April 19, 2011

How To Knit*

 *The following story may be applied to knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, differential calculus, car repair and those folks making their very first lasagna. Read on...

You know how it starts. Usually, it is a friend or new acquaintance who strikes that spark inside you. Maybe your scenario looks like this: You notice one day that they are knitting; you become curious.

Certainly, there have been other occasions when your curiosity is piqued as you observe someone knitting, but this day is different.  On any other day, in any other moment, you might ask to see what they are making and complement it sincerely, saying something like, “That is so beautiful!” But on this day, in this moment, you say instead—internally, or even out loud—I wonder if I could do that….

And so it begins.

You quietly ponder these new thoughts, not even realizing how they are starting to root, to branch into your psyche.

You go home and begin looking through your kitchen drawer coupon file, wondering if that craft store coupon is still in there, hoping it is not expired. As you rifle, tossing aside old ads and pizza fliers, you wonder to yourself, how hard can it be? I have seen so many people knitting…and—dare you even think it?—if so-and-so (insert the name of someone you momentarily, sinfully, imagine yourself to be superior to here) can do it, then surely, so can I.

You sit down with your coupon and computer after your kids are in bed that evening, seeking out new information, new knowledge, new sales that will help you figure out this mystery of knitting. You peruse YouTube videos, online yarn shops, various sites that claim to be of help to new knitters.  There are acronyms like CO and LYS. There are new, strange terms like “gauge” and “frogging.” You wonder if some of them aren’t Latin. Your mind starts to spin a little. The world of crafting suddenly seems to open into layers and layers, spreading out before you into a vast, three-dimensional maze.

After about an hour of rough—in all senses of the word—research, you determine that the best way to get started is to head to the craft store—the big, beige suburban box that anchors the strip mall nearest you. The Internet information was getting really hard to follow, you admit to yourself, and you want to begin in a place already comfortable to you. Since you bought little Suzie’s birthday decorations there, you’ll give it a whirl first. The staff there was nice enough, too. They will be a better help. You decide as you drift off to sleep that night: You will head to the craft store the next day…maybe after work or while the kids are at practice.

Sure. You can work this into your life. It’s going to be fun.

At work all the next day, strange new thoughts trickle, then thinly stream into your head. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make your own clothes? Your own sweaters and hats? How about for the kids? Surely, something you could make would be of a higher quality and sentimental value that the clearance Power Ranger winter hat you bought little Johnny for next year—you suddenly remember that he would be entering junior high next fall. You think that maybe that purchase was no good for several reasons, but then return to your daydream. What if, you wonder, the future things you make will be handed down through generations?

You imagine your family decked out in new things made with lovely yarn and lovingly crafted stitches—all from your very own heart and hands. What if we had a family photo together wearing things that I made?  That would be nice, you tell yourself. The thin stream of imagination is becoming something of a babbling brook. Someone passing your desk says, “Sorry? What was that?”

You didn’t realize you said it out loud. “Oh, nothing.” You smile and the person walks on. The work sort of piles up on your desk that day as you sneak peeks at the computer or jot down ideas for family wardrobes. After hours of this, it’s finally 5pm! You get up a little too quickly and hurry to leave.

You decide to head to the store before returning home. You figure you have about 30 minutes to get what you need and be home in time to make dinner. It takes you 10 minutes to get to the store and you look for a parking spot.

You have to park out in the rain about 50 spaces north of the store entrance because everyone else also thought quickly stopping by the craft store after work was a good idea. You join a throng of several other women, running in heels from their cars to the door and the light and warmth inside.

There is a slight crowding at the automatic sliding door and you are still smiling to yourself as someone more competitive than you takes the last dry shopping cart, not even acknowledging your presence as she shoves you a little. Slightly irritating, maybe, but what is that to a priceless family photo that will last for generations?

No, you will remain emotionally unmoved. You head into the store with one of the carts speckled with water droplets. You use the sleeve of your Columbia Sportswear jacket to dry the handle of the cart. The fleece only smears the water, which is now evenly distributed across the entire handle.

As you walk to the back of the store where you can clearly see the “Needlework” sign on the ceiling, you periodically shake off your hands. They are getting cold, but not for long.

Before you know it, you are standing before rows and rows, towers and towers of colorful yarns in an astonishing array of texture and color. Where to start? You stare in respectful awe for a few minutes while other people mill around you, trying to steer clear of you—sort of. After the second nip in the heel with a shopping cart, you are jolted momentarily from your stun and realize that you need to buy something. You look at your watch. You get to work.

There are signs dotting the wall of Technicolor monolithic towers. They say things like, “Classic Wool” and “4/$5” and “Fun Yarn! 2/$5.” Where to start? Online you saw several books that looked like good beginning books, or you thought you remembered it that way. What were those titles, again? Was that Barnes & Noble or that Knit Picks site?

