Monday, July 17, 2006

Short History of a Tall Knitter - PT 1

So there I was, maybe six or seven years old, sittin' and knittin' on the front stoop with my friend Doris from across the street. I lived in New York City -- Elmhurst, Queens to be exact -- and for some reason knitting was the thing to do. We sat on Doris's stoop for endless hours that summer knitting long strips of Red Heart Worsted Wool in all its variegated variations. Mostly we loved the one with the black background and bright short bursts of primary colors interspersed. (I think it's called Mexicana today and is acrylic.) It looked like a party and made the knitting great fun.

Question: why is it that intelligent human beings turn into easily-amused children when working with variegated yarns? I'm reminded of the Seinfeld episode where Elaine refrains from sex and is turned into a blithering idiot who applauds at rotating tire signs in front of the auto shop. But I digress. There's something infinitely amusing about knitting or crocheting with variegated yarns. What inexpressible delight when a beautiful color flows between your fingers, the anticipation as you await its return, the slight letdown when that kinda muddy brown lingers longer than you'd hoped, and the soaring pleasure when an unexpected burst of fuchsia or rich turquoise ignites your work with splendor.

What was I saying? Oh yeah. Anyway, there we were, Doris and I, sitting on her front stoop trying to see who could knit the longest totally useless strip of fabric. And the competition wasn't limited to knitting needles. Remember those bright red plastic spools that created long ropey tubes that we now call I-cord? We did that too, also with our beloved Red Heart, then coiled them into circles, stitched them together, and called them pot holders and coasters and rugs oh my!

Knitting was just something we all knew how to do. I can't even remember who taught me or when. I assume it was my mother since my grandmother wasn't exactly the crafty type unless crafty meant applying Revlon Fire & Ice to her lips, spritzing herself with Tigress, then sashaying into Manhattan for a Manhattan with a beau.

Did I digress again? Sorry. As I was saying, we all knew how to knit and it was an accepted part of our world. Nobody questioned it. In fact we used to take our knitting to school during final exam week when you were allowed to knit at your desk if you finished the test early. Imagine rows of little girls in St. Bartholomew's navy blue jumper and saddle shoes, all knitting endless strips of brightly striped, very long . . . somethings.

For years that's pretty much all I did with knitting needles. Knitting made me nervous. I mean, if you dropped a stitch the whole thing went down the drain and you had to start all over again and who wants to start all over again when you were already ten or twelve feet into the project. Not me. I found myself sliding over into the world of crochet where I never had to worry about dropped stitches.

And so began the Era of the Granny Afghan. And the huge three-strand scarves circa 1969. And warm head-hugging hats. And the inexplicable pineapple motif tablecloth crocheted with a skinny steel hook and whisper-fine mercerized Coats & Clark mercerized cotton. The instructions looked like the plans for the Stealth bomber. Pages and pages of dc and tc and ch21 and sk3sts that were enough to make your brain implode.

I envied knitters. As I said earlier I was in awe of my mother's facility with double points and circs and cables and everything else she took for granted.

In my defense, I did start a sweater for my soon-to-be husband. It was 1967 and I found a pattern for a fair isle pullover in an earlier edition of McCall's Needlework Arts & Crafts (my bible) and jumped right in. Nobody ever told me fair isle could be difficult so it wasn't. I had my Red Heart (what else? I could afford it and I loved it) in midnight blue and navy and Yale blue and creamy white. I had my bobbins. I had my Susan Bates straight. I had the confidence that only love can give you.

It was a snap. I zipped through the front of that sweater like I'd been fair isle-ing all my life. But then 1967 turned into 1968 and he was off to war and that sweater was the least of my worries. Besides, once I was 17 and my attention span at 17 wasn't all it could be. Once I'd established that I could indeed knit fair isle I wasn't all that interested any longer.

It would be almost twenty years until I picked up knitting needles again.

To be continued . . .



You're wondering about this bright blue sweater? Crocheted by yours truly in 1970 for the husband who went off to war. Unfortunately my color sense was dictated to by the amount of money I had to spend. Which wasn't much. (Details about the sweater are at Wicked Splitty.)

Barbara Bretton

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