24 Dec 2013
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When you know the person who gave you a recipe, be it for baking cookies or knitting a sweater, you don’t need all the details written down. What the prevalence of line-by-line, hand-holding knitting patterns tells me, is the sad story that we aren’t passing down our skills from grandmother to mother to daughter any more.


I’m glad that there are books, videos, and online courses that we can learn from if Great Aunt Alice can’t sit down with us and show us how to flip the yarn over our needle to create a lacy hole, but something is lost when we don’t pass skills from one person to another in a private, social setting.


Since I started knitting again in the late 1990s, I’ve notice knitting patterns getting more and more detailed, and tech editors becoming more and more, in some cases, a pain in the ass.


No longer is it acceptable to write, “Inc 1 st at beg and end of next row.” Instead we must explain, “Next row: K1, M1-L (see glossary), work in pattern as set to last 2 stitches, M1-R, k1.” No longer can we say, “Make second front the same as the first, reversing shaping.” Instead we must write out the same exact instructions — often a whole page of text — a second time, changing the neck shaping from RS to WS rows and the armhole shaping from WS rows to RS rows, and being careful to indicate which is the right front (as worn), and which is the left. No longer can we say, “CO 124 sts.” Instead we must explain exactly what type of cast-on technique to use and link to a YouTube video.


This assumes a level of ignorance or laziness in our knitters that I, for one, am not willing to accept. It also makes room for many more errors to be introduced to patterns. Less is more. Less hand holding results in more independence and creativity. Less detail in instructions leads to more learning and understanding of technique and garment construction. 


I think this is related to the trend to tell writers to use short sentences and short words. Don’t say “demonstrate,” say “show.” Don’t say “cooperate,” say “help.” When we limit our language in this way, we reduce the beauty and flexibility of English to accommodate illiteracy and laziness. What ever happened to the joy of reading books — even novels — that stretch our intellect and require us to keep a dictionary on hand? Why are so many knitters unwilling to keep a copy of Vogue Knitting on their coffee table or The Knitter’s Companion in their knitting bag? Or better yet, put Grandma’s, Aunt Alice’s, or your best knitting friend’s phone number on speed dial and drop in for a visit or an excursion to the local coffee shop or yarn shop for a personal lesson.


My grandma taught me how to make these cookies. I don’t need instructions on how thin to roll the dough or how to “cut in pieces” and “shape” the cookies before I fry them in the smoking hot oil. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Grandma's Recipe

Well, this was supposed to be a lovely musing about learning from Grandma but it has turned into a bit of a rant. Writing does its own thing sometimes. 

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7 Responses to A Recipe from Grandma
  1. Syd-Fiberholics 12/24/2013 at 9:20 am

    Yay! God Bless Ya Donna!

    We try to get our students learn to create their own work. To own their knowledge and skills. We all build better skills by using our brains and experience. Be it cooking, knitting or writing.

    Having a mentor near helps to do this and yes even over the phone or texting can stand in, but never as good as sitting together with a cup of tea or glass of wine. The sharing is the gift, and it becomes our memories.

    But the owning your work is the largest part of the growth.

    I plan to try out your grandmother’s recipe, thanks!

  2. Excellent, Donna. I remember my first writing job for a corporation. I was given a list of 18 verbs that I was allowed to use (not utilize — that was too long) , and I thought, I went to college for this? I love reading books that date before the 1940s, when it was assumed that anyone who read the book had focus and smarts.

  3. LOL. So true. Why do we have to assume everyone is dumb or lazy? That’s just sad.

  4. Cruschicky, probably not spelled correctly. I remembering making them; including the Crisco.
    Great memory.

  5. Who knows how to spell that! LOL. Thanks for writing. They are still my favorite Christmas cookies.

  6. I agree with you on this, Donna, but it seems to be a losing battle. When I teach, one of my goals is to get students to read their knitting, and not be a slave to the numbers. Teaching some folks how to SEE how k2 P2 lines up is harder than I ever imagined. Not sure if it is learning style or what. And when students use older patterns, or Scandinavian/German patterns I have to keep telling them that the writers assumed basic knowledge, and convince them that they do have that knowledge. Sigh.

  7. Yes, it’s frustrating. I want to yell, “READ VOGUE KNITTING, DAMMIT!” Instead of buying yet another pattern book, buy a skill-building book and read it from cover to cover. Five times!

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