Be the Boss of Your Own Knitting

bossofyourownknitting-1I am too dumb to use a knitting pattern. No, seriously.

I will read a pattern, see the gorgeous ways knitters have made it – either exactly or making adaptations and think maybe I’ll try it.

I’ll usually give up before I even cast on. For whatever reason I can almost never see how they got to the end result from the pattern and just throw my hands up.

I’m not trying to show this sweater and say, “This is an easy knit!” It is and it isn’t. The basic template? Lord love you, yes! I wouldn’t hesitate to use the basic pattern as a way to teach anyone to knit a sweater. The basic design is easy, easy, easy, and all it takes is a little math to get a perfect fit every single time. The only real problem is that you’re knitting a lot of stockingette and might die of boredom.

The cables? Yes and no. There was some design and thought that went into picking the cable patterns I wanted to use. (Barbara Walker’s A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns is an amazing stitch dictionary, and I highly recommend it.) As part of the gauge swatch process, I did practice the cables individually and together to see how they would flow, as braided cables have twenty-four rows per repeat and the lattice diamond in the middle has thirty.

I have wanted a good “fisherman’s” type sweater since forever. But every time I tried one on in the store, the damn things always made me look like a sausage. Size 8 or size 22, never mattered. I could not get a fit that flattered. I’d be constricted in something that fit my body and feeling like I was wearing a box if I got a size up.

I realized the reason after some decades of making my own clothes, getting an intuitive sense of my own tastes and style, and how the eye flows over a garment. I am and always will be, no matter how my weight fluctuates, deep-bodied. Thick design detail as the entire canvas of a sweater won’t look good on me. Framed design elements? Oh yeah, they look great. You’d have to know a lot about sweater design to know that the sweater in that picture is not, in fact, a real Aran.

If I were going to teach knitting, I’d teach it like I teach almost anything. Sure, I’d teach you the skills you need to make things, but I’d also integrate that with lessons in design. I wouldn’t teach how to follow a pattern line by line. Mostly because I don’t know how, but more because I feel like knowing how to create something you want that suits your unique tastes in color, fit, and form, is a lot of what makes knitting amazing and fun. I’d teach why certain element produce certain effects, just as I do when I’m teaching how to make a PowerPoint presentation! But I’d teach that slavishly following directions is not going to get you to a point where you will master your own knitting.

Elizabeth Zimmerman, in her Knitting Workshop intro, actually talks about this. She went through a period in her life following exact instructions when she was knitting, and found later in life that she’d rather lost her knitting mojo because instead of using patterns as ideas and guidelines, she was treating them as something iron-clad and to be followed exactly. It was only when she broke out of that and decided to figure some things out on her own that her own creativity and affinity for design exploded.

Our bodies are different. Your body is different from mine. Your coloring is different and your taste in style and design is, too. So should your knitting not also be different?

I don’t even entirely buy the whole, “It’s too hard to knit without a pattern” thing. Sure, it’s a skill, but knitting patterns as exact directions have really only been with us for a little over a hundred years. Traditional knitting really didn’t so much use patterns as it used recipes. As with the evolution in cooking, we might have access to a better and wider variety of ingredients, but we can alter anything we like to our own tastes to come up with some pretty awesome creations.

I agree with Mrs. Zimmerman. “Be the boss of your own knitting!”

Can you use MS Office?

A random blogger, in trying to help bolster the confidence of some people, wrote up an article talking about skills that were translatable to Real Life job skills. Most of the article was really quite good, so I am no trying to tear it down. But one of the items in the list was along the lines of, “Can use MS Office. Because come on, you live on the computer and probably type really fast.”

I commented (as gently as I could because I didn’t want to tear the person down, and a lot of the ideas were genuinely good) that if the person claimed to be good at Office and was applying for a job where I worked, they might very well get turned over to me for verification of their skills. And if you’ve read my rants before, you know I DON’T think that just because you can make a WYSIWYG interface look okay in print that you really know Word. Unfortunately, “Skilled at MS Office” would pretty much get this list of questions. They wouldn’t have to say “yes” to everything to get my confidence, but they’d have to say yes on at least half of each of the big three applications for me to give ’em a pass.


  1. Do you understand document structure and the advantages of formatting in styles?
  2. Can you edit styles to create style-driven pagination?
  3. Can you create custom styles?
  4. Can you use the outline feature?
  5. Can you create and format a table?
  6. Can you make use of tables in formatting?
  7. Do you know when to use tables or styles in formatting?
  8. Can you insert an image and then format it so that it will be anchored to a specific paragraph?
  9. Can you use the Table of Contents object?
  10. Do you know how to format a document using sections so that you can have different headers and footers within a single document?
  11. Do you know how to use footnotes and endnotes?
  12. Can you manage sources and use them for citations, footnotes, endnotes and bibliographies?
  13. Can you use the indexing features to index a document?
  14. Can you use a table of authorities?
  15. Do you understand standard pagination and how to use it?
  16. Can you use SmartArt effectively?
  17. Do you understand when and where WordArt is professional?
  18. Do you understand the limitations of the image editing features of MS Office and when to use or not use them?
  19. Can you use Quick Parts?
  20. Can you insert a Drop Cap effectively?
  21. Can you format pull quotes?
  22. Can you create a text box effectively so that the text of the document flows around it attractively?
  23. Can you insert shapes and format drawing objects?
  24. Do you understand Themes?
  25. Can you create your own themes?
  26. Can you create custom color layouts?
  27. Can you insert a chart in Word without using cut-n-paste from Excel?
  28. Do you know how to use comments effectively?
  29. Do you know how to use the Track Changes feature?
  30. Do you know Mail Merge?
  31. Can you manage Mail Merge sources to filter by specific criteria? (Needed this one today, as a matter of fact, to help improve a user’s workflow).
  32. Can you use mail merge to create envelopes and labels?
  33. Can you use mail merge to send email?
  34. Can you use Find and Replace?
  35. Do you know how to use find and replace to edit formatting?


