29 Aug 2015

The Basics: Grandmother’s Knitting

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My grandmother taught me how to knit when I was in kindergarten, maybe even before that. I started out with a Stockinette stitch swatch and wrapped the working yarn snugly around my left index finger, like a bobbin, to control my tension.

“When you knit, the yarn goes in the back and the needle goes in the back of the stitch,” Grandma told me. c I didn’t know that this was called the “Eastern Uncrossed” or “Combination” method of knitting, commonly used in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. To me, this was just “Grandma’s knitting.”

One of my favorite Lithuania knitting books, a small volume called Megzkime Pačios (Let’s Knit) by O. Jarmulavičienė, presents the basic knitting stitches just the way my grandmother taught me. Other Lithuanian knitting books offer instructions for the standard, modern European style of knitting. They note that this is the common method used in books, but that in the old days, most knitters in Lithuania used močiutės mezgimas, or “grandmother’s knitting.” Both are interchangeable, the authors explain, as long as you pay attention to your work. In general, the books do not show drawings with hands, but the working yarn always trails off the drawings to the left, with the assumption that knitters will carry the yarn in their left hand, whichever way they form their stitches.

Knit and Purl Stitches

Knit = back/back. To make a knit stitch, hold the working yarn in the back, and insert the right needle into the back of the stitch. Pick the yarn with the tip of the right needle and pull it through to form a new stitch.

Knit and Purl Stitches

lith knit

Won’t you twist your stitches if you knit into the back? Not if you purl wrapping your yarn in the opposite direction.

Purl = front/front. To make a purl stitch, hold the working yarn in front, and insert the right needle into the front of the stitch. Pick the yarn in the same manner as you do when knitting.
Lithuanian Book Hand Photos

lith purlWith this technique, switching between knits and purls is easy and fast. After I practiced for a bit, the process became unconscious as the yarn “automatically” moved to the front or back of my needles as necessary for the next stitch. Ribbing and cables followed quickly for me, and I never realized that purling was supposed to be difficult. Moving your yarn to the front or back of the needles is something that is not even mentioned in Lithuanian knitting books.

Garter Stitch

Knit stitch in Garter

This is how you knit in Garter stitch, which is the same as in American knitting because the leading leg of the stitch is in front of the needle, since there are no purl rows to turn the stitches around.

lith garter stitch

This confused the hell out of me when I was a teenager and I saw one of my friends knitting garter stitch booties. I never had knitted garter stitch. My grandmother taught me stockinette stitch first. It’s really easy to learn for kids in this method.

Basically, to knit without twisting your stitches, you just always go into the leading leg of the stitch. It doesn’t matter if it’s in front of or behind the needle.

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