Annie Modesitt refers to herself as a "knitting hethen" in her excellent collection of knitting essays and instruction Confessions of a Knitting Heretic: Tips, Techniques, Projects and Reflections by an Unorthodox Hand Knit Designer and Teacher.
Her crime against the crafty powers-that-be? Declaring that there are no rights or wrongs when it comes to knitting, so long as you get a finished fabric that makes you happy.
On Becoming a Heretic
Modesitt basically learned how to knit through logic rather than following instructions. She uses a style known as combination knitting, in which the purl stitches are worked by wrapping the yarn under the needle, which makes the knit stitches present themselves in a way most of us would think of as twisted but that simply means they need to be worked through the back loop.
Modesitt says this method is often faster than other modes of knitting, and it produces an even tension on the knit and purl rows that isn't always found with more conventional Western knitting techniques.
Her knitting form isn't the only unexpected thing about the way Modesitt knits. She explains that she was actually kicked out of a knitting shop when she knit her first project -- a colorwork sweater designed by Deborah Newton -- in just a few days but didn't know how to bind off the pieces.
For that reason she's also heretical about the use of terms like "a project for beginners" or "for advanced knitters only." Instead, she sees every knitter as capable of performing all the skills necessary to complete any project they want, so long as they know how to knit and purl (knowing how to bind off isn't a bad idea, either) and don't let their brains get in the way of what their hands already know how to do.
That's certainly good advice for knitters of all, shall we say, experience levels rather than skill levels.
Honing Your Knitting Skills
Confessions of a Knitting Heretic includes essays about knitting, but it's largely a technique book, spending a lot of time looking at the different styles of knitting, how the stitches look on the needles and what that means for the knitter, and of course emphasizing that there's no right way to do it.
Other topics include various cast on and bind off methods, increasing and decreasing, the use of charts and schematics, cabling, colorwork, embellishments, borders and other finishing techniques.
You might think you already know a lot about these topics, but you'll probably still find some things in here that are different from the way you learned or ideas you haven't seen before that you want to try out. I, for instance, have never knit plaid, but I'm intrigued by the instructions presented in the book (it requires knitting two rows on each side of the knitting before turning the work).
There are tons of great tricks included in the book, such as a bunch of different ways to use I-cord and a clever way to apply it to the surface of knitting by picking up stitches so you don't have to sew your cord to the piece after it's knit.
Modesitt also offers her own version of a bobble called an I-bobble that makes a really nice, round bobble. She's also got a bobble hem that would be adorable on a baby jacket or sweater.
Confessions of a Knitting Heretic has a few little sample patterns throughout, such as the aforementioned instructions for knitting plaid and the charts for some flowers and leaves to use as ornamentation on your knit projects.
It also includes projects ranging from a striped Garter Stitch Scarf to a short-row shaped diagonal colorblock scarf, a felted vest, socks with afterthought heels and toes, a Garter and Plaid bag (my favorite, of course), a wire cuff bracelet and necklace (wire knitting being a passion of Modesitt's that she's expanded on in her book Twist and Loop), the Rasta Hat (which you may have seen on "Knitty Gritty"), a sampler bag and the Picture Hat, a lace knit hat that's blocked, illustrating the basics of millinery.
That last pattern is relatively complex thanks to all the steps required to properly turn knitting into a hat, but the projects are all relatively approachable to adventurous knitters of all skill levels.
These are patterns that don't insult the knitter's intelligence and assume that you know the basics, which is refreshing for a lot of people.
Why We Knit
The book also includes essays on such things as knitting genealogy, Luddites, knitting as meditation and more. These are fun to read and also speak to the wider issues of what makes this craft such a great one.
"I knit as much for the love of the process -- for the rhythm and color and joy of the fiber -- as I do for the finished product. I enjoy the sensual pleasures of the yarn -- the colors, textures, the smell of the wool, the feel of the silk. I enjoy knitting on so many levels that at times it seems positively indecent."
If you're a knitter who hates to be hampered by patterns and knitting convention, this book is a must read. Even if you don't want to chart your own path through the knitting universe, it's a great book to inspire knitters to be a little more daring and to remember that they already know more than they think they know about knitting, if only they could get out of the way and let their fingers do the thinking.
Publication date: April 2004