...or A Knitter Matures
Last fall I drove from Oakland,
California, to Memphis, Tennessee, and back
in 10 days with the aim of gauging Memphis
as a place to relocate. I was single, recently
laid off with a new job that was not a career,
and after 13 years was genuinely exhausted
by living in the Bay Area. It felt like my
newly rediscovered passion for knitting and
my good friends were the only things keeping
me sane. This road trip was supposed to be
a vehicle for self-discovery. Could I start
over somewhere else? Did I want to? What was
I supposed to do with my life?
The only revelation the
trip gave me was that while I could
drive more than 1,000 miles in a day, I probably
should not. [Hint: lumbar support cannot be
overrated.] Though I fell in love with Memphis
[and Elvis!], I was not ready to commit to
relocating and I still didn't know what to
do with my life. I stopped in Little Rock,
Arkansas, to visit with my aunt before heading
back to California. She lives mere blocks
from the Handworks
Gallery, a shop whose ads I had
seen in knitting magazines and whose online
selection I drooled over. Located in an old
house in a great part of Little Rock, it has
floor to ceiling yarn in all sorts of nooks
and crannies, great staff, and inspiring finished
I had just started knitting
again last August after a several-year hiatus,
buying tons of ill-considered yarn, knitting
away willy-nilly. My haste showed. I made
a pretty sweater in inexpensive cotton from
a pattern meant for wool. It looked good,
but the fitted sleeves which should have been
merely snug were like tourniquets in cotton.
A sweater I knitted in bulky wool is snuggly
and soft, but hotter than Hades. If knitted
in the bulky cotton-blend the pattern recommended,
it would have been just right.
stood in the shop, feeling an overwhelming
if aimless desire to create. I grabbed some
pretty pale blue merino, some tools and do-dads,
and seven skeins of Rowan Kidsilk Haze in
"chill," a pale grey. I gazed at
my new stuff for hours before setting off
home, itching to get my hands on it. I drove
from Little Rock to Albuquerque in one day,
a meaningless accomplishment next to my desire
to dive right into the yummy merino. But I
knew that unless I took time to consider what
I wanted to do I would make a mess of it.
Once home, I read Maggie Righetti's Sweater
Design in Plain English. My recent sweater
disappointments were a lesson that yarns are
not interchangeable. Sweater Design reminded
me that forcing a yarn into something it should
never be leads only to frustration and unworn
[because they're unwearable] garments. I listened
this time. I made a swatch and discovered
that the mohair in Kidsilk Haze will not allow
you, under any circumstances, to gaily rip
out stitches. But I fell in love with its
softness. I tried to coax it into speaking
to me so I could make it into something.
Weeks later I had
a eureka moment. I was thumbing through my
books and right there in Vogue's
American Collection was Lily Chin's reversible
rib cable shawl. Perfect for Rowan's Kidsilk
Haze? I thought so, and the yarn agreed. The
shawl has sinuous cables running the length
of it, bumping each other suggestively. The
pattern's architecture would shine in the
tiny silk twist in the center of the yarn,
and the fuzzy mohair would soften it. Intricate
looking, but not too technically challenging.
My head swam with a vision of me in the completed
project: elegantly draped, sophisticated and
alluring. And demonstratively a very accomplished
I planned to finish
it, this shawl/scarf Thing, in about a month
[!]. I knit fast, and my daily commute guaranteed
me at least an hour a day to do it.
I happily cast on
with size six circular needles, switching
to sevens as called for. The rhythm of the
pattern soothed me: knit two, purl two, knit
two, purl two. Such a nice rhythm, a lazy,
hummy sort of rhythm, perfect for bus rides,
idle moments, television watching. The yarn
was so thin running through my fingers, it
needed more concentration than I was used
to, but it was light and fluffy once knitted.
I negotiated my first cable row easily; the
following row made me realize I had knitted
too tightly. After huffing, cursing and coaxing
that row, I relaxed a bit and marveled as
the Thing began to grow.
As it grew, people
noticed. Even at eight inches long, it was
soft, intricate and lush. I knit while walking,
and people would ask me what I was making.
Was it a sweater? Scarf? Baby blanket? [As
if!] I would answer that it was "a wrap-y
shawl Thing" or "a kind of a scarf-y
wrap Thing," or if I was feeling flirty
"a kicky little evening cape-y Thing."
I invited people to touch it, doing a little
"voila!" flourish to show the reversibility,
amazed along with them at what I was making.
On went the rhythm
of knit two, purl two, my stitches timed to
my footsteps, or to the flap of the bus' windshield
wipers, or to my dog scratching herself. Fellow
bus riders told me how pretty the Thing was.
"I wish I could knit" some said,
or "I could never do anything like that."
