with the sweaty earth. My super power has been blithely diluted by its kryptonite.
When I got over myself (which means I knitted for a while, rehashed all of my childhood mortifications, breathed deeply and then let it go) I realized that this actually might be a lot of fun. Though I rejected sports, I maintained a healthy competitive spirit. I’ve never been able to turn down a dare and there is a certain part of me that would love to go up there and win that race. It has become my new daydream, complete with an applauding crowd and the sudden reappearance of my elementary gym teacher who presents me with the trophy – a golden ball of yarn with bejeweled needles thrust through it. I’ve begun my training.
Exactly how does one train to compete in a knitting race? I have no idea. I’m making it up as I go along, but I supposed that the first thing to do was to collect information. I assumed my most nonchalant, ‘I can’t believe people take this seriously’ attitude and grilled Mim for details. I needed to know the rules, who won last year and what their ‘score’ was, how much we would be required to knit and with what materials (because if this is a lace-weight on size 2 needles affair I’m out already) and how the race is to be conducted. 50 stitches with worsted weight yarn and reasonably sized needles – four rows of garter stitch. That’s it. My pulse quickened and my palms got a little sweaty. I can do that. I can do this. I can try, at least.
That night after my husband went to work and the baby was in bed I sat down and cast on 50 stitches. I knit a few rows and let myself relax. Each stitch is like a little breath for me, rhythmic and subtle, building one on another, looping, snatching, flicking, pushing. I told myself that this must be how real athletes feel as they stretch out their limbs for a big race. It’s all muscle memory, letting your body remember how to do what it does best, whatever that may be. I pictured myself sprinting across the finish line – finishing that fourth row and throwing my hands in the air – needles grasped tightly – Victory. Golden yarn, adoring fans, being recruited by a professional Knitting Team, a knitted jersey with my own number on it. I got completely lost in my fantasies and when I ‘came to’, I had several inches knitted in tidy little garter stitch bumps.
I keep my 50 stitches cast on at all times and when I get a moment or two between meals, diapers and laundry I set the stopwatch on my phone and knit furiously for a minute. It’s added a whole new and delicious dimension to my knitting life. I am a knitter in training. I knit competitively. I love saying it to the cashiers who look at me with questioning eyes as I quickly knit four rows while waiting in line. I feel as though I am letting them in on a secret, flashing them the brightly-colored, spandex Super Hero costume I have hidden under my civilian clothes.
The best part? No one has to pick me – I can do it all on my own steam. There’s no agonized waiting, I’m not too tall or too slow, I’m doing what I love with a bunch of other people who love what they do, too. I think it’s going to be a real hoot and whether I win or not it’s going to be a race I can finish and be proud of participating in.
See you at the race,
You know those patterns that ask you to cast on loosely, then proceed to tell you to try casting on over two needles to make it looser? Well, I’m here to tell you that is a terrible lie. And here’s why. The reason you want to cast on loosely is not so you can get your working needle through the stitches when you knit your first row. It’s so the edge will not be smaller than the knit stitches that come above it. A tight cast on will pinch the first few rows of knitting, giving a rounded-corners look. You want your cast on edge to be almost as stretchy as your knit fabric and you want it to be the same width as your work, with nice, even square corners. But here’s the kicker…the looseness of your cast on is not a function of the size of the stitches you are putting on your needle. It is a function of the space between those stitches. Let me say it again. It’s not the size of the stitches, it’s the space in between them that determines the looseness of the cast on.
Here…I’ll prove it to you.
Here I’ve cast on over two needles, Nice and loose, right? So loose that there’s even space between the needles. Big, loopy loose stitches.
When I take out one of the needles, there’s enough loose space in the stitches you could drive a truck through. This should be plenty loose.
But when I knit a few rows, you can see I am in trouble. The edge is round-cornered and bumpy. Yuk.
A closer look will show you that all I’ve done is distort the first row of stitches and make a mess on the edge. Sigh. Not what I was after at all.
Now take a look at this…
By holding my right fore finger between the stitches as I’m casting on, I can extend the amount of yarn between the stitches. This stretches the overall width of the cast on.
I can actually slide each stitch as far away as I like to achieve the right looseness in my cast on.
After knitting a few rows, you can see that my edge is the same width as my work and my corners are not distorted.
A closer look shows that the spaces between my actual stitches is the same as the spaces between my cast on stitches.
Keep a close watch the next time you cast on. You see exactly what I mean. And don’t let anyone fool you ever again. Casting on over two needles just makes a mess. Use your finger!
Here is a provisional cast on video tutorial, for your education and pleasure.