Friday, July 27, 2018

Problem Solving in Knitting

Image from Pinterest artist unknown


This summer  I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. I'm choosing ones that seem to be popular based on the number of views and links they get.
I answer a lot of knitting questions. I belong to several different knitting groups and there is a variety of skill levels at all of them. I like answering these questions as I often learn more from the process of figuring it out than the knitter who asked it in the first place.

When I worked in my LYS, I assisted many knitters with patterns that were giving them trouble. Once we had a customer who was so unhappy with my answer she ended up quizzing all of the three other staff members who were in that day and even though we each gave her several options to solve her problem she still went away unhappy muttering to herself "that there must be a book that would explain how to do this properly". In this situation I think it was a case of the Buddhist quote: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and our student wasn't yet ready. 
I was often surprised by something that happened fairly regularly. A customer would come in with a question and be shocked that we could not instantaneously answer. Usually it was with regard to a specific pattern. Often the question was posed in such a way as to mislead us as to the nature of the real problem. Many knitters were surprised when we would ask to see their work. It was a common experience when assisting knitters that the customer thought we should be able to resolve their problem without reading the pattern or picking up our needles to test a stitch pattern when they said it was wrong. 
We were frequently questioned as to why we couldn't just look at the knitting and see where their mistake was in the pattern. We would also get phone calls asking us to explain pattern instructions based on what the knitter said was going wrong, without allowing us the time to read the pattern or the option to examine the work. We could relate to the frustration the knitter felt, but felt very limited in our ability to solve the problem. It made me realize that interpreting patterns is much more layered and complex than it initially appears to be.

When I read Sally Melville's comment about this on her old blog site I was struck by how accurately she explained it.  Sally said "I liken knitting patterns more to mathematical proofs than recipes. So imagine sticking a few lines in the middle of a mathematical proof under someone's nose and asking Can you explain this? It's no wonder that the folk in the yarn shop can't do it!"

I think Sally's analogy is the best one I've seen on this topic. So please when you are asking other knitters for help; be patient and understand that they need to work through the problem slowly. Once they do they can answer the question and figure out if the pattern is wrong or if the knitter is making an error in execution. Often the end solution is simple but it's buried inside a long chain of individual steps.

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