I had just been asked what a small piece of knitting was...and yes, it was a sample. I was "blocking" it - damping it and stretching it out carefully to show the stitch. It is rather like ironing out the creases in fabric but it does so without flattening and ruining the texture.
The person who had asked me what I was making knows nothing about knitting and, I sensed, was being polite rather than genuinely interested so I didn't bother to explain too much further.
It did make me think, yet again, about the importance of samples, especially in the field of craft. They weren't just about showing potential customers what you had to offer. They were there as a reminder, as a means of showing others how to do something, and as a means of preserving ideas.
I thought about all this because the person who asked me what I was doing asked another question, "Why don't you just write it all down? There must be a way of doing that."
Yes, there is. I could "write it down" in a number of ways. I could write something which said something like, "Cast on forty-five stitches. Knit the first row. On the next row knit three stitches, put the yarn over the needle and knit two stitches together..." and so it would go on. I could do it in a sort of shorthand that many knitters understand "CO 45sts. 1st row k, 2nd row, k3 yo k2tog". It's shorter. It's actually easier to read if you know the shorthand.
And I can do other things too. I can turn the instructions into a graph with symbols to tell the knitter what to do...and I can knit the sample.
The first two methods of offering the instructions have their place. There are times when you might well want to use them, especially if there is something different or unusual about the way something is being approached. It can be good to do that. There are people who prefer to have their instructions written in that way. That's fine. But there are also advantages with the last two ways I have described. The chart will give you a big picture. It might not be the whole picture but it will help you understand where the row you are working on fits into the rest of the design. It will help you to read the row. The sample will, if you learn to read it, teach you the same thing.
No, it isn't easy. It takes practice. I make mistakes. The nice thing about knitting though is that you can undo the mistake and do it again.
I just wish life was like that.