Knitting

comments: 233

BSJ1

I didn't come to knitting naturally. When I was little, my Grandma Ieronemo crocheted and didn't knit, my other grandma partied at the country club, my mom occasionally crocheted and didn't knit, none of my other relatives or neighbors or friends' moms knit (that I knew of, at least). In college, my roommate Ann's mom knit her a sweater. It was her special sweater. A brown wool turtleneck. I asked to borrow it all the time. My boobs were about four times as big as Ann's. She let me borrow the sweater frequently and must have wanted to punch me in the face every day for stretching it out. I didn't get it.

Ann tried to teach me to knit one New Year's Eve. I was living in Missoula with Andy but I was home visiting my parents for the holidays. Andy had had to stay in Missoula to work. Ann was still living in Chicago then and came over to spend the day with me. I remember that day we had been driving around way out in the western suburbs (in Chicago the suburbs stretch out for hours), looking for something at some specialty store somewhere that we never found. I can't imagine what it was. She had a maroon Toyota Corolla. It was getting late and I was supposed to babysit that night. She was going to come to babysitting with me. Somehow we suddenly got a bee in our bonnets for me to learn how to knit, but we had no supplies. We switched our quest and starting looking for yarn. The stores were starting to close — it was around dinnertime on New Year's Eve — and we were pretty far from home. This was long before the iTouch. We went careening into a Wal-Mart (one of two times I've been in a Wal-Mart) and found some hideous acrylic yarn and big plastic needles. We raced back to River Forest, and the O'Hallorans' house. We played with the kids, then watched Saturday Night Live and my friend Andy Greer was an extra on that episode (it was either him or his twin brother, Mike — I can't remember). It was pretty awesome to see someone I knew on TV. After the O'Hallorans came home, we left and slowly drove back across River Forest to my street, looking at the Christmas lights and the houses. It had started to snow. The houses in River Forest are the prettiest houses you'll ever see in your life, especially in the snow. It was so beautiful there. You aren't allowed to park on the street past a certain time of night, so the streets are all wide and empty. That night was so ink-dark and quiet, everything sparkling and muffled in the snow.

Back at my house, my parents were still having a party. It was about 1:30 in the morning. My sisters weren't home yet. It is so classic that I would be sitting in my room with Ann, learning to knit with a party going on downstairs. We were so close back then. I remember that she told me that when she was a little girl and first learned to knit, she wouldn't stop doing it for anything. No matter what else she did during a day, she only wanted to be knitting, and would stay up long past her bedtime, knitting under the covers. I thought that was such a sweet image, little Ann with little fingers flying. She tried to teach me. I couldn't learn. We eventually fell asleep, and forgot about it the next day.

I went back to Missoula, finished grad school, and got a job in the marketing-and-publications department of a managed-care company. I hated this job with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns. I had two bosses and they despised each other, and made my life truly miserable. The company was remodeling the corporate office and they moved our department (of four) to a crappy satellite building across town, far from all my work friends. The building smelled so bad. The two marketing people were on the road all the time. I sat in my office alone every day with my one boss, who never spoke. To anyone. Andy and I were engaged then. I walked to JoAnn Fabrics on my lunch hour one day and got a pattern for the simple, pretty wedding dress I was going to make for myself. I showed it to my boss. She was nonplussed. I said, "You don't like it?" She said, "I just don't like dresses very much." I wanted to punch her in the face. I went back to my office and listened to wedding music on a compilation CD of wedding music. You were supposed to pick songs for different parts of the ceremony. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was far from home. I signed up for a knitting class. I sort of learned how to knit and purl; I could do it if the teacher was watching, but I got messed up when she walked away. I took the bus to and from work and would try to knit on the bus, and get so confused I wanted to cry. I couldn't do it. Everyone said it was so simple and I was bewildered and lost. The other people in the class had half of their sweaters finished, but I'd had to start over, and I was still on the ribbing. One time I was at the coffee shop and I saw one of my knitting classmates, happily knitting on her circular needles. I knew that she, like me, had never knit before the class, and there she was — laughing with a friend — and already halfway up the body without a care in the world. I couldn't believe she was laughing. When I knit, my brow winched up as if it had just been put through the pleater, and was ready for its smocking. My diastolic blood pressure neared triple digits. I found it completely mind-boggling that anyone actually found knitting "relaxing."

