I couldn't really start a series of essays on TealArt about knitting, without writing several hundred words about the knit stitch. Before you close the window, hear me out. The knit stitch is really kind of awesome. You'll be glad you stuck around.
I'm not sure who said "there's only one stitch in knitting, you can just do a thousand things to it," and that's besides the point, I think. It's a truth of knitting: there really is only one stitch, and while you can do a thousand things with it, I'm content to just do a couple of dozen with mine. One would think that teaching knitting would be easy given it's apparent simplicity: if there's only one stitch, how much is there to learn. When you hand someone a set of needles and some scraps of yarn and the make their first lumpy garter stitch rectangle (or whatever), it doesn't seem like knitting can really be that simple. But it is.
I have found no way to teach someone "stitch theory," a term that I just made up, by which I mean the fundamental concept of how the "loops" of yarn interact with each-other to form the "one" knit stitch. It takes time, repetition and a bit of encouragement to look at your knitting, to understand what's going on, as you knit. This of course sounds absurdly obvious and a bit odd coming from someone who routinely reads or watches television whilst knitting, but I have no clever way of communicating this skill. It can be learned and even encouraged, but I'm not sure if it can be thought. Once you understand how knit stitches work and build upon each-other, its easier to start thinking structurally about how garments fit together and how to shape garments to fit your needs. But the granule understanding is really important.
Armed with a firm understanding of the knit stitch, it becomes possible to think about building things with knit stitches: sweaters, hats, socks, mittens, gloves, house-cozys, and so forth. Later in the series, I'll muse about some of the finer points of design and building, but for this introductory episode, I'll focus on the larger picture. One of the most valuable skills that I've been able to develop as a knitter is "mental knitting." Not, mental knitting, what I'm talking about is to knit in your head, as a way of test knitting. If you know how a stitch forms, and how knitted fabric behaves you can then begin to knit in your head (at blinding speeds!) as a way of testing out your next move. Because knit stitches, how ever you form them, are basically little blocks, if you can invasion how they'll fit together, it makes it easy to implement, design, or alter a pattern: because of this I've occasionally felt that there was an under-respected connection between knitting and architecture. In any case, all this grows out of knowing how knit stitches "work" which in tern grows out of being able to really watch your knitting.
In terms of teaching this, I have substantially less to offer. On a personal level, I think my ability to knit in my head grew out of learning how to fix mistakes, and out of my inside out and backwards way of knitting--I knit in the contrary direction to the way that many people knit--but this is not the only way for the connection to form but it is one way. In an effort to encourage this kind of understanding I've tried to encourage to new knitters to seek out new skills, shapes, and kinds of knitting as quickly as they feel comfortable. If knitting is simply one stitch, one way to come to understand the knit stitch and how to "read" it is to begin to experience its many variations. With luck, this might also have the benefit of preventing future aversions to particularly kinds of knitting, such as the one that I (and I suspect a number of others) have against purling: it's actually kind of amazing the lengths I'll go to avoid purling. Like most "issues" in knitting, such aversions are clearly not insurmountable, they are not desirable either.
This series on TealArt will continue to explore issues related to traditional knitting, design, and "knitting pedagogy," and I hope that today's discussion of the knit stitch and the very fundamentals of the skill of knitting, will provide a useful introduction. I promise that future installments will be less... dry.
Stay well, tycho