The Learning Curve

It’s a bit of a risk starting a new topic, isn’t it; I’m always certain that it must long since have been covered in this excellent forum. But sometimes, if you search you find the topic, but come up with things that were posted decades ago, so perhaps it isn’t too awful to start up something that is doubtless long-covered in the past, but might be nice to revisit?? Anyway. I’m very happy to be told to shush, if this is not of current interest, but wanted to explore the business of learning. Not the what, but rather the ‘how’ of learning. We all seem to take on new information so differently, don’t we. I’ve so often thought that it’s tough on children that schools are obliged to treat them all the same - inevitably. But actually, we all learn at different rates and in different ways. For me, I am much much better at teaching myself things, and what has been wonderful for me is to be able to do that AND have a teacher, if I learn from people on line; I’ve obviously got a problem with actual interaction! I much prefer the distanced-ness of an online instructor, or a book. What would any of us do without YouTube videos to solve problems instantly? Or, indeed, this wonderful forum. I think I have a problem with competitiveness, and just like to do things at my own pace without anyone watching over my shoulder? Something like that. I think my method probably slows one up - an actual teacher, watching the mistakes, can doubtless point them out and put one on a better track more quickly? But maybe the self-discovery thing is a good way for some of us to take on information? I’m also really interested in the mechanics of learning, the business of one’s hands getting ‘fluent’ with the language of stitches, or whatever the medium is in which one is working. People talk about ‘muscle’ memory - well, I’m married to a neuroscientist so I guess I know more than is good for me about there being no such thing, there’s memory. It’s brains that do that, not muscles - brains instruct muscles. But whatever it is that is going on in the learning curve bit of the brain telling the muscles what to do is so fascinating. That link, which results over time in the brain apparently disengaging - which of course it isn’t - and the hands taking over, whereby it all seems automatic. Any physical activity - driving, swimming, knitting, whatever - has that moment when you feel you can stop thinking and just do it, doesn’t it. And then some new bit of information comes along and gets added to the mix. It’s taken me years to realise that knitting seems so slow when you start, partly because obviously you don’t know what you are doing, but also partly because most of us probably start on relatively large needles with relatively fat yarn; I’ve been so shy of any kind of fine yarn, and have just realised that smaller needles and finer yarn may make a project seem to take much longer, but actually the speed of knitting is faster - much easier to keep the ‘conveyor belt’ of stitch-movement going.
The most exciting moment comes when it sinks in that you can actually create things without patterns and the dogged following of a ‘recipe’; I’m interested that all the wonderful books/teachers - Elizabeth Zimmerman, Alison Ellen et al - all try to encourage this liberating thinking but all give you really complicated patterns to follow! I watched the absolutely enthralling Elizabeth Zimmerman/Meg Swansen DVD that follows “Knitting Around”, and although still felt entirely intimidated by the patterns, felt absolutely freed-up by listening to them talking and working things out - the Aran coat episode is just wonderful.
Anyway. I’ll shush now, but wondered if others had thoughts on any of the above, or particular things they’ve found in the way of ‘eureka’ moments, or learning curve leaps forward?


Thanks for introducing this topic. It’s always enjoyable to have a new take on a fascinating area.
I love my knitting groups. It’s a good way for me to learn new things and see new-to-me techniques. Of course online videos are a great help and immediately available.
I’m always impressed by the wisdom and generosity of the knitting community in general, nowhere more on display than right here on KnittingHelp. Thank you all for participating.

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No, I’m joking, don’t shush.

There is SO much I could say in response to the various aspects of teaching and learning that you have brought up. But then I’d be told to shush haha, I talk too much, too fast and for too long. I’d write pages!

I enjoyed reading your post and as I have never had the pleasure of being in an in-person knitting group I consider this, here, my knitting group and I am so grateful to have been welcomed. I’m glad (very glad) of all the video tutorials that are available, it really is amazing what the Internet has brought us. But being in a group is different to ‘just’ watching videos isn’t it? The little bit of social interaction, the individual questions, the chance to learn from other people’s questions and answers. It’s huge.

So agree with all that you say, Creations, so please don’t you shush either!! I, too, could go on for pages but am more interested in what others have to say and went on for long enough in the intro to this topic, I think. I, too consider this my knitting ‘group’, and am so glad to have like-minded people with whom to share stuff, and from whom to learn much. It’s so reassuring, as you embark on a project, to know that if you reach a point in the ‘recipe’ that you don’t quite understand (almost inevitable with me) there will be someone on this site who’ll be generous in their help, or someone out there already who’s solved the problem and posted the answer.

