newlywed knitters, Rachel and Kira
[photo courtesy Josh Klun]
It was a cool May
night in northern California, and I was standing
in front of an audience of about a hundred
people, talking about knitting. It wasn't
a craft fair and I wasn't teaching a class
-- it was a wedding. A lesbian wedding, at
that, and I suddenly found myself wondering
if knitting was the topic I should be covering.
Weren't there more sweet and sacramental angles
to choose? I should discuss the meaning of
the rings, or the trick to sticking together,
through thick and thin. Of course, this advice
would be coming from me, Professional Single
Gal, so might not mean quite as much as it
But the two girls
getting hitched were both knitters. And I
had claimed them as friends through knitting;
we had ribbed and cabled our way to loving
each other. They were the people to whom I
brought my dating sagas. We talked about sex
and love and relationships over beers and
various projects, and a thought struck me
one night. Hey. Knitting is sexy.
admittedly, I don't consider the actual process
of knitting a great turn-on. A person seated,
holding two sticks and making the occasional
monster face at a lump of yarn doesn't really
make me hot and bothered. And the finished
product, gorgeous as it may be, isn't all
that steamy either. It's what the woman (or
man) does with the finished product that's sexy. She holds it up against her. She
shows her friends. She puts on a tee-shirt,
if it's wool, and tries it on, or if it's
something softer, it goes right against her
skin. It fits her body. And if she's a new
knitter, or if she likes a baggier style,
fit her body, but her shape is still suggested,
just under the stitches that her fingers made.
She's proud of it. She shows it off. She loves
who she is inside it.
I think I first noticed
the potential sexiness of knitting about a
year ago. There was this girl. I saw her ad
on PlanetOut, the gay and lesbian online personals,
and she was cute. She was really cute, and I wanted to write to her. But I was still
shy about the whole on-line dating thing,
and I didn't think I could just respond blindly
to a perfect stranger. Something about her
ad stuck in my mind, though. (Well, the exact
something was her crooked grin. I remember
At that time, I was
just starting to host a knitting group at
the gay bar in Oakland near where I lived.
While I walked to the bar that Sunday afternoon,
my knitting bag under my arm, I kicked myself
again for being too chicken to drop her a
At the bar, I set
up. I brought my own lamps whenever we met,
and I knew where the bar kept their extension
cord. I also knew (but was sworn to secrecy)
how to turn down the volume on the world's
worst jukebox (stuffed with the heaviest of
heavy metal; some jukebox vendor's idea of
a gay bar joke). Sam, the bartender, had my
beer on the counter before I asked.
I was always the first
one to arrive. Women coming to a gay bar in
the afternoon to knit tend to be very nervous
the first time. I understood that. Heck, I
was nervous the first time. There's nothing
worse than sitting in dark bar alone, knitting,
while a line of men on barstools cast interested
looks over their shoulders. (It helps that
they're interested in the knitting, not in
That day, the people
drifted in slowly, a couple at a time. The
knitting talk started. Political positions
were bandied. Then this gal walked in, threw
a wad of red knitted fabric onto the high
table, and said "Can someone please
help me decrease the top of this stupid hat?"
It was crooked-grin
girl. She was a knitter. She was at my knitting group. I was sunk. And it was what she had
done with the knitting that got me. Oh, I
wanted to help her decrease her top, all right....
I've been knitting
for twenty-six years, since I was five, and
it's never been cool before. I've had the
nickname "Grandma" for as long as I
can remember. Knitting has never felt sexy
before this new era, and I'm nervous about
its shelf-life. Fads come in and out, I know.
I've seen it happen. I've been the victim
of macrame plant-hangers and beaded bracelets
and friendship bread.
But right now, knitting
is all right. What's more, it's finally all
right with the lesbian community. When I was
in grad school at Mills College, a bastion
of feminist forward-thinking, I would never
have brought my needles onto campus. And that
was only five years ago. At that point, knitting
was still a patriarchal method of keeping
the little woman in the house doing things
for her man. Or so I was told on several occasions
when I was uncouth enough to mention my craft
in mixed company.
