Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My not so secret secret

So, I suppose I should just tell everybody plain-like, even tho I've never particularly kept it a secret.  It's heresy on some accounts, for sure.  Elizabeth Zimmerman spins in her grave every time I pick up my needles.  But here it is: I knit left handed.

By that I don't mean "continental," although I do that to.  What I mean is, when I knit, my stitches move from my right needle to my left needle, rather than the other way around.  The technical term for this is "mirror knitting."  Now us left-handers get a lot of flack about how knitting is a "two handed activity" and we should just learn to knit the "normal" way, because if we don't we'll "never" be able to read patterns, at least not without making "major" modifications, in effect rewriting the pattern.  We should just knit the normal direction, continental, as that puts the yarn in the left hand and is therefor "left handed."

Can you tell where I disagree?  Look, I am perfectly capable of knitting in the right handed direction.  But it's awkward and slow and I make a lot of mistakes.  Plus, if you watch me closely, you'll notice that whichever direction I'm knitting, I'm not using both hands equally.  My right hand holds the yarn.  My left hand does just about everything else.  Most right handers you'll watch are the same way, except it's their right hand doing most/all of the work.

And never read patterns?  Have to make major modifications to make patterns work?  Puh-lease!  I knit patterns as written.  Yes, left handed.  Yes, and turn out a perfectly credible finished object.  Check my Ravelry project page if you don't believe me!  I make exactly one change to patterns: where a pattern says right, I read left, and vice versa.  Given that I've been doing that my entire life on EVERYTHING, it's pretty automatic.  The only difference when I follow a written pattern?  I produce a mirror image of what a rightie would, so my cables twist the other way and so on.  Not a big deal.  What about charts?  I LOVE charts.  I just read them the direction I knit, which is great, since English is read from left to right, as well.  Really, I don't know how righties manage charts... you have to read them BACKWARDS!  And no, this doesn't make my decreases lean the wrong way.  I do it like it is in the picture, and it turns out just like it would if a rightie were doing it.

And that whole "continental = left handed" thing?  I can tell you for a fact that it is not true.  See, the part of knitting that is hard, the part that takes fine motor skills and hand eye coordination, isn't tensioning or wrapping the yarn.  It's inserting the working needle into the stitch to be worked.  When I knit left handed, my left hand (with the working needle) spears the stitch.  When I knit right handed, I sort of use my left hand to impale the stitch on the working needle.  My right hand is kind of dumb.  You would not be far off if you imagined it as one of those articulated mannequin hands that artists use.  It holds the yarn and tries not to move too much.  When I knit left handed, this is continental.  If I try to put the yarn in my left hand (as so many misguided knitting teachers advise), my whole arm rebels.  I figure that my left hand is doing EVERYTHING ELSE, so tensioning the yarn is just the straw that breaks the camel's back.  Righty has to do something, right?

But you know what?  Everybody is different.  A lot of left handed folk are perfectly content and coordinated knitting right handed, either English or continental.  That's fine!  Everybody ought to knit in the manner that makes them most happy and comfortable.  So, misguided yet helpful righties of the world, please leave my left handedness alone.  Crocheting left handed isn't a big deal.  Knitting left handed shouldn't be either.  Even though Elizabeth Zimmerman hated it.

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