On the topic of instructions, there is almost always something that I just can’t get my head around - it either makes me give up altogether (too often!), or turn to people here for help. I have at least begun to learn that it’s better to pick up needles and yarn alongside even the most cursory first glance at instructions - they make much more sense to me if I am actually attempting them in a practical, rather than just a theoretical way. My biggest headache is that I knit Portuguese style, and although I’m getting much, much better at working things out, there are relatively few resources if help is needed. It’s a bit of a translation hurdle to get over sometimes, especially with lace instructions, or anything where the yarn is taken to the back or the front, or around the needle because the yarn is already in a different place from other versions of knitting. In the end it’s none of it rocket science, and a bit of grumbling and teeth-grinding and mistake-making and re-starting can usually find a way around whatever the conundrum is. Usually….! It certainly makes swatching perhaps even more useful than I might otherwise find this task! Well, here I am going on again….duh.

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I am a long long way off of being able to create something without the pattern… but I do find with knitting, as with cooking, I have altered every pattern I’ve made. Not that I’ve made that many but even so, every project has had something I decided to change in some way from what was given. I’m like this with cooking, I watch TV cookery programmes and at some later date will decide to make one of the recipes, but I switch out every ingredient until it couldn’t possibly be called the same recipe!

You talked about eureka moments, often mine feel somewhat silly immediately after the moment of understanding. I’m making a top on circular needles (first circularknitting), I thought from what I’d read in the pattern than the join came mid back, until yesterday when I couldn’t understand why I would cast off for arm holes mid back and mid front, I read and re-read the pattern, glaring at it trying to force it to make sense, ha ha ha ha … of course how stupid I felt when I realised the armholes are not mid back and mid front, but the cast on join is at the side, not the back.

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SO reassuring to hear that other people’s eureka moments come out of such ‘ha ha ha’ misunderstandings! I can’t really create anything much without a pattern beyond a shawl or a scarf, though modular knitting gives me more freedom, somehow, and Alison Ellen”s books fill me with hope until I look at her actual patterns and begin to wilt. I entirely get what you are saying re recipes. I don’t cook much any more because I’m married to someone who loves to cook (lucky me!), and he always tinkers with recipes the way I change things in knitting or quilting. I think that’s the way forward, it’s a step along the way to at least a release from slavish following. Following slavishly is great sometimes, but braving a bit of a detour or a diversion gives one some sort of sense that the learning curve has taken one to some kind freedom. Doesn’t it? I’m much, much braver with quilting, but have done it for much longer, and it fits in with my ability to draw - I draw with a sewing machine. But knitting is much more structured than quilting, at least for me. That’s why I so loved watching Elizabeth Zimmerman and Meg Swansen in their wonderfully creative, unstructured making-it-up-as-you-go-along mode. Or reading how Kaffe Fassett works, or Horst Schultz…there are lots of these intrepid innovators out there, thank goodness, so that we can keep on learning and daring and messing with recipes and making mistakes and, hopefully, getting more confident little by little by learning from people braver than us. Or at very least, finding it all more enjoyable and less terrifying!! I look at some instructions and want to run and hide. But then I can suddenly think, ok, I get that (or not!), but I’m going to do something different and then at least I can bluff my way through and say that it was what I meant to achieve all along!! And I really never much mind giving up on something - it’s all part of learning. Mistakes and false starts and rabbit holes are an important part of a journey that no-one ever said would get us to any destination any time soon. I think learning to be happy with small achievements is really important, and not to be thrown into despair by failure - it’s only failure if we fail to learn something from it.

