Recently Ms Orata wrote a really fascinating post about knitting and how knitters/crocheters perceive "difficulty". The post is fantastic and I recommend you read it because she deals with the concept of "difficulty" in astonishing details. Read the comments too. Good stuff. (Note: I have no real agenda for this post - except I deal with a high number of knitters and crocheters of all abilities on a daily basis. In the following post I refer a lot to "knitters" but I mean "knitters + crocheters" really.)
I see people struggle with garterstitch scarves, I see people executing complicated lace with ease. I see people measuring their skill level by how many years they have knitted; I see people measuring their skill level by how many different types of projects they have knitted. Each knitter have their own concept of what "difficult" means. Interestingly each knitter also has their own concept of what "a good knitter" is and it rarely matches their own ability: most often people underestimate their own ability although I have met some (very, very) rare cases of astounding arrogance. Underestimating your ability may well be a gender thing.
(As an aside: most of the knitters I meet are not on Ravelry and most do not care to be. In my experience Ravelry users tend to be more advanced knitters simply because they are so interested in knitting that they will join a social media site dedicated to knitting. To reiterate: in my experience Ravelry users are the anomaly, not the norm, when it comes to skill sets. To use Ravelry numbers as the basis of analysing the concept of 'difficulty' within knitting is to automatically distort numbers. Finding more accurate figures is a different problem altogether.)
It has been said many times that you only need to learn how to do a knit stitch and a purl stitch and you can knit anything. Not true. You need to know how to cast on and -off too. You need to learn the trick of reading a ballband to determine needle size. You need to wise up to pattern terminology. This is very, very basic knitting and arguably you will soon need to learn increases and decreases. UK yarn company Sirdar even had short row shaping in one of their 'easy knits' patterns recently.
In recent years I have come to regard myself as an above-average knitter. I can follow patterns (even bad ones) and have written some basic ones myself. I can fudge things and devise short-cuts if I please. I can do pretty complicated stitch patterns (and teach you these) without breaking sweat. I have shortcomings, of course, as I'm not great at intarsia and I'm lazy enough to stick to a few cast-ons and cast-offs rather than teach myself more. But I'm actually pretty good. I cannot use my own knitting ability as a yardstick, in other words.
What is "difficult"? I'll use two recent examples.
Example 1) I recently had to figure out how to construct a cowl which has you knitting strips which you then twist into knotlike structures before beginning a simple cable pattern. The knitting itself wasn't complicated but the sculptural construction was unlike anything I had ever seen.
Example 2) My next project uses an Estonian stitch pattern which I have had to use a few hours of swatching to 'crack'. Once you understand your eight-row repeat, the actual garment construction is very simple. I'll have more on this project later this week - including my swatches and a look at how to understand the stitch pattern.
My two examples are both difficult but they are different types of difficulty.
I would say that even an advanced beginner could make my first example but it would need to be an advanced beginner with specific non-knitting skill sets in following a technical manual (anyone with IKEA assembly experience, essentially).
The second example I would not recommend to knitters below a certain level of expertise. The stitch pattern is straightforward - but only if you have a certain amount of patience, guts and experience. You need to be comfortable with lace (out of the eight-row repeat you have two rest rows and they are not even purl rows), you need to be happy with dropping stitches seemingly randomly, you need to be able to read your knitting (the pattern lines up logically but you cannot tell from the instructions), you need to be willing to go beyond your regular knit/purl/yarnover/decrease lace knitting, and you need to accept that tinkering back will be a beast (as you are using Kidsilk Haze). Phew.
Interestingly both these examples have been labelled "intermediate" by the yarn company. I'm glad it is not my job to suss out these labels; I can see why the patterns share the same label but it is a laborious path to get to that stage.
If you have made it this far, I'd love to know how you would rate your own skill level, how you select patterns, and what you consider "difficult"?
PS. teal deer.