In Praise of Plain Knitting

Does knitting have to be complicated in order to be worthwhile and worthy of praise? Bells in Australia posted an interesting blog entry about once being told she was a "plain knitter" and how this throwaway comment influenced her knitting. I was drawn to her blog entry because I keep receiving very kind, flattering and downright baffling comments on Ravelry about my knitting projects. One recent comment told me "I want to be you when I become a real knitter". Ladies and gentlemen, no matter what you do and how you knit: you are a real knitter.

And I knit plain things. I prefer utilitarian and practical items. I am drawn to unfussy and very simple detailing. I prefer my sweaters and cardigan to be knitted top-down with simple shaping. I do not keep my finished items in neat piles in my wardrobe - not even my lace shawls. My cardigans hang upon chairs and my shawls are tucked in bags (alongside a hat). If I knit for children, I ensure that the items can be washed because they will be burped upon. I am proud of every single thing I knit but I'm not precious about my projects.

However, I do think carefully about everything I knit. This is my modus operanti and one which seems strikingly similar to what Wendy Bernard outlines in Custom Knits:

  1. I look at the basic shape of the garment. I know my body type and what flatters this body type. If the shape will work against my body type, I discard the pattern no matter how much I adore it.
  2. I look at how fussy it is. Does it have any unnecessary detailing, a gazillion lace patterns or two types of edging? Can I simplify the pattern if it is too fussy or busy?
  3. What will I use this item for? Does it fit into my lifestyle or is it something I will wear maybe once a year? Does it fit with the rest of my wardrobe?

Examples of these basic rules:

  1. I adore the Mrs Darcy Cardigan which has just the right amount of detailing to suit my taste - my busty, short torso would look completely wrong in this knit. I could modify the neckline and shaping, but it would no longer be the same design idea. Discarded, alas. See also the Whisper Cardigan.
  2. When I did my Forecast, I eliminated the random moss stitch section on the collar and pared down the cabling from cable+bobbles to a simple braid. It's not that I couldn't do the original design's cable+bobbles, I just thought the designer had thrown in two or three textures too many.
  3. I'm cold. I'm always, always cold. I need long sleeves and warm garments (cue Snorri (with added sleeves) and a multitude of shawls that I can wrap around my neck or lower back). I would never get any use out of a Lotus Blossom Tank or a Delphine.

In short: I make as many decisions as I can before I start knitting something.

Plain knitting involves just as many decisions and considerations as technically complex knitting. In fact, I would argue plain knitting may involve more decisions as knitters know that our plain knits will be the ones we wear the most and so we think harder about our choice of yarn or colour.

Yes, I can do intarsia, entrelac, Bavarian twisted stitches, and a gazillion cast-ons  - but does that really make me a "real" knitter? I think not. Let us sing the praises of plain knitting: stocking stitch, garter stitch, moss stitch and k1p1 ribbing. Without these things we would be nothing.