For one thing, knitting rarely exceeds the dimensions of the human body, and we humans are pretty small. Knitting usually covers even less space than that. Half a body for a cardigan, a sixth of a body for a hat, a pair of socks or mittens. So knitting is pretty small.
Large-scale knitting, like a sweater for an SUV, is automatically parodic, an ironic comment on the essential smallness of knitting.
The tools are small, light, and cheap. Sticks made of wood or metal or plastic, sometimes connected by a plastic cable. Yarn, no larger in diameter than a pencil and usually much smaller. A few even tinier accessories like a tape measure, sewing-up needles, a small pair of scissors. That’s it.
And the motions are small, almost imperceptible tugs and twirls of a finger or wrist, repeated again and again.
There are only two of these motions called stitches: knit and purl. You can twist them around each other for cables, throw the yarn over your needle to make a lace eyelet, but once you know knit and purl, you know all there is to know about stitches.
Doesn’t take long to learn. Twenty minutes to learn the knit stitch, twenty more to learn how to cast on, bind off, and purl. Now you’re started.
Cast on, knit a row, purl a row, repeat.
But the number of repetitions—those are massive. Hundreds of stitches repeated thousands of times. Something prayerful about those tiny motions, over and over again, like turning a prayer wheel or saying a rosary.
Over a lifetime of knitting, millions of stitches, and more repetitions accumulate: scores of sweaters, hundreds of socks, thousands of cast-ons and bind-offs, and you begin to understand how knitting works.
How it is small but elegant. Like no other craft, knitting follows the contours of the body. Its discipline is kinetic, following the arch of the foot, the clamp of the thumb against the palm, the raising and lowering of an arm, the narrowing of a waist, broadening at the shoulders.
Knitting follows the soft contours around a baby’s chin as well as it traces the girth of a fisherman’s torso. Unlike tailoring that fits a flat textile to human curves, knitting produces a three-dimensional, curved fabric that stretches and clings, expands and contracts.
It takes decades of practice, watching and learning from the skills of other knitters to become a good knitter, a real knitter.
There’s nothing to it.
But I'll never get to the end of it.