Wham! Suddenly, it
became retro and hip, although it was tongue-in-cheek
at first. Girls weren't knitting scarves for
first projects, but bikinis, just to make
a point. But a couple of them figured out
that this knitting thing is kind of cool.
And they told a couple of friends, who told
a couple more, and the tongues came out of
cheeks and got stuck firmly between teeth
as they swore and cursed over ribbing that
flared or stitches that ran. Under discussions
of political candidates and landmark legal
decisions and Buffy, there was a murmur of
"knit two, slip slip knit, yarn over, knit
Last month I went
camping with fifteen friends. We were in the
hills of Santa Cruz, just miles from the ocean,
surrounded by redwoods. The women were all
strong and loud, all gay, and all sprung from
the womb with firm opinions regarding just
about everything. I was expecting to be teased.
I just knew someone would make fun of me when
I pulled out my knitting while other pulled
out their cigarettes. And actually, they did
tease. I was dubbed Knitchel pretty early
in the weekend, and there were various discussions
on whether the name sounded more like a kind
of pastry or a kind of sauerkraut.
But they also did
a bunch of sidling. Walking behind me to grab
another log of firewood (sidle), they'd lean
over my shoulder on the way.
"How do you do that
"I've done it a long
"Are all those loops
as important as all the others? What if you
"Then you find it."
"A tank top."
"Can you make underwear?"
Hardy har har. Guffaws of laughter.
Then, twenty seconds
later, "Isn't it hard?"
Every time that last
question was asked, it sounded plaintive.
A little wistful. Every time I answered, I
looked directly into the questioner's eyes
and said, "No. It's not hard. You could learn,
Out of the fifteen
of us, four were already knitters, although
only two of us had brought projects. That's
four more than would have admitted as much
five years ago. Three expressed interest in
learning. And in ten years? Will we all be
knitting? Will the cigarettes and whiskey
be shelved and tofu and soy silk be the only
way to camp? (God, I hope at least the whiskey
Earlier this year,
as I mentioned, I was asked by two of my close
girlfriends to be one of several officiants
in their marriage celebration. I've known
Kira and Rachel for years. They were originally
friends of my little sister, but they latched
on to me when they heard I was a knitter (I
pictured my name being tossed around in the
underground yarn tunnels: There's a lesbian
in Oakland. We've heard she knits. We've heard
she might cross the bridge. We'll keep you
Theirs was the first
knitting group I ever attended. Their gathering
always had a healthy blend of gay and straight
men and women. And they made the best guacamole
this side of El Paso.
As an officiant, I
was only expected to speak for two or three
minutes about their relationship and what
I knew of it. The way my brain works, it all
comes back to fiber. So that's what I talked
about. I talked a little about who I was and
then somehow segued into:
"Kira's a knitter
like me," I said. "She loves the fancy
things, the ribbon yarns and lots of lace
and eyelets and fancy cables. But Rachel's
style is much cleaner and simpler. She wouldn't
wear a lace camisole if you held a gun to
her head. So Kira makes the simpler patterns
for Rachel, the miles and miles of boring
stockinette that numbs the mind but make her
girl's eyes shine. She knows what Rachel needs
and wants, and provides it."
I could see Rachel
squeeze Kira's hand.
"And Rachel's more
like my little sister. They knit because they're
along for the ride. They like to knit, sure.
But they're not crazy
for it. One night Rachel pulled something
out of her bag that looked a little fancier
than her normal things. It turned out that
she had lost one of Kira's gloves, and because
she loves her, was re-knitting her a pair,
even though she would have rather been doing
something simpler, something easier. She knows
what Kira needs and wants, and provides it."
I'm not sure if the
non-knitters in the audience got it, but the
girls did. Their hugs told me they understood
what I was trying to say. I'd been witnessing
their love-in-action for years, with every
knitted item they made each other. It was
gorgeous. It was kind.
And more than that,
it was love.
Now, that's sexy.