Sunday, March 20, 2011

Can you believe....

...I got to write an essay about knitting in my english class?
Here. have a first draft.

A Knitter's English
There are several different languages in the knitting world, and each one serves a different purpose. There is “knitspeak,” the abbreviated language found in every pattern book. Secondly, there are the charts: a symbolic representation of lace and colorwork that was invented to save space. Lastly, there is “knitease,” which is the jargon used to weed out the wannabes from the true knitters.
Knitspeak is defined by knitting author Andrea Price as “a combination of words, abbreviations, numbers and punctuation that is terse, truncated and unintelligible to non-knitters.” It is in this language you will find the incredibly useful sentence “K1.P1.Tw2R.(P1.K1tbl) 8 times. P1.” Though this may look at first like gibberish, is simply a way to shorten words often used: K for knit, P for purl, K2tog for knit two together. Likewise, Tw2R is shorthand for “knit into front of 2nd stitch on left hand needle then knit into front of first stitch, slipping both stitches off needle together.” It is probably obvious right off the bat why knitting magazines use Tw2R instead. The authors were quick to realize that the less words to print, the less expensive it is to do so.
Because of printing costs and space constraints, and because writing lengthy descriptions over and over again is monotonous, words were created for popular base stitches. For example, to imply that every odd row will be all-purl and every even row will be all-knit “continue in reverse stockinette stitch,” will do nicely. Actually, to put it even simpler most patterns would say “cont. in rev. st st.” and use even less space with no loss in comprehension. This language is not pretentious, nay it is necessary. It is logical to shorten things as long as everyone is on board with what the abbreviations are. That, however, is where the problems begin.
There are deviations in jargon between Continental and English knitters with certain abbreviations. PSSO (pass slipped stitch over) and SKP(slip, knit, pass slipped stitch over), mean the exact same thing depending on which the country the author lives in. If a knitter finds a pattern that uses SKP when they are familiar only with PSSO that knitter might have a minor freak-out about learning a new stitch before realizing that it's just a different term. I speak from experience. Another example of words that differ between countries: Gauge and Tension. These both represent the number of stitches a knitter gets per inch, and can be used interchangeably. The longer a person has been knitting, however, the more likely they are to understand patterns even if they are from a different country.
Different countries aside, there are still issues within the knitspeak system. Namely, there is no standardized abbreviation list. For instance, usually YO means a “yarn over,” but a knitwear designer can write YF for “yarn forward” with no serious ramifications. Sure, the people trying to knit her designs might have extreme frustrations but there are no knitting police. The fact is that new abbreviations are turning up all the time. It is generally understood, therefore, that if a designer is using an unusual term (such as the aforementioned Tw2R) they have to include a key explaining it. In fact, to avoid any miscommunication, it is advisable to explicitly state what the common “K2, P2” means for the absolute beginner knitter. After all, the knitspeak system was designed for simplicity, not for confusion.
The most advanced level of absorption into the knitting community is the language of the chart. This is also the least standardized language. Each designer, each yarn company, each knitting magazine has its own version of symbols for the chart. The only thing that is common between all is the way the charts are read: a knitter must read a chart from right to left. Also, unlike reading the page of a book, the knitter must start from the bottom of the chart and work his way up. Many a new knitter ends up with an upside down picture because this knowledge is unwritten. Ask me how I know.
Since the symbols used in charts are not exchangeable, one might wonder why knitters use them at all. Again, chart-writing was derived from the lazy and penny-pinching knitting magazines. Writing each line out row-by-row is time-consuming and cramming all the same information into a chart is much easier on the pocket. In the case of charts, there is always a key explaining what each symbol means. While it's true that a “-” usually means knit and a purl is generally “|” and “o” often represents a yarn over, there is no room for misunderstanding because the key is always in plain sight. This is one reason a knitter might prefer charts to looking at a jumble of country-specific abbreviations. In fact, if the pattern for a design is written in Japanese but includes a chart there is still a chance an English-speaking knitter can reproduce it. The chart transcends words, and that is the main reason for its existence.
Now “knitease,” on the other hand, has no instructive value. Indeed, if there is any aspect of knitting that is intended to make knitters feel like insiders, knitease is it. Knitters only slip into knitease when talking to other well-experienced knitters. Some examples of these are LYS(local yarn shop), SEX(stash enrichment experience), KIP(knitting in public), UFO's (unfinished objects), WIP's(works-in-progress), TOAD's(trashed objects abandoned in disgust), SABLE(stash acquirement beyond life expectancy) and the ever-dreaded SSS(second-sock-syndrome) in which after finishing one sock the knitter cannot stand the thought of beginning the second one. Other common words are “frogging” and “tinking.” If someone is “tinking” her work, she is un-knitting or knitting backwards to fix a mistake. Frogging, on the other hand, is the act of undoing a large amount of knitting by pulling on the working yarn. A non-knitter might hear of someone frogging her sleeve for the third time and think she is putting amphibians on it when, in fact, she is ripping it out. (Get it? Rip-it, rip-it? Frogs? No? That's why we leave you out of it.) Knitease is the language found in blogs, SnB's (SnB means stitch n bitch/knit nights) and yarn shops. If a knitter is fluent in knitspeak they have entered the world where knitting is no longer a hobby, but a lifestyle.
Each of these languages serves a different purpose, and each is contest to the fact that the knitting community is its own world. This jargon reveals a group of people that wants to help each other: why else would they try so hard to make patterns clear and free of error? It also reveals a group of people who are opinionated: patterns often include both charts and written instructions because chart-knitters will not entertain written instructions and those who prefer written instructions turn their noses up to charts. Also revealed are the political differences among a community, charts being one example of many. Finally, all the abbreviations and jargon reveal a cliquish sense of belonging and a community that is, forgive the pun, tightly knit.

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