Text: Marcia Nehemiah
Jill Deal learned how to knit as a child. She describes her teacher as “a gentle perfectionist” who taught her to present her best in everything that she did. After a successful career in banking, in 1989 Jill became president and owner of Laurel Grove Greenhouses in Port Jervis, NY, which she sold in 2000. Then she taught elementary education, first at the Homestead School in Glen Spey, NY and then in the Port Jervis and Minisink, NY school districts until she opened jill deal, inc. in 2004. Located in Milford, PA’s turn-of-the-century Forest Hall, jill deal, inc. is a source for high quality and hard-to-obtain knitting and crocheting supplies. Also available are a wide array of books, needlepoint canvases and supplies, and rug-hooking materials.
Our Country Home had the opportunity to speak with Jill about her love of knitting and why she likes to help others learn to knit.
OCH: Why would you encourage people to start knitting?
JD: Not only is knitting a continuation of an art form that is many hundreds of years old, it can be a bonding experience when done with a family member and it’s a wonderfully productive use of what might otherwise be unproductive time. It allows an expression of creativity and now, according to the Mayo Clinic, handwork such as knitting and crocheting has been found to have some very positive healthful consequences. Most often my customers describe their handwork as “relaxing.”
OCH: What skills are required for a person to be a successful knitter?
JD: Like anything else, desire, really. Knitting is about repetitive motion and basic sequencing skills that we all learned in Kindergarten, which is perhaps why children can pick this up so quickly.
OCH: What are some ways to learn the craft? What is the best way?
JD: We all learn differently—some folks can pick things up from a book, while others are better taught through visual medium. It’s been my experience that the visual is more effective as there are some “wrong ways” to do some of the knitting techniques and sometimes written instructions can be left to subjective interpretation.
OCH: What supplies does the beginning knitter need to get started? What would be the cost of these materials?
JD: Getting started is easy. You need a pair of knitting needles and a ball of yarn, so for about ten dollars you’re ready to get started. Never start with metal needles, and beginning with wool can allow better control for the beginning knitter. We all have metal needles that have been passed down through the family—hold on to them, they are treasures, but they’re not the best pick for a beginner. It’s better to use a polymer or wood needle to begin; you’ll just find that you have better overall control and hopefully a more pleasurable, less frustrating experience.
OCH: What are the basic techniques a new knitter needs to learn?
JD: Here’s the best part about knitting—there are only two stitches, the knit and purl—and one is a default of the other. All the fancy patterning that you see is merely a manipulation of the knit and purl. After the two stitches are learned and basic sequencing is mastered, the possibilities for your projects become limited only by your
OCH: What kinds of projects can the beginner undertake?
JD: Scarves are at the top of this list since they allow movement of the yarn with ease, and also allow the knitter to gauge progress by maintaining proper stitch count and stitch consistency. But scarves need not be boring since the yarns are so inviting, and embellishing the edges of scarves can allow any ordinary scarf to become a fashion statement. After scarves, simple circular knitting with a hat can be fun, but generally I take my students to an afghan sampler to amplify skills already learned and further technique.
OCH: What problems, if any, might a beginning knitter encounter? How are they best solved?
JD: One basic problem is increasing stitches without knowing why, and suddenly holes appear out of thin air. Dropped stitches are also problematic when the relationship between the yarn and the needle is out of sync, such as using metal needles with a “slippery” yarn. That’s why, I think, having a mentor is a great way of learning slowly and properly.
OCH: As a knitter advances, what new techniques can be learned?
JD: Knitting “shorthand” can be challenging, and the more that you work with it, the more familiar it becomes—techniques such as ssk (slip, slip, knit), psso (pass slipped stitch over) and ktbl (knit through back loop), to name a few, are merely manipulations of the knit and purl stitch, but these manipulations are the things that give us really beautiful patterning that goes from fun to interesting to elegant.
There is also a whole area of knitting dedicated specifically to finishing techniques. Putting knitted pieces together is not like basting a seam on a skirt. Professional seaming and embellishing techniques only amplify the satisfaction that comes from being a great knitter and loving what you ultimately create. Many knitters are great knitters but don’t fully understand the process required for a really successful and satisfying finishing. And truthfully, in many cases, the finishing can take as much time as working the garment itself, but then what a real work of art you have! I think this is when you have really arrived as a knitter.
OCH: Are there specific types of yarn that a new knitter should use?
JD: Wool…wool…wool…reliable, stable and with memory that can help to camouflage some beginner mistakes, but more importantly, it’s not slippery, has a great “hand,” meaning it feels nice running through your fingers and, for where we live, it is warm.
OCH: How would you encourage someone who is reluctant to start knitting, thinking that it’s too complicated?
JD: I’ll simply say this: we can truthfully do anything that we set out minds to. Folks begin to knit for lots of reasons. It keeps the hands busy if you’re recently retired, trying to quit smoking or want help with your Weight Watchers program. Remembering, though, that the skills required to knit are basic fine-motor skills that you’ve learned by first grade and basic sequencing skills learned in kindergarten, there’s no excuse for not giving it a try. That having been said, perhaps knitting is not for you, but there’s always crochet, needlepoint, cross stitch, rug-hooking and other hand crafts that can provide the same therapeutic and comforting results, and then there’s the joy of seeing friends and family members “ooh” and “aah” over the fruits of your labors. I think that makes it all worth it.
Here are some area knitting circles and groups that will help you get started or provide company for the experienced knitter.
Sit and Knit
Tusten-Cochecton Branch of the Western Sullivan Public Library
Bridge Street, Narrowsburg, NY
Monday, 6:00 to 8:00 pm
Friday Night Knits
jill deal, inc.
200 Broad Street, Milford, PA
4:00 to 7:00 pm every other Friday
through the winter.
4 Corners for Artful Living
22 Main Street
Sunday, 1:00 to 3:00 pm Bring a project you are working on, and exchange helpful hints with other knitters. Coffee served.
Knit One, Needlepoint Too
246 East Broadway
845/791-KNIT (5648) or 800/791-5650
Wednesday through Sunday, 12:00 to
Free lesson with every purchase. Ongoing charity knitting for Sullivan County fire departments and hospitals. Contribute an 8-inch by 8-inch knitted or crocheted square and receive a free finishing lesson on assembling an afghan.