Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Learning to Knit & Learning to Live in China

I have bought the yarn for my first sweater.

It is blue. I bought 1.5 jin which is 750 grams for a total of 60 RMB ($10). The saleswoman said 500 grams would me enough, but the store only had 750 grams of this particular color so I bought too much fearing the need to knit two more inches and the store running out of that color. It is better to be safe than sorry.

When I told the woman I was knitting my first sweater, she asked, "blah or blah?"

I knew she was asking what type of yarn for what type of sweater but I just couldn't understand the new vocabulary. She pointed me to two types of yarn. Preferring to make a lighter sweater than a heavier one, I was finally able to find the right combination of vocabulary words to convey my desire, "Well if it isn't too cold, which yarn is best?"

As I was handing the woman my 100 RMB bill, she said, "Last year your Chinese was terrible. This year it is better."


As I was walking home, I realized how this year has been a long process of learning: lots of trial and error, lots of mistakes, lots of failed attempts at trying to communicate, lots of patience mixed with frustration, lots of lessons on how to face failure and try again.

I remember sitting on my couch with 4 double pointed aluminum needles in my hand reading a book that said bend the needles into a circle. The needles didn't feel very sturdy and I thought well I guess they might be bendable. So I took one straight needle and bent it into an L. I quickly realized physically bending a straight knitting needle was not what the book meant. I sat there looking at my four bent needles unable to knit with them thinking, "That's just great. Tonight's attempt at learning how to knit in the round has been put to rest until I can go out and buy some new needles."

I remember looking and looking for yarn that would felt, buying large amounts, knitting huge bags, only to end up with a finished un-felted stretched out product. I would spend frustrated moments trying to explain to the saleswoman that I wanted 100% wool that when washed in hot water gets smaller. She would point. I would choose a color and then would spend hours knitting a bag that would not felt. I'd go back to the store and try again and again and again making my stash larger and larger with wool that would not felt. Finally, I had to learn to give up my independent ways and just ask a Chinese student to come and help. By then I had also learned to buy the smallest ball and test it. Et voila, after what seemed like a thousand attempts I had found yarn that would felt.

I remember buying yarn for a shawl in the fluorescent store lights and ending up with an ugly color that was unwearable in the sunlight.

Today's yarn buying for my first sweater was like making an A on a pop quiz.

1. I was able to communicate and get the right yarn.
2. I took the yarn out into the sunlight to see the real color.
3. I bought more than enough yarn to finish a sweater. (I hope.)
4. I was able to trust the experienced saleswoman with whom I have been having ongoing communication lessons and battles through my knitting experiments.

Learning how to knit and buy yarn in China has been an education in more ways than just learning how to form fabric from string.


tavares said...

Its almost like the Karate Kid painting the fence and sanding the floor :)

Lisa R-R said...

Your post summed it all up so well!

Perhaps check Knitty for some free cardigan patterns. I have learned I really need to see finished projects on Ravelry though to have a sense of how certain yarn works (or what the back of the garment really looks like).

happy knitting!
Lisa in Toronto