  1. Can you use basic functions to add, subtract, multiply, divide, take averages, find the minimum and the maximum value in a range of cells?
  2. Can you use conditional formatting?
  3. Do you know how to filter a range?
  4. Do you know the difference between a list and a table?
  5. Can you use structured referencing in a table?
  6. Can you make a basic chart?
  7. Do you know how to insert a trend line?
  8. Can you format a single chart element (Data point, data series, or even title?)
  9. Can you create a PivotTable?
  10. Can you use Sparklines?
  11. Do you know what a named range is, and can you use it in a formula?
  12. Can you use nested functions?
  13. Do you know how to trace errors?
  14. Can you use a Watch Window?
  15. Can you rename worksheets?
  16. Can you import data from other sources into a workbook?
  17. Can you create 3-D formulas in a single workbook?
  18. Can you use 3-D formulas from external data sources?
  19. Can you use text to columns?
  20. Can you calculate time duration in minutes and hours using Excel formulas?
  21. Can you use text functions to analyze data?
  22. Can you set a cell so you can only put certain data in it?
  23. Can you do a what if analysis?
  24. Can you use the PMT function?
  25. Can you use Outlines?
  26. Can you use Subtotals?
  27. Can you use SUMIF and SUMIFS?
  28. Do you know what a syntax prompt is and do you find it useful?
  29. Can you protect specific cells in a worksheet while leaving other cells available to edit?
  30. Do you know how to share and merge workbooks?
  31. Can you create a macro?
  32. How’s your VB script? (FWIW, I can change happy to glad in the arguments. I’m not really a programmer)
  33. Can you create custom views?
  34. Can you use a formula in Conditional Formatting?
  35. Do you know how to handle page breaks to create well-formatted, printable worksheets?


  1. Do you know how to use the standard layouts on slides?
  2. Can you format a presentation using Master Slides?
  3. Do you know how to use Themes?
  4. Do you know how to change the order in which images are layered?
  5. Can you group a set of images?
  6. Can you use SmartArt?
  7. Do you know how to add headers and footers to slides?
  8. Do you know how to use Themes?
  9. Do you know how to edit Themes and color schemes?
  10. Do you know how to create transitions on slides? Do you know WHEN you should or should not do so?
  11. Do you know how to add sound to a presentation?
  12. Do you know how to create an auto-advance for slides?
  13. Do you know how to add animations to a slide?
  14. Can you create custom animation paths?
  15. Can you reorder animations?
  16. Can you use the Presenter View?
  17. Can you add notes to a presentation for the presenter view’s use?
  18. Can you add narration and timing to slides?
  19. Can you use the Notes Master to create printable notes for a presentation?
  20. Can you create a photo album slide show?
  21. Can you use the alignment guides for image and text layout?
  22. Can you create a PowerPoint Presentation from a Word outline?
  23. Do you know when and where you should NOT use animation?
  24. Do you know the difference between designing a presentation for a speaker and designing it for online purposes?
  25. Can you create custom action buttons for an interactive, online presentation?

Old School Knitting and Living in the Future

oldschoolknitting-1I’m hard at work on a sweater I’m knitting.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do patterns. Well, not well, anyway. Once I learned the Tube Theory of Garment Design (known to knitters as Elizabeth’s Percentage System) I didn’t really need them. Knit a swatch, measure your body, do a little math, decide what design elements you want to add, and you can make a sweater.

I expect, years ago, this is more or less how people knitted. You learned a template for a garment, then you played with patterns or color or whatever, and that’s where a lot of our knitting innovation came from.

Of course, the real expansion of creativity came when these ideas were shared broadly. At first it was patterns in magazines and books. Think of people who learned new techniques from Barbara Walker’s top-down techniques or how many people (to this day) keep some of her stitch dictionaries in stock. In fact, the cables I am knitting at this moment come from her work. But even television got into the act for spreading and developing the craft. Think of how many knitters learned from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s television show and books.

The Internet has been amazing for spreading ideas as well. If you learned to knit in the 21st Century (I didn’t, but that’s when I got more serious about developing it), you probably spent some time on Knitty. That’s where I first learned to knit a cable from the pattern for the Coronet hat, which I later incorporated into my Roll Your Own Braided Yoke Sweater. It’s a pattern I don’t charge for, as I shamelessly stole the basic design of the sweater from Elizabeth Zimmerman, and the braided hem concept from Alexandra Virgiel, the author of Coronet.

Which brings us to Ravelry! My word… That’s over four million knitters and crocheters who see other people’s work, design patterns (even I have one), share techniques, and get ideas for their own knitting.

So even though I’m unlikely ever to knit a sweater from an Official Pattern and probably knit more like a crofter back before the steam engine was invented would, certainly I owe a great creative debt to knitters who came before me and shared.