Mac & cheese is a fine thing. Not the orange powder microwave version of my college days, but a big ol’ Pyrex dish filled to overflowing with piping hot cheesy goodness bubbling up through crispy buttered bread crumbs. Growing up, my kids agreed on very little other than the merits of homemade mac & cheese. It’s more comfort than cuisine, but with a certain nostalgic appeal that drove my foodie daughter, Elizabeth to make it late last week. She was so excited, but she called the next day, disappointed with her effort.
“I dunno, Mom,” she said, “it was just kinda dry.” We started walking through the process. Butter, flour, whole milk, freshly grated cheese, and so on. Finally I asked, how she had cooked the pasta.
“I always cook my pasta al dente,” she said.
Of course. Al dente is exactly how you cook pasta. Unless you’re making mac & cheese, in which case you have to cook the pasta all the way or it will absorb all the liquid from the sauce, and you get dry mac & cheese.
The right thing in the wrong context is the wrong thing.
It’s the same in knitting – take blocking, for instance. When we knit a fine lace shawl, it flops off our needles in a wadded up mess of yarnovers and decreases, each exerting tension in a different direction. To make it look nice, we block it, soaking the fabric and then stretching and pinning it into a large open fabric, pulling the edges into pretty scallops or dramatic gothic points. Proper blocking is utterly transformational for lace fabric.
Many first time sweater knitters, with the vague instruction of “block sweater pieces and seam” turn to the internet for guidance and find an excellent tutorial showing the blocking method described above. That process is disastrous for sweater pieces.
Also slipped stitch edges. Once knitters discover the magically smooth edge afforded by slipping the first stitch, the proceed to apply that edge to their sweaters, which looks nice in the unseamed pieces, but makes the actual seam (into which that smooth edge is swallowed up anyway) very sloppy.
You could spend a lifetime learning all the bits of knitting wisdom out there. That’s part of what makes knitting such a wonderful hobby for your whole life – there is so much to learn! As you are learning, remember to ask not just what to do, but when to do it and why – and most importantly when NOT to do it and why not. These are the questions whose answers will help you become a more confident and more intuitive knitter.
Whether you’re on your first scarf, or your fiftieth sweater, congratulations on your journey. Through it all keep knitting, and create something beautiful.
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