I did it! I taught myself how to read an American knitting pattern! It feels like I learned how to read, and it reminded me how powerfully enabling it is to be able to read a certain language, to make sense of all those combinations of letters. All of a sudden, you can partake. The world opens up.

Up until now I had not been able to follow the instructions of patterns in magazines like Knitscene. They were a foreign language. This year, in the spirit of my word of the year “create,” not only did I want to knit more, I wanted to crack that code.

I learned how to knit as a teenager growing up in Germany, and so I knit “continental” and am well versed in all the abbreviations of knitting patterns written in German. While I had needlework in school up until 6th grade, my grandmother really taught me how to knit. Later my high school friends and I would knit in class and competed on who could tackle the most complicated patterns.

Once I moved to the U.S., knitting fell to the wayside. Yarn stores were obscure; online sales hadn’t been invented yet, and I couldn’t read American patterns when I did come across them. When I did knit something, I relied on my skills to figure out the pattern by studying the end product.

Lately I’ve been knitting more because it keeps me calm and focused while I supervise my son’s homework (sort of like knitting kept me awake in boring high school classes). Several fashionable yarn stores have sprung up around Chicago, and I’ve been growing tired of the simple scarves I’ve been making. It was time to crack the code of American knitting patterns.

One day last June my daughter and I walked into a yarn store and she spotted a sample hat that she really liked. Ok, I thought, this is it – I’ll buy this pattern and the purple yarn she likes, and I shall crack the code. I knew this would take a chunk of time and involve watching a few youtube videos (you can learn just about anything on youtube!), so the project sat around until Chanukah loomed on the horizon. It was time to figure this out so I’d have a Chanukah present.

In the end it wasn’t that hard because I do know the knitting basics. I know how to cast on, and I understand that knitting in a circle requires a different reading of the pattern than knitting back and forth. I figured out what abbreviations like ssk (slip slip knit), k2tog (knit two together) and yo (yarn over) mean. I also learned what an I-cord is and how to make one – namely a little knitted string. A big thank you to all those generous souls who post videos demonstrating those stitches on youtube. Thus I finished my daughter’s floppy “Wimbledon Hat” following the pattern in Knitscene.

While I am proud of the hat, I am way more proud of the fact that I taught myself a new skill. I can now flip through a knitting magazine, spot a pattern I like, and I know I can make it because I can read that code that used to be just a bunch of letters and figures. Now it’s a language.