Having learned to knit as a child I was keen to get back to it in my twenties once I had the funds to indulge in buying yarn. One winter I asked my aunt if she would give me a refresher to help me get started.
('A note about my aunt - she married a man from a family of boys and then they had a family boys. She is very adept at communicating with males. Her manner is direct, unencumbered by the subtleties of typical female conversation. My sisters openly admit, and my mother - her sister - begrudgingly so, that because of her manner they have typically found her intimidating. I have always enjoyed her company though and found her style of communication refreshingly clear and helpful. She is one of my all time favourite people.)
During that winter in my 20's my aunt and I thought a weekend long jump start of two solid days of knitting would be a good way to refresh my memory so I bought needles and yarn and went to the cottage for the weekend with her and my uncle. (I wasn't working from a pattern, rather just a plan to make the same simple stockinette sweater twice with the same sized needles but two very different yarns. I figured I needed repetition to get going again but wanted two different sweaters out of it. My "plan" was for a short boxy look. No shaping except to increase for drop sleeves. I would use the number of stitches the label told me I would get if I used the recommended needle size - I'd never heard of such a thing as swatching - wasn't that what having information on the yarn label was for? There would be ribbing at cuffs, around the bottom and the generous turtle neck. One yarn was a bulky deep forest green, the other, a mohair-esque in vivid pink - both in acrylic.
First thing that Saturday morning, perched on the couch by the fire I sat with my aunt all ready to go when she stood up and went off to make some fresh coffee. As she walked out of the room she told me to cast on.
"How do I do that?" I asked
"What!?!" she semi screeched from the kitchen.
Mistaking her irritation at how much of a "hand" I needed for simply not having heard me I innocently and more loudly repeated "How do I cast on?"
"What are you talking about?" she demanded as she rounded the corner from the kitchen. "Just cast on!"
"I don't know how to do that" I said
"You don't know how to CAST ON!?!" (she was incredulous) "You know how to knit! You were knitting in elementary school! Of course you know how to cast on! Just cast on. I'm going to finish with the coffee and I'll be right there!" And back she went 'round the corner.
I sat there staring at the chunky green yarn and my needles. I made a slip knot around one but that was as far as I could get.
Then she was back beside me now chuckling under her breath as is her habit (one which I particularly love) "I had no idea we were going to have to start with casting on!" she said.
Then she showed me the only cast on method either she or I had ever seen or knew of existing - a knitted cast on. That was how you cast on, just like how you held the needles was like a pencil, the yarn thrown with the right index finger. No other options or possibilities - this was how it was done.
A couple of years later, both of my sweaters finished and frequently worn (and no doubt covered in pills!) I was flying through Pingouin patterns and feeling every bit a bona fide "knitter". She mentioned to me that she had heard of an amazing improvement on casting on. Rather than knitting through the last stitch cast on, it was better to insert the right needle between the two previous cast on stitches. This would make the edge less inclined to twist and so create a more attractive edge. I immediately converted to this "new" technique. Until my most recent rebirth into knitting via knitblogland I had no idea anyone had ever cast on by any other method than by one of those two.
Since then I have bought and used reference books and the internet to expand my understanding of casting on and myriad other aspects of knitting. Yesterday beginning anew with the Jo Sharp Silkroad I recalled a knitter reporting on Ravelry of using a "cable cast on" for the beautiful edge it makes. Remembering that moment with my aunt all those years ago, how narrow our understanding was but how far I have come in understanding the value of trying new approaches I grabbed my favourite knitting reference (Montse Stanley), flipped to the instructions for this "beautiful" cable cast on and read...
"a) Make Slip Knot
b) Cast on 1 st following knitted method
c) Continue as for knitted cast on but insert needle behind last st."
I laughed out loud.
Today I must give my aunt a call and tell her - we'll no doubt laugh together. She has a great laugh - even better than her chuckle!