I got married and moved to Portland. I remember looking in the Yellow Pages to try and find a yarn store. Andy and I drove to it (we had no idea where we were going [which seems so hilarious now, since it was about a mile away] ) and it was no longer there. I found another one in the Yellow Pages on the opposite side of town near my new office (this job I adored). I walked there on my lunch hour one day — and it was no longer there. This was in 1997. It must have been just before the knitting boom. In 1999, the year after my accident, the Yarn Garden opened in Portland, just a few blocks from our apartment. I couldn't believe it — right in our very own neighborhood. I went on the first or second day they opened. I asked if I could have a private lesson, and Heather became my teacher. I think she was in her seventies, and I always thought it was so cool that someone who was seventy years old would be named Heather. Heather taught me to knit. She had learned from her stepmother when she was a little girl. Knitting was no big deal to her. It was like talking. She said I could pick any pattern I wanted, and any yarn I wanted, and she would teach me. We sat in the sunny room at the wooden table on my days off. And she taught me. I made a little sweater for my new niece, Arden. I think it was mint green with little candy-tuft colored sprinkles. I remember that my dad saw the sweater — I think I gave it to Arden for her first birthday — and he was actually impressed. He said, "Each one of these loops is an individual stitch?" I said yes. He said, "But you did each one of these loops one by one?" And I said yes. And he said, "Wow." I think it was the only thing I ever did in my entire life that my dad was actually impressed by. He gave very few compliments, but I got one for that sweater, and I still remember thinking, "Huh. I think that was a compliment."

BSJ2

In a strange way, I love knitting more than any of the other crafts I do. Its stitches have been harder won, and are somehow more precious to me. The fact that my dad might have thought it was cool is precious to me. I never do it for "work," the way I do sewing or crochet or embroidery designs; knitting is only for me, and only ever will be. I still don't really understand how it works, from a mechanical perspective. I mean, I sort of do, but if I make a mistake? Oh no. If a stitch falls off the needles or the count gets off somewhere? I cannot rip it out, because I'll never get it back on the needles. Ever. I just fudge right through. Mistakes don't bother me unless they've somehow entirely messed up the pattern, and then I must frog (rip out) the whole thing and ball up the yarn and try something else. I don't know how to "fix" anything. If I get the right gauge it seems like pure luck, and I rejoice with gusto. If I'm getting too many stitches per inch, I start twitching, and then I have to sit and think forever about what that means. Go up a needle size? Go down? Go down. No, wait — go up. Yeah, up. Wait. No. Yes. Right. Is that right? (and this "conversation" with myself takes five minutes, not five seconds, as my brain locks up and tries to budge itself again).

None of that bothers me. Now (because I'm so old and wise) I love it. I love picking the project and the yarn (this can take all day), watching the yarn get wound before I begin. I love that clicking of the wooden needles, and how the rhythm feels fluid and smooth, how the fabric comes off all drapey and beautiful, how it starts to become something  from nothing, how that's still a mystery to me, one I don't think I'll ever really solve. I even love how long it takes, how many thousands of stitches you have to do. How many chances you have, over and over, to get it right.

233 comments

Your beautiful granny square 'sunshine' day quilt has really pushed me to want to learn. I've been seeing granny squares like crazy since your post!

We'll see if I can do it!
Oh.. and be sure to stop by inspiredbycharm.blogspot.com today.
I'm giving away some yummy chocolates, cutes nests and colorful eggs!

As always, wonderful post! I, too, tried to learn to knit and was frustrated beyond belief. I crochet and I find that knitting is so different and not something I can wrap my head around. But perhaps, I should give it another chance. Thank you for the inspiration.

*hugs* love this post!

What a lovely post. It is so interesting to read how people "find" their crafts.
Thoroughly enjoyed Your Life in Knitting x

As well as sharing your knitting story, which was full of warmth and things of interest; thank you for the beautifully crafted way you told it. It was an absolute pleasure to read.

I so enjoy your reliving your past....you tell wonderful stories. I wish you could tell more of them. That is my favorite part of your blog. I've gone back to reread any "life" story you've told and I'm glued to my computer. Maybe you should write a book of some kind (not a craft one). You certainly have a way of "hooking" me (and I'm sure others) in.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that not only are you talented in the craft/cooking department, but I truly believe writing stories is your best gift!!!!!!

I love your story posts. So very much.

The first thing I also thought when you said Heather was 70 was "no way! Heathers are always in their thirties."

What a great story!! I so enjoyed reading it. :)
Vivienne x

Lovely! I have tried to learn how to know 4 different times in my life. You actually want me to try a 5th time. After the last debacle, I didn't think that was possible.

I love that you learned from a woman in her 70s. I learned by watching my Grandmother...I remember her knitting as I sat on her lap. She said she knit to pass the time in the evenings when my Grandfather would work late. My favorite memory was when I asked her to knit me a sweather from the 1972 issue of Seventeen so I could wear it during my freshman year of college. She knit that sweater in less than a month! Although I have knit for years, I never have had the nerve to take the stitches off the needles, rip back and fix the mistake...until this past Sept. I knit a blanket for my nephew and his wife for their wedding and I messed up the lace pattern. I had little time, so I ripped and it went back on the needles without a problem. Enjoy your knitting!

