Friday, August 18, 2006

You're doing it wrong, dear.

Just over twenty years ago, I was sitting on a bus and passing the time by knitting some baby clothes for my soon-to-be-born daughter. A fellow passenger, who was an older woman, was apparently so offended by the way I was knitting that she went out of her way to tell me "You're doing it wrong, dear." before she got off the bus.

As the title bar of this blog indicates, I am left-handed and I choose to knit left-handed too. For some reason, this bothers some people. A lot. I've tried knitting the way right-handed people do, and for me it just feels awkward and wrong -- knitting may well be a two-handed craft as some people claim when they are trying to convince others that everyone should knit as right-handed people do, but there is definitely a dominant working hand. In my case, I'm way better at reversing instructions and charts where necessary than I am at knitting from the left needle to the right needle as most people do. I accept this. My friends accept this. I had even allowed myself to believe that, twenty years on from that rather disconcerting encounter, these were more enlightened times, and that I would no longer be confronted by people like the older woman on that bus whenever I dare to knit in public.

Not so, as it turns out.

Last Saturday, I was knitting with some friends at our fortnightly get-together at Rubi & Lana when I once again heard those words. This time it was a European lady who spoke them, and she then went on to demonstrate how to hold the yarn and knit continental style -- I suspect she was thrown by the fact that I was holding the yarn in my left hand and just couldn't understand why I was throwing the yarn instead of picking. No amount of explaining that I am left-handed and knit around the other way to the way she knits, and would have to hold the yarn in my right hand to do what she was doing, made any difference whatsoever. She was adamant that I was doing it wrong -- to the obvious bemusement of everyone in the shop around me.

For the past few days, I've been trying to decide whether or not to write about this latest experience on my blog as I was afraid it would be perceived as a rant, but then I stumbled upon this button* today...

You are NOT knitting wrong.
... which just summed everything up for me, and made me think just how easily a poorly thought out, condescending comment like "You're doing it wrong, dear." could put someone off knitting for life. In my own case, it was a very long time after my encounter with the woman on the bus before I was able to knit confidently in a public place again.

While I hate political correctness with a passion, there really are better ways of letting someone know that there are alternative ways of doing something which they might be interested in learning about than telling them that they are doing it wrong. Word choices really can make a difference to the way suggestions of alternative ways of doing things will be viewed by the intended recipient. The woman on the bus may well have had good intentions, but all she did was damage my confidence with her words. And the European woman would have received a much more favourable reception if she hadn't got my back up with her opening line -- I'm older now and more confident in why I knit the way I do. ;)

I love Annie Modesitt's philosophy that if you're getting the fabric you want, you are NOT knitting wrong. :) There is a certain irony in the fact that just before I was told I was doing it wrong on Saturday, the evenness of some of my knitting had been commented on. I am aware that knitting continental style is a more economical way of knitting, and therefore potentially faster as there is less movement involved in forming a stitch. However, I choose to hold the yarn and knit the way I do in part because I have joint problems and the way I knit keeps my wrist in a stable, neutral position -- after all, knitting faster doesn't get you very far if you have to stop all the time due to aching wrists.

I will most likely never be a fast knitter, but I'm happy knitting the way I do. I learn new things which continue to improve my knitting all the time -- both from the projects I knit and from other knitters -- and I like the work I'm producing now. At the end of the day, that really is all that matters. I will continue to knit in public and not be put off by the opinions voiced by a few, content in the knowledge that there is no "correct" way to knit, just what happens to works for you. :)

* Actually, the original button was an animated gif to promote Annie Modesitt's book Confessions of a Knitting Heretic, but I find animated gifs annoying so I've just used the image that is most relevant to me, while keeping the links to Annie's books intact of course -- I hope this is OK with Eklectika! who designed the original button, and with Annie.)

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