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I’ve been shut out of this site for a while for some e-reason, maybe because of living in Hong Kong, don’t know; anyway, suddenly I seem to be back,hooray!
And in the meantime, my Learning Curve has gone up considerably with the getting to grips with Cocoknits patterns, which I really love.
So here’s a thing that I find interesting - if you go on Ravelry, or indeed Cocoknits own site, people say ‘oh, these patterns are SO easy’, one even said they were so easy she could do them and barbecue at the same time…hmm! Must have made for an interestingly aroma-ed sweater!! But what I find interesting is that things ARE easy, once you know how; and I think we all catch ourselves saying ‘oh, it was easy’, once we’ve obliterated in our memories any of the difficulties we might have struggled with along the way. Things ARE easy, once you’ve worked out any of those tricky bits. And then I think I at least am guilty of the show-off factor that says ‘oh, yes, I’m so clever, I find it SO easy’….Or maybe there’s a kinder reason, which is to encourage someone who might be dithering with attempting something, by telling them they really CAN do it; I try to add ‘it MUST be easy, I could do it, and I’m really not that good at this’. Which is SO the case!
The other thing I thought, having now made two of the Cocoknits baby cardigans (Little Lamb, and Rose - both adorable!), and now half way through “Sabine”, that it really pays off to carry on for a while, if you find things you want to invest the time in, with the same designer/pattern-writer, because you get to know their little ways, don’t you. You begin to learn about the things they leave out, and how to fill them in, or about techniques or terms or whatever, and just their style of explanation. And about your own areas of potential meltdown!! I know of myself that I’m really good at panicking before I actually sit down with needles and yarn and go step by step through whatever it is that looks so scary. Usually, then, it loses its capacity to get me running for the hills (or to yet another scarf!). I did get totally confused by one simple thing (as it turned out) in Little Lamb, and the Cocoknits person who replied to my cry for help was incredibly kind and swift in sorting me out. So I think I’ve now managed to get over the negativity that usually had me glancing through a pattern and telling myself I couldn’t do it, before bothering to work out what exactly it was that I thought I couldn’t do, and what might be the solution. Big step for me!!

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I don’t think it was just you, I was also unable to get in for a week or so (might have been a few days, felt like a month!).

Yep. Which is why the best teachers are those who can remember exactly what steps they took early on, to be able to relay them to a learner.
My mum taught me to knit when I was a kid, not well, never successful, she would tell me to knit into the back loop of the first and last stitch but would never answer my “why?” So many things were answered “because you just do” which wasn’t enough for me. She also failed to tell me that you must bring your yarn to the front before purling, her knitting was automatic and she was unable to break down ghe steps sufficiently, as a result she was missing out a vital part of the purl instruction which meant I could never ever knit right.

Sometimes I think it helps, in forums like this or classes in brick buildings, when a novice, like me, shares their experience because my mistakes and confusions are so recent, I haven’t had time to forget them. Peer teaching and learning I’m all for it. It also helps me learn a lot more than I would on my own.

Oh, well, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one being shut out of the site! (Not that I’d want any of the rest of you to be, I didn’t mean it like that!!).

Re good teachers: you are SO right; assumptions are always made as to people’s skill level, and the default should be ‘assume that this is a beginner - the experienced can always forge ahead and skip bits”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard any knitter say “it was so annoying the way it was all explained in detail for those poor beginners”. Years and a million years ago I wrote a book on hand embroidery to go with a calendar I’d done, as embroideries, for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I’d only just taught myself how to do all these stitches, and found many of the books so difficult to get my head around - as I said in the introduction, the instructions were just like British road signs, that tell you which way to go as you approach the first three roundabouts and then, on the fourth - nothing. So you hope for the best and go ahead and on the fifth roundabout there’s another sign. So I wanted to be sure that I wrote the instructions for all the beginners like me, and warned the experienced where they could skip bits. You have no idea how many letters I got from readers saying things like “it’s as if I had someone sitting beside me walking me through it, thank you!” Deeply gratifying! I was writing the instructions as I was working out the stitch for myself, so had a very clear idea of where it was easy to go wrong or to get abandoned at that fourth roundabout.

My mother would never, ever have taken up knitting so I never learned a thing about it from her, or anyone else. I did try, years ago (even before the embroidery book), but absolutely hated what I now know is the English method, and didn’t know there was any other way. Then I stumbled upon Andrea Wong’s classes on Craftsy and learned the Portuguese method and absolutely fell in love with knitting. Sometimes it’s difficult to ‘translate’ into the Portuguese way, but mostly I can manage to work out what should be happening, and Andrea Wong’s classes have given me enough ‘vocabulary’ to manage the ‘language’. She’s a terrific teacher, one of the empathetic ones who really can imagine what it’s like to be a learner.


