Sunday, July 16, 2006

A knitter's ramble

Writing and knitting are a lot alike. For me, they’re inextricably entwined passions, though I’m a long way from expert at either. I even keep a simple project on needles at my desk. I knit while on the phone, and while I’m thinking about the next sentence or the next paragraph, and when I’m just staring at the blank screen and getting jittery because I haven’t a clue what happens next.

Knitting calms me. Maybe it’s the memories that slip into my mind every time I pick up the needles; I come from a family of fiber addicts. We knit, crochet, cross-stitch, embroider, quilt, sew clothing and curtains, and some of weave, tat, spin, and maintain a spinner’s flock. (If you can’t find the perfect yarn, grow it!)

The rhythmic, repetitive motion eases my jangled nerves. Give me a few minutes with the needles, and my mind stops jumping around. My thoughts settle into a calmer pattern so I can really think. Plus, it’s physical thereapy. Really, but I’ll come back to that.

I came late to knitting. My grandmother tried to teach me to knit during what I remember as ‘The Summer on Grandma’s Porch’. Grandma had strong opinions about how young ladies should behave and what skills a young lady should possess. Since we lived right next door to her, there was no escaping her lessons. We began with cross-stitch and progressed to embroidery, crochet, basic hand-sewing, and then knitting. While we stitched, we talked. Grandma told stories about my mother and uncles as children, about her brothers and sisters and cousins. She talked about Grandpa’s courtship, the Great Depression, and ancestors I’d never heard of until then. And that’s how stitching became linked in my mind with storytelling. Every day, weather permitting, she and I spent a full hour on her front porch with the current project. Grandma set the timer. One full hour, no excuses, no stopping early. I excelled at crochet and learned to make tiny, invisible hem stitches. But knitting? That’s the only time I can remember Grandma giving up on anything. My mind wandered too much. I dropped stitches, lost my place, knit rows back on themselves, and came close to poking the cat’s eye out with a needle.

In my early 30s, I lost much of the use of my hands from a combination of tendonitis, fibromyalgia, and arthritis. The rheumatologist sent me to both physical therapy and occupational therapy. After a while, the two therapists conferred and suggested I take up knitting again. It was, they thought, an ideal method to help me regain strength and dexterity in my fingertips. So I muddled through with the help of vague memories, books, and a short lesson from Mom. After a couple dozen dishcloths, knit very slowly with a lot of ripping out, I was hooked. I knit scarves, hats, balaclavas, afghan squares, and a sweater. I learned to use double-points and made lots of mittens. I haunted the sale room at the local knitting store and learned to adapt patterns to suit whatever luscious yarn I found on clearance. One thing led to another, and now have two spinning wheels, a spinner’s flock, an extensive collection of single point, double point, and circular needles, and my fiber stash takes up half the attic. My grandmother, I suspect, is laughing with delight up there in heaven.

I’m a rambunctious knitter. I dive in, rip out if I don’t like how it’s going, try again or not. I like to experiment. I love the textures, the subtle tactile differences between yarns. When I picked up the needles that first time in physical therapy, I decided this was one endeavor I’d never let myself take too seriously. I’d keep it fun. I learned enough discipline on those afternoons on Grandma’s porch to propel me through the tough spots when I’m attempting a new technique. I’ll fix the big goofs, but will take the lazy way out with the small ones when the mistake isn’t glaring and doesn’t affect the function of the end product.

So that’s me and my story of how I came to be a knitter. Next time I’ll show you what I’m working on now. And maybe, someday, I’ll dig out that vest I made when I decided fuzzy mohair was just the thing. And you too can slap your forehead and say ‘ohmigod, what were you thinking?’



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