How YouTube Taught Met To Knit: A Christmas Yarn

Published in PRIMOLife December 2015

Read the whole thing online here:

A man shouts in terror as dirty fingers rake at his clothes. Frenzied, shambling ghouls moan with an ungodly hunger as they pile upon him, teeth bared. There is an agonized, terrified scream as teeth bite into living flesh, tendons are torn and blood spurts onto the ground.

“Damn!” I gasp. “I dropped a stitch again!”

Human civilization as we know it has been destroyed, dead people have become terrifying zombies while the living are grimly hunted, and I can’t seem to keep my rows even. Don’t let those grannies fool you. Knitting, as it turns out, requires a lot of skill- especially if you watch TV at the same time.

A chilly gust of wind pushes me into the local  knitting supply store, a hint of the northern hemisphere winter to come. Equipped with 4 balls of beautifully soft merino wool and two bamboo 6.5mm needles, I walk back into the cold air with a light heart and an even lighter wallet. I’ve resolved to learn how to make myself a Yuletide scarf, and as I head home, my mind freely wanders, filled with visions of knitting caps, scarves, jumpers and endless adorable baby clothes that I’ll make for friends and family. Yet separated as I am from them by thousands of kilometers, I shall have to rely on the venerable community of YouTube to guide me.

“how to knit beginner” I type into Google. A friendly looking video pops up.“How to Knit - Absolute Beginner Knitting, Lesson 1 - Even if You're Clueless!”. Well, that’s me. The presenter, Chandi chirpily guides me through every step. Pick up needles. Hold yarn. What’s yarn again? oh right, wool. I grab some other crappy wool that’s lying around the house to practice on.

Make a slip knot. Cast on stitches. Screw this up for 10 minutes. Re watch video in slow motion. Swap to other needle. Try not to drop needles. Or tangle wool. Or drop wool. Or stab needles into eye.

I feel uncoordinated and slow, fumbling and hunched over. Like slender Korean chopsticks, I struggle to keep hold of my tools. After about 6 rows and another bit of video, I cast the stitches off the needle. I’ve manage to make a little baby scrap of knitting, with large, worrying holes in it. I’m deposit my lopsided, pointless creation on the kitchen counter so my boyfriend can admire it later, in the way a housecat might deposit a chewed up mouse.

For the next couple of hours, I knit and unravel, knit and unravel, practicing what I’ve learned over and over again.  Having exhausted the font of wisdom that is “How to Knit - Absolute Beginner Knitting, Lesson 1 - Even if You're Clueless!” I graduate to “How to Purl - Even if You're Clueless!”. As Chandi cheerfully talks me through the second basic stitch type I feel like we are becoming pals.

As I work, I let YouTube play videos at me and learn via osmosis how to crochet, arm knit, make a sock, repair a ripped cardigan and design a pattern for a penguin sweater. While it seems a little excessive for my current level, I feel like I’m being inducted into an ancient society of knitters, a community of crafty women (and men) all over the world.

I can’t quite get the hang of the purl stitch, but I’m sick of practicing so I resolve to start my scarf, and make it up as I go. Like a geographical cores sample, it will be a visual record of my progress.

I begin carefully, and slowly cast on thirty stitches in beautiful bright red wool. After about ten rows of regular knit stitch, I get bored and attempt to purl again. It seems to go well, until I get to the next row. Something is very wrong…after battling to get through the resistant row, I have wool all over the place and a snarled, angry mess where a neat row of purl stitches should be. I throw my needles down in disgust. Purl. What a stupid name.

Like a moth to a flame, I return to Google. “can i unpick a whole row knitting?!?!”. About forty painful minutes later, I’m back where I was before I started to purl. The wool is still lovely and soft, but it’s starting to get a bit worn looking from all the handling.

As I begin to work on the white wool, I distract myself from my cramped fingers and crossed eyes with The Walking Dead. It’s a weird juxtaposition, hearing flesh ripped from bone while doing one of the granniest pastimes imaginable, but the upside is that I can actually sit through a whole episode as what my hands are doing distracts me from the show’s unbearable tension. I start to listen for the gritty sound when the wool is over stretched, and the whispery rasp of the bamboo needles passing over each other. I notice the way the ball nudges against my thigh as the wool unspools from the centre, and the change in tension when I’ve picked up the wrong loop.

A few more rows and many deaths later, I pause to count stitches, to make sure I’m still around the thirty mark. ...thirty-two, thirty-four, thirty-six, thirty-eight.. forty. Forty! What the? The numbers keep going up and down but I resolve to soldier on. I like the fact that although my scarf might be weird and wonky, as long as I can keep it on the needle, it won’t fall apart.

For the next few days, I pick up my needles for an hour or so a time, and it gets easier and easier. My hands move almost automatically, and I can even begin to do it by feel, flicking my eyes back and forth between the TV or out the window. It’s starting to become meditative and relaxing and my needles dart in and out of row after row.  

My supply getting low, I pause to measure my progress. The stitches are undeniably neater and more regular now, with less gaping holes and snarly knots. I lay the whole thing out on the floor and am shocked to realise it is almost two meters long.

With the final row done, I check in with Chandi who reminds me how to cast off and when my needles are free, I hold my work up to the computer screen, showing it to her pixilated, unreturning gaze with pride. A tedious period of weaving in all the scraggling ends with a big darning needle later, and finally I’m done.

I stand in front of the mirror and proudly wind my first ever knitted creation snugly around my neck. and it’s then that I realise my biggest mistake of all. I’ve knitted a Sydney Swans supporter scarf! Nooooooooooooo!

Want to read more of my crazy adventures like rock climbing, rowing and stand-up comedy? Click here!