I love this story! You are a very gifted storyteller; I read several blogs and always truly enjoy reading yours. After several years of procrastination (on my part) my oldest daughter taught me to knit last January. Knitting always looked so relaxing when done by her and my friends. However, when I took up the needles, my hands, arms and even feet and legs would get all tense; I thought knitting was supposed to be relaxing! Over this past year, it has become more relaxing for me, and I've even managed to figure how to fix some of my mistakes. I, too, love the knitting process--you take sticks and string and make something beautiful! If you make a mistake, simply pull it apart and you can start anew. In no other "craft" can that be accomplished--quilting, sewing, woodworking, etc. Thanks again for the wonderful tale to start the week.

Yeah, I don't quite get knitting either. My scarves are always lovely, wavy rivers of color (but not on purpose). My grandmother knit and crochet (and smocked)equally well--it drove her nuts that I couldn't see what to count. But I can crochet real things. Maybe someday I will love knitting the way you do, but for now, I'm crocheting a long vest. Thanks for the lovely post. We love your dog--ours is a chubby, corgi mix with something, and oh so sweet.

What a great story! I love to knit, too, just for me or to give away, not to sell. Your Baby Surprise Jacket is going to be lovely with those colors!

Your posts about old friends and family from way back when are my absolute favorite, Alicia. I needed a sweet little pick-me-up this morning, and your post fit the bill perfectly!

Thank you,
J

I LOVE this post! I tried to take up knitting several years ago b/c everyone told me it would help to relieve stress. Riiight. My teacher would yell and several times grabbed my hands and told be to quit shaking and being nervous. No matter how many times I told her that my hands shake anyway (thanks dad's genes!), she would still be frustrated with me. I never went back to my second class, but my mom would help me a little when we saw each other. The last time I picked up the needles was when I was unemployed and the World Cup was on all day. That was 4 years ago and I never finished the project, but I've been getting the itch to start again AND since the World Cup is coming up again this summer... :)

Great post - I, too, am totally mystified by the mechanics of knitting (so glad I was not asked to 'invent' this craft form - we'd all be wearing dead animal skins). It is the most fulfilling art.

I agree with bonniezo...you should write a book. I have always enjoyed your stories! I learned to knit when I was 14, the class was at a Sears. We learned to make houseshoe/slipper kinda things. That's pretty much all I made, until I was 20 and expecting my first child. I decided to knit a baby bunting with a bonnet. The sleeves are twice as long as they should be, so I rolled them up! Each of my 3 children wore it home from the hospital! Still have it. But have never been brave enough to try anything that complicated again!

Thanks for the story!

lovely to find that someone else does not particularly find knitting relaxing...my dear sister-in-law can knit with her eyes closed and do so beautifully. i always describe myself knitting as sitting so tensely with the needles held up close to my face....when (if) i finish, i have a very sore neck to prove it! thanks...sharon at farmandfrufru.blogspot.com

I love your stories, so much. It's like devouring a great novel of some sorts. I hope someday you write a book, oh please. :) I came from a crochet family, and I tried many times to teach myself knitting. I can make a pretty good dishcloth, but that's it!

Smiles,
Teresa

What a lovely story, and you've inspired me yet again... I learned to knit when I was a little girl, taught by my mum and grandma, I love it and the process all seems natural to me now, quite the opposite to your experience... but I've never been able to crochet despite many tries! Your blanket pattern has inspired me to have one more go at it so I took the pattern with me to my mums at the weekend and off we went! Its very frustrating to not be able to do it, to feel like I need an extra hand to keep the tension right and I keep wrapping the wool the wrong way... but I'll stick at it :)

Thank you for sharing your story

You post today really touched me; and, I so understand what you mean about knitting. I'm left-handed / dyslexic which made learning to knit a hard-fought battle for me. My first attemp was in college, second was in my 30's -- the third time, in a knitting class at my church. At that knitting class everything finally 'clicked' and I like to believe the combination of a very patient teacher and a Supreme Being were the reason. Knitting is something I do for me - it feeds my spirit like no other craft. And, even though I make many things for family & friends -- the reason I knit is really for me and the calm & order it brings to my day. Thank you so much for sharing your 'knitting story' with your readers.
P.S. Love you blog

What a great post. It's been quite the journey! I'm so glad you've overcome the challenges to the point that you have found such profound enjoyment. This is a wonderful thing. Thanks so much for sharing.

Andrea

I remember asking over and over again, as a child, for my mom to teach me how to knit. She taught me so many other crafts, but for some reason, this one never happened. I tried a few times after moving away, but just couldn't get it. I could only make a misshapen mess. Finally, as a grad student, I met some friends who invited me to a knitting group. The timing and everything must have been right, because now, eight years later, I make a living as a knitting designer. Crazy old life, eh?

Great story! I came by any "crafty" pursuits on my own also. Thank goodness for YouTube videos and my knitting group!

We have a saying in our knitting group, "if you can't see the mistake from the back of a galloping horse, don't worry about it!"

Did Amanda's Baby Surprise Jacket inspire you as it did me?? Love your beautiful colors. One day I might be brave enough to try that pattern too.

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My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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