Learning to Knit All Over Again

Written by Cassandra Milani

I learned to knit for the first time as an undergrad while studying abroad at the London College of Fashion. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a hand-knitting class in England, I learned to knit using the English method. Later that year, back at my university in the US, I learned how to knit on an old, manual Passap machine (and anyone who thinks that machine knitting is easier than hand-knitting is kidding themselves). I happily continued to knit my way through every project possible, fully obsessed with a technique that had amazingly, and somewhat inexplicably, eluded me until the age of 20.

After graduating, I worked at a mass-market fashion company in Philadelphia whilst still knitting patterns for a local yarn company on the side. It was during this time – knitting swatches for my full-time job and full pieces for my side-hustle – that my reliance on the more physically stressful English method backfired.

I strained a tendon in my left wrist, but worked through the pain in order to meet deadlines. I ended up in physical therapy, attending on and off for several months, while my wrist recovered. I nursed my mildly embarrassing knitting injury alongside people recovering from major things like car accidents, childbirth, and sports injuries.

A few weeks into my treatment, my physical therapist encouraged me to try knitting again. Soon, the pain in my wrist flooded back. More weeks of therapy lifting tiny weights under the confused gaze of people on treadmills and weight machines ensued. Afterwards, I tried knitting with the Continental method, which is supposed to be faster and easier on the wrists. But…more pain, more weeks of therapy.

The Portuguese Method of Knitting

Eventually, I delved deeper into researching how some knitters continue to knit after developing arthritis, and I came across the Portuguese method. This method has become a bit more well-known in the last few years, but back then there was little to go on (for English-speaking Americans like me, at least) besides a handful of videos on YouTube, which were sometimes subtitled and sometimes not. But watching Portuguese videos on repeat in order to master a new technique was all worth it: I had finally found a pain-free way of knitting.

This time around, my experience of learning to knit was a bit different from the first. I no longer had someone standing next to me in class to guide me. I still had my fundamental knowledge of knitting, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. (By the way, Portuguese-method garter stitch is all purl stitches, and if you’re thinking that sounds awful, purling is actually much, much easier using this method than any other!) But the process of learning this new method sometimes felt like learning to knit all over again. While I no longer design knitwear for a living, I continue to knit this way, tensioning the yarn around the back of my neck instead of with my hands.

Learning to knit is a highly personal journey. How did you learn to knit? Share your knitting story with us on Twitter @UofGknitting

You can also read about more about other project team members Sally Tuckett and Lynn Abrams learning to knit.