This summer I learned how to knit socks. And not just socks, but two-at-a-time magic loop socks. Which if you’d asked me two years ago, when I’d made a couple of scarves (and as it turned out, was actually doing the knit stitch wrong), whether I could’ve done such a thing…I’d’ve been exceptionally skeptical.
When I started that project, I didn’t know anything about sock construction, and I’d never used the “magic loop” technique. And even with a group of fellow knitters working together, I just got too frustrated (there was a LOT of cursing, and not just from me). So I used one of my favorite debugging techniques: picked out the smallest possible piece of the project, and figure out what’s going on with that. I made a coffee cup cozy, so I could understand the magic loop part. (Magic loop involves doing some weird stuff with a reeeeeally long circular needle instead of several double-pointed needles (DPNs). It’s actually easier in the long run than using DPNs in some ways, but it’s a different way of thinking about the creation process.) That got me to the point where I understood enough to try two at a time, and socks start out as just plain old tubes, so that gave me enough time to get really comfortable with all of those parts before I tackled the weirdness of sock heel construction.
I’m on my sixth pair of socks now (although that includes two pairs of baby socks for my nephew), and now I understand the process and the technique enough to even second-guess a pattern or make up for a mistake I may have made earlier. (Or most importantly: how to adjust a pattern designed for DPNs to magic loop.) There’s parts I can’t always keep straight in my head, not unlike knowing that a function exists but not being 100% sure how it’s spelled or whether there’s a underscore. (Damn you, PHP.) Which side of the sock gusset should be SSK and which side should be K2tog? Sometimes I just have to do one and see if it looks right. Sometimes knitting could really use code hinting…perhaps the material itself is the code hinting.
With every new technique (language, stitch, etc) I’m full of frustration and self-doubt: nothing makes sense, I can’t believe this could possibly work, I’m not smart enough, dextrous enough, etc., etc. I cuss at the materials/tools, myself. And then it just CLICKS. I don’t know how that happens, really, although a lot of it is getting the right help.
I mentioned earlier that I spent the first few months knitting wrong. For the knitters in the audience, I was knitting into the back of the loop; which is a subtle enough mistake that it doesn’t look totally wrong, especially when you’re just learning it at all. But it throws off the gauge and the feel of the knitting, so things don’t fit quite right. And it also meant I had a hard time understanding how to increase stitches, which is what I was trying to learn when I discovered my problem. And what I discovered, in addition to the solution to my problem, was the kind of learning materials work best for me with knitting.
Surprisingly enough: not video at all or photos generally, but the right sort of drawing, ones that show the three-dimensionality of both the yarn and the needles (and fingers, to be honest). Along with text that uses the things I already know, written clearly. Not unlike what I need from coding help.
I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of weeks, so I’m just going to leave it here. There are some other connections in my experience of both knitting and coding, that I’d like to write about later:
- Picking patterns is a lot like picking modules, plugins, and other open-source tools.
- Craftsmanship in general, knowing your tools and materials.