Sometimes I assured them that it was not really
hard, it just looked that way. Sometimes I
kept it to myself, nodding grave agreement
that knitting is difficult, that this particular
pattern was excruciatingly complex.
Thing grew about three inches every day, so
those who saw often became accustomed to seeing
it lengthen. "Coming right along,"
they said, "How much longer is will it
be?" I worked on it everywhere: in line
for coffee, at friends' houses, in elevators.
At my optometrist's office one of the doctors
- a knitter - approached and asked about the
Thing, the pattern, when I thought I would
finish. I bragged about my pace, noting that
after only three weeks it was well over half-way
finished. I left my exam with a jaunty wave,
planning to return in two weeks for my new
glasses with a completed Thing to show off.
The bus ride home was all work: knit two,
purl two. I started a little singsong to go
with my rhythm, adapted from the cutsey-poo
signs often seen in curio shops:
It was wonderful,
I was impressing knitters and lay people alike.
The Thing became symbolic of the innate strengths
and talents I had. I could do anything! I
could move, find a new career, start all over,
or stay, or anything.
Then the unexpected
happened. I fell madly in love. Suddenly I
was relinquishing my heretofore inviolable
knitting time in favor of gazing into the
eyes of my sweetie. Sometimes he rode my bus
and I would not knit at all, preferring instead
to hold his hand. My solo tradition of Thursday
nights of bad TV and marathon knitting was
replaced by nibbled-at dinners, smitten conversation
and smooching. Sometimes days passed and I
would not knit a stitch.
Progress on the Thing
crawled and the slow pace was frustrating.
Rationally, I knew that I was giving up [cheerfully!]
knitting time to be with my sweetheart, but
some part of me felt like that time should
come out of a secret surplus time account.
I became irrational, angry at the Thing and
the yarn it was made of. I would look at other
yarns from my stash, muttering to myself that
they wouldn't take so long to knit. I could
finish a whole garment with any one of them
in a weekend. Unlike this thin yarn that takes
so long to knit and is unforgiving of errors.
of course in my anger I began to make errors.
A loaded cable needle that needed to be held
to the back was held to the front. Once on
the train home from a baseball game I picked
up the now Damned Thing near the beginning
of a row and finished that row and most of
the next before realizing I had gone the wrong
way and created short-rows. [Hint: beer and
knitting do not mix.] Unknit two, unpurl two.
It was ghastly. I wanted to finish this Damned
Thing and get it over with, to spend time
with my sweetie without feeling like the Damned
Thing was waiting to be done.
I still carried it
around with me everywhere, working a few stitches
here and there, but my confidence was crumbling.
The comments I got, once supportive, now were
subtly mocking: "Still working on that,
eh?" "You're not done yet?"
At first I would smile weakly and say "It's
getting there." After a while, I became
defensive. "Yes," I crisply answered,
"I'm still working on it. It's quite
complicated, you know." When I returned
to the optometrist for my glasses, I skulked
in and out to avoid a lame explanation that
three inches was really all I could get done
in two weeks.
The cute little rhythm
I had going before changed, too. It became
[Hint: some things
will never get out of your head. Choose work
I became obsessed
with completing it, like the Damned Thing
and I were in a battle to the death. I took
to wearing it wound around my neck, its unfinished
end dangling free so I could pick it up whenever
I had even a second to knit. It felt sometimes
like it was constricting me on purpose. I
no longer heard the comments of coworkers,
commuters and friends. I barely nodded acknowledgement
of their existence. I would let the phone
ring if I was knitting, cursing the interruption.
But the Damned Thing finally showed progress.
And no errors.
months after I started my one-month project,
I was down to the last skein. Every few rows,
I squeezed the yarn to feel how much was left,
relaxing as it got thinner. The Thing seemed
to loosen its hold on my neck and the ease
of the gentle knit two, purl two cadence returned.
By the time I put the size six needles back
on to finish it, I found again a peaceful
and trance-like oneness. Six rows from the
end, I discovered a misdirected cable nine
inches back and with a beatific smile decided
to allow it to remain. Casting off the last
stitch was a profound moment. I paused reverently,
then tossed the Thing into the air and caught
it, enchanted by the light filtering through
It was a few days
before I darned in the yarn ends, now unwilling
to let the Thing go. I was dismayed by a little
tug of post-completion melancholy. I waited
to tell anyone I had finished it, though I
had promised everyone that my victory whoop
would echo for miles. I wanted to keep secret
my terrific sense of accomplishment that said
I could handle any challenge - even the challenge
of staying in the Bay Area. I was confident,
in love, and a knitter of a very cool Thing.
It had its formal
debut - to much applause - at a swanky cocktail
party given by a friend. I looked almost elegant,
refined and alluring. [Hint: light grey mohair
should not be worn over black cashmere.]