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Amy Detjen goes in reverse at Vogue Knitting LIVE

A student practices how to knit backward.
A student practices how to knit backward.
The Fiber Friend 2014

The class was picking up the techniques so well, Wisconsin-based Amy Detjen felt the need to exclaim, "If all of you have this already, then how will we make the class last two hours?" Luckily, there were plenty of different stitch manipulations to practice, and plenty of questions to answer. Still, having a class full of quick learners at Vogue Knitting LIVE in New York is a great problem to have.

Detjen was teaching Through the Lookingglass, or the techniques associated with knitting back without turning your work around. Elizabeth Zimmerman came up with the technique of knitting backward by watching herself purl in the mirror, and mimicking the actions in reverse. Zimmerman's daughter, Meg Swansen, and Detjen have worked together for over two decades, and are now have a relationship similar to that of childhood friend or an old married couple. Regarding Swansen and Detjen's collaboration, Knitting With Two Colors, Detjen jokes, "Meg wrote it and I told her what I didn't like about it."

Her open and ironic sense of humor relaxed the entire Winter Garden room at the New York Marriott Marquis to the point where people were able to chatter throughout the entire class, instead of being silent, despite practicing a brand new technique. When one student had trouble figuring out how to manipulate the yarn while knitting in the other direction, Detjen suggested a method and then told her, "It depends on how much you are willing to wiggle."

Not to say that humor is what taught the lesson. Detjen used a set of size US 35 knitting needles and super bulky yarn, demonstrating the lessons with her back to the audience so everyone could see her knitting the same way they would view their own. While walking around the room, she showed people both on her needles and on the students' own sets as well.

"I feel like I have such power!" Theresa, a student practicing how to knit backward for the first time, exclaimed this sentiment in between mental fits of forgetting how to do it. Since knitting is a rote activity, learning something new does take time to set into the brain like a mold of jello, but the freedom of not having to turn the work at the end of every row is what feels so powerful.

Learning how to decrease while knitting backward was the next step in taking the skill to the next level, and some students were struggling at first with the decrease that leans to the left. When Detjen was watching a student named Meryl practice the stitch, she said, "And now, new stitch out the back." Meryl replied, "Which is the new stitch?" before recognizing her own work and feeling comfortable with the process.

Detjen listed the different ways stitching backward is useful to a knitter, including making bobbles and knitting entrelac. Many of the students were not as immediately keen on other uses of the technique; some knitters just hate the purl stitch and were pleased to find an alternative method of making stockinette stitch.

"I'm a sort of technique junkie," said Detjen, opening her class. The students in Through the Lookingglass felt empowered by their new technique, and by the end of class, they could not get enough of it.

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