Onwards with the learning curve, for me: trying a bouclé yarn for the first time, eeek! I’m knitting the Cocoknits “Little Lamb” baby jacket - I did one before (practice) in normal sort of wool - a worsted weight. Now I’m using Rowan’s Soft Bouclé, which is really super soft and light as a feather, but goodness, tricky! How can a yarn be both sticky tricky and slippery at the same time???! I’m using a natural colour, and I think at the end of it it’s going to be a Little Yak-ish type look, rather than a Little Lamb!! I’ve switched from metal needles to bamboo. I usually absolutely love metal and absolutely hate wooden needles, but the ChiaoGoo bamboo have very sharp points, which help, but are grippy-er, so the yarn doesn’t try quite so hard to escape. I’m getting used to the fact that, at it’s fluffy core is a polyamide thread that means it’s actually incredibly robust, and not likely to break, which I thought it might, so you can be quite tough on it. Cons: you can’t see where you are going and counting stitches is really hard, or at least seems so to me for now - perhaps I’ll get better at it? It’s wonderfully light to work with but doesn’t slide through your fingers (I knit Portuguese style, so am tensioning from a knitting pin) so easily. Pros: you really don’t have to worry about splitting a stitch - you more or less have to manoeuvre your way through all the fluff, and the narrow core is un-splittable. You can’t see the very pretty shoulder shaping, or the ‘built-in’ iCord edges, but neither can you see any mistakes!! So, at least for now, I’m rather enjoying this novel experience, though it’s certainly a lot slower than working with a smooth yarn. The little jacket is so sweet that it may all be worth it??

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Well, that was pretty much of a disaster!! I should have read the reviews that warned how super stretchy the Rowan Soft Bouclé is - my 2-4 year old baby’s jacket fits me!!! So it’s not a complete disaster, because I’ve decided to just keep it and not bother with the sleeves but have a sleeveless cuddly warm thing to snuggle up in. But still and all, I did everything in my power to swatch carefully, check gauge, all that stuff, and seriously got it all wrong. Steep learning curve!!

Gish that yarn must be super super stretchy!
I made a top which turned out bigger than my swatch would have me believe too. Properly wet blocked swatch but it was too small to be effected by its own weight. The full size top just has more size and weight which makes the whole thing bigger. Should have made a small, I still wear it but I cut the bottom off and re knitted a shorter lace rib thing onto the bottom edge.

Every time I knit I use different yarn and it’s like being clueless each time, I always head out on a project shrugging my shoulders and saying if it turns out wrong I’ll just have to frog it. :frog:

“Clueless each time” about sums it up, doesn’t it!! Well, I started again on the Little Lamb, having inadvertently created a Very Large Sheep, this time with Woolfolk’s Flette, as suggested in the pattern. I’m so bad at just doing what I’m told! I’m always trying different yarns and sometimes it is just so much easier and more sensible to follow someone who knows what they are talking about in stead of trying to be too clever. Duh. Practice sadly never seems to make perfect, but it doesn’t half make life easier! I’ve pretty much sailed through it this time, and it looks the right size, and is so cuddly and nice. The pattern (Cocoknits) said I’d need three skeins for the 3 year old version, but actually I used less than two, and have enough over to make a little hat to go with it, which is nice. So I’m sort of inventing the little hat as I go along, and it seems to be working. Nearly finished. Phew!

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Have now managed to get to grips with posting photos on Ravelry, so the Little Lamb (but NOT the Very Large Sheep!) is now to be found there, along with a second one I did. I still don’t seem to be able to download photos here on the forum, but one day!


Very cute. I love the colour detail and the matching hat. Super cute model too!

Learning curve… I’m avoiding sewing the buttons onto my first cardigan. I’ve always been bad at sewing.

Best trick with buttons that I’ve found is to sew the front button onto another button on the wrong side; it doesn’t have to be a particularly nice button, or match in size, but it gives you something to sew into that isn’t going to mess up your knitting.


Adorable model and jacket. Your projects are lovely! Thanks for the Ravelry link.

Oh so a double button, one inside and one outside? And the thread then goes between the knit stitches??

I had another tip a little while back about buttons too… I know I really “should” read some stuff or watch some tutorials and just get them on but I just keep ignoring it and knitting my next project instead which is also a cardigan. I think this means I really have decided to crack the button problem. Just. Not. Today.

Yes, exactly; it means that you are just stitching the two buttons together with a bit of knitting in the middle; it stabilises the button and you can just use a really simple one on the back that can be smaller if you want; or a contrasting colour; or one of those fabric-covered buttons to match, that you’d barely see. Just be sure to create a long enough bit between the two buttons so that everything isn’t too squashed up, and the button has room to go through the buttonhole. I’ll see if I can find a good YouTube video and add it to this thread. I used to loathe sewing too; then I did embroidery (long story, quite funny!), and ended up writing an embroidery book (hand embroidery); when I thought of sewing as making pictures I enjoyed it. It was that ghastly school apron that took two semesters to finished and was unbearable (and unwearable) at the end of all the effort that put me off sewing for about forty years! Now I really enjoy it, and sewing on a button is pretty simple!!!

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Yes, Salmonmac, the model is completely adorable, isn’t she! She’s the daughter of a colleague of my husband’s. She loves the “Little Lamb”, I’m told.