April 6, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Dental Office: From Solitary to Solidarity

Let’s talk about the power of knitting. The greater event, International Yarn Bombing Day (and let’s not forget the simultaneous Knitting in Public Day) brings people together, yes—but as those of you who knit know, it is not exclusively the event per se that is the cause of the solidarity. No, there is something inherent in the art of needlework that seems to do it. I have witnessed this time and again already in my short time so far as a knitter.

In 2008, I graduated from college with a degree in dental hygiene. A few months later, my license came in the mail and I was anxious to go to work. After working for a little while in temporary positions, I went to work in a permanent, full-time one at an office close to my home where there were great people.

They made me feel incredibly welcome, and we all became fast friends. That November, I began knitting. I was bringing projects to work with me, talking about how much I was enjoying it. At first, the other 11 women in my office thought my new hobby was really great for me—just me. But slowly, something none of us could have foreseen was happening. The people around me became curious.

At first my friends would say, “That is so cool!” when I would bring in a baby blanket in simple garter stitch. But after a while, the comments turned into, “How do you do that?” Then, “I used to knit years ago…” as they gazed in nostalgia at my sloppy beginner’s work, which was riddled with errors.

It wasn’t long before people began to act. One gal, we’ll call her Sally—who had apparently been holding back—finally revealed that she had been knitting since she was a small child and has knitted ever since. Now there were two.

Then one day Susie (also not her real name) announced that she was going to the craft store and had a coupon. She asked Sally and me what materials she should buy if she wanted to learn how to knit. The next day, Susie appeared at work with bamboo needles and some acrylic yarn. Susie was a quick learner and soon was cranking out scarves like she was working in a high-production factory. Now Susie, Sally and I were becoming even closer friends. And we couldn’t contain our excitement about knitting, either.

We giggled at work, talked hurriedly about our projects when we had time and began keeping little knitting project bags in our rooms at work, just in case. After that, it spread like wildfire (I like to call it a “staff infection”). One by one, almost the entire staff was knitting or trying to learn. We decided that we should form a club. We began casually meeting on our days off, going out to lunch and learning from each other. Some of us started taking classes, joining the Raverly website and buying books. We took “field trips” to local yarn shops, oohing and aahing over the beautiful yarns and patterns we would find.

Before we knew it, our club had regular meetings on Wednesday mornings and Friday nights once a month with alternating days. We are currently planning a trip to the Oregon Convention Center for Sock Summit. One of the girls in our club owns a sports shop that also does monogramming and is getting us matching T-shirts to wear.

The art and excitement of knitting has been just too much to contain—it is bigger than us. We recently began assembling a basket for our office waiting room, complete with needles, yarn and instructions on knitting, just in case anyone would like to give it a whirl.

Patients come in to see us, hear us talking about our favorite hobby and begin sharing their experiences with us. They return to their next appointments, projects in hand. They often come early to visit or stop by to drop off patterns to us they like. Many of them have also joined our club.

As the months and now the past two and a half years have passed, we all have gained such special friends. We have learned so much about knitting—and about each other—from this common thread of interest. Just because of two sticks and a string.

What is this magic? Do we innately feel our ancestors, those amazing people who figured out how to weave fibers together reaching through the years to us? Do we collectively wish to carry on this fine tradition through some strange evolutionary process? What compels us? Some examples are easier to figure out. Take wartime knitting for example.

During WWI and WWII, the people of the United States were asked to band together—there apparently were not enough knitting machines—to knit socks and under-helmet head coverings for soldiers. People from all walks of life were knitting like crazy. At home and in public—churches, schools, absolutely anywhere in an act of helping one another.

It would be easy to say that those folks were knitting second, showing solidarity first. And in that case, it is most likely true. But I would wager that those same people went on to continue knitting, finding friends wherever they went, knitting first, finding community second, albeit in different settings than those of wartime.

In any case, the closeness knitters feel is a mystery to me. A wonderful mystery. I would encourage anyone who has not reached out to others in your craft to do so. You have no idea what you may find.

**Anyone curious to know more about knitting war efforts can click on the photo in the right column of this blog. It speaks more about Washington state specifically, but is still a very interesting read.

No comments: