You may not consider yourself an anarchist in the political sense, but the way Anna Zilboorg defines the term in her book Knitting for Anarchists might make you want to join the cause, at least where crafts are concerned.
She says that "most anarchists are gentle people" and seek only "for all people to live in peace, following their own stars." That's certainly a good idea when it comes to knitting, for far too many of us get hampered by the knitting rules and conventions we're taught, which end up not doing us much good and ultimately stifling our creativity.
Zilboorg aims to change all that by giving knitters an education in the basics that will make them feel free to go their own way. She starts with a lengthy description and discussion of what knitting actually is, how the stitches are formed and why they look the way they do on the needle and in the fabric.
This information is all pretty basic, when you think about it, but it's also something that's not included in any other knitting books that I know of. Starting your knitting journey with this basic information means you'll understand a lot more about stitch mount and how stitches are properly formed than you might otherwise.
She encourages knitters to try as many different knitting styles as they can -- including the less-than-conventional method of wrapping purl stitches counter-clockwise, which then requires knitting through the back loops -- to determine which method is easiest, most comfortable and makes the best result for you.
Even anarchist knitters need to have a good grounding in the basics.
The book goes on to cover casting on and picking up stitches in various ways, binding off and shaping knitting.
Reading Your Knitting
Another important section of the book covers what Zilboorg calls "regaining our illiteracy," meaning that we've lost some vital skills as a civilization since learning to read that we would do well to try to recapture.
Before written patterns, for instance, knitters were still able to remember and knit complex patterns. These days, many of us feel tied to a pattern -- whether written or charted -- when it should be possible for us to remember the sequence of various patterns as we work.
Being able to read our knitting instead of reading directions would mean we'd be able to pick out mistakes more easily and quickly after they happen. We'd also probably be able to knit more quickly because we'd understand intuitively what the next step was rather than keeping our eyes glued to the knitting pattern page all the time.
"The first step, of course, is to look at your knitting -- to read the pattern from a previous repetition of it. Most of the time it's easy to see which row you're on. It takes practice to read from the knitting, but when you are adept at it you are freed forever from magnetic rulers following charts, covering up what went before, so that you cannot see the relationship between one row and the next."
Other sections of the book cover such topics as cables, finishing, and a mind-boggling buttonhole based on a machine knit buttonhole. It's beautiful, but it might make your head spin to read about it.
The final section of the book has to do with making your own knitting patterns or altering patterns by changing the color, adding in cables or creating some other alteration.
Then Zilbooorg goes into what she considers the ultimate in anarchist knitting: strip knitting to form sweaters. A long section at the back of the book explains exactly how to use strips of different yarns joined together to form a sweater, either all in one piece or in individual strips that are later sewn together.
This section can get a little mind-boggling, too, but it's really interesting to think about the different ways that simple strips (and slightly less simple shaped strips) might be used to form different sweaters and other garments.
Knitters who feel constrained by all the "rules" of knitting will take great comfort in Zilboorg's approach and the knowledge that trusting yourself and just giving things a try to see what happens are great ways to approach the craft.
Just because you haven't seen a particular technique described before doesn't mean it's the wrong way to do things, and it doesn't mean some other knitters over the years haven't "discovered" the same thing.
For knitters who are a little timid about going their own way, Knitting for Anarchists provides plenty of inspiration and a great argument for why knitters might want to dump the patterns (or at least occasionally set them aside), start knitting and see what happens.
Publication date: September 2002.