Reflections on a Vocational Happenstance
"The machines men are so intent on making here
If you click on the photo to the right, you will find an article called, "Demystifying Knitting Machines". Most knitwear available for purchase today is made on machines -- big, complicated machines designed for commercial use. The one shown here is meant for home use. Many (maybe most now) knitting machines are electronic. Machines knit faster than humans, and once they are programmed, they do not make mistakes. They always knit with perfect tension. so their output is always consistent and uniform. Setting them up is time-consuming, but once machines get going, they really fly: a small home model can knit the back of an adult sweater in less than an hour. (Remember the other day I told you it took me half an hour just to knit a test gauge swatch.)
There are practical reasons that I do not use a machine to knit: the expense, the floor space, the lack of portability. But mainly I do not use machines to knit because I would not derive the same satisfaction from either the process or the finished product.
The speed of a machine, though, I must confess to sometimes envying. For instance, those 7,105 stitches of collar ribbing in the sweater I am currently making? Those I would have liked to get through faster. A speedy hand knitter can achieve a rate of 60 stitches per minute, so in theory that collar would take 2 hours to complete. That is, if one knits like a human machine.
But I do not knit like any sort of machine, electronic or human; I knit like me. So what does that mean?
It means I get a lot of work done but would never win a speed-knitting contest. And no two things I knit are ever perfectly identical, even when I use the same pattern, yarn, and needles.
"Knitting fast" in terms of productivity is mostly the result of good work practices. Simple disciplines such as knitting a gauge swatch or reading the pattern all the way through before beginning work really pay off. Also, I knit everywhere: riding in the car, bus, train, or plane; sitting in waiting rooms; while watching television; sometimes even while standing on line. As my experience grows, so does the ability to manage my time. I know my capabilities and have learned to choose materials and patterns well-suited to individual circumstances. Over the last 5 years, my efficiency has increased exponentially.
But I never knit like a machine.
I stop to listen to what someone is saying, to gaze out the window, to Google something that crosses my mind. I make tea or pour a glass of wine. I check my e-mail and pause (often!) to admire my work. I talk on the phone. I sort through feelings and formulate new ideas. I very often listen to audio books, which can speed me up or slow me down depending on the pace of the story.
Because I am not a pre-programmed machine manufacturing many copies of each item, I can make changes, substituting colors or patterns, even adjusting the shape. I am able to savor the tactile experience of knitting, appreciating the play of fiber and needles in my hands. The sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering a new technique or finishing a project on time is deeply satisfying, and the knowledge that my work makes people smile while keeping them warm brings me great joy.
Come to think of it, I feel sorry for those poor knitting machines.
They're missing out on all the best parts!