You look behind you and find an aisle exclusively filled with books. So many books—so much information! Surely there will be answers here. If you need ingredients for a recipe, you consult the cookbook, right? This definitely will be the place to start. How different can it be?

You rifle through the flimsy white wire magazine style racks. The prices and titles on the racks don’t seem to match with the books in the slots. There doesn’t seem to be a designated location for just knitting. You see one woman handing her whining toddler a book with animals on the front to console her while the mother shops. You see her putting another book back in the same slot—was that the first one the toddler had been chewing on a second before and dropped on the floor? Note to self: Don’t touch that one—no matter what it is.

Checking your watch, you realize that you are down to about 5 minutes in the store. You speed up your search, trying to speed read titles from left to right, then right to left, row by row until your eyes rest on one that looks like the basics—some title like “Learn to Knit.” You pick it up—wait, is it wet? Whatever. It has a few scarf patterns and what it calls some “basic” sweaters. You flip through the beginning. It has several pages that seem to outline some basic things with diagrams—that works for you just fine.

You quickly choose a sweater pattern from the book—who wants just a scarf? If you’re going to invest in this, it may as well be worth your time. You hastily go to the yarn wall, pick out a few skeins of your favorite color, green, and a pair of value-priced needles hanging on a clip strip in front of the glorious yarn wall. That’s what people use, right? You decide you’ll make do.

As you drive home with your tiny treasure kit, surely destined to produce many an heirloom, you pick up a quick take-out dinner for your husband and kids.

This is gonna be great, you tell yourself. You’re off the next day. What perfect timing. You begin to plan your day—a day of knitting.

It is a weekday and you cheerfully rise early, get showered and dressed. You make your kids a hot breakfast in anticipation of your goddess-like day of domesticity. They don’t notice this, take two bites of their pancakes and eggs, leave the rest and head out the door for the bus, quarreling over who is supposed to bring the trash can in later on.

You wave to them blissfully.

Back inside, you look at the clock. 8am. Great! You have all those dishes to do, but you are okay with that. It has to be done anyway and you have always worked around those things before.

You make yourself a new pot of coffee and, since you are already wearing your coziest sweats and sweater (just to get further in the knitting mood) you are free to push the start button on the dishwasher and settle in to a cozy chair with your two needles and lovely green yarn.

The dishwasher hums and the aroma of freshly ground, freshly made coffee wafts through the house. You cleaned it last night and your mind is clear.

Once you are nestled in your favorite family room spot, you open your book. For a moment, it doesn’t seem so simple as it did in the store. Hmmm….oh! Of course, you find it: the pattern. It says things like needle size, gauge…“materials!” There it is. Why couldn’t you see it last night? You read on.

The pattern calls for size 8 and 10 circular and straight needles. Are yours circular? You pick up the pink plastic needles from the dangling yarn bin strip. They don’t look circular. You look back at the pattern. It also says something about bulky weight yarn. You look at your yarn. It seems pretty bulky. It looks bigger than the yarn on your light, summer weight cardigan you are wearing. You compare the two. You examine the lovely green yarn from the store. There are all sorts of mysterious markings on the paper.

There’s a crisscross of—what, needles?—in a square and something about rows and stitches and yards…you find the word “worsted” on the label. Maybe the Internet maze is what you need. You sigh.

It is now 9am.

You search the Internet for a few words: “worsted,” then “bulky,” then “circular needles.” You check out images on the needles. You realize after about an hour more that your needles are straight and too small. You also only purchased one pair and the pattern calls for two. You had also better find bulky yarn—wouldn’t want to ruin your first effort. Anyway, you will probably use the things you already have later on. No reason to return them, at least.

Ok, one more quick trip to the store.

You put on your UGGs and head out to the car in sweats and your sweater. In your hurry, you believe that there is no reason to grab a coat. The sun is out, it’s April, and heck, you’re just getting into a heated car.

Turning the key in the ignition, you begin to feel the cold from the vinyl seeping into your pants. The car was outside last night—what was it, 40 degrees? You flip on the heater, which finally warms up by the time you hit the craft store parking lot. You can see your breath as you jog lightly to the door of the building and you are glad to get inside.

You forgot your book.

Going to the book rack again, there is not another one like the one you purchased the night before, so you pick up a similar one. No hurry this time, so you carefully look through it. You now know how to find the “materials” section in the patterns. Ok….let’s see. One pair size 6 needles, 175 yards of sport weight yarn. It must be similar to what you have, so you get someone to point you in the direction of the circular needles and yarn, and this time you buy exactly what the pattern calls for. You think.

Smiling as you leave the store 45 minutes later, you get into your now freshly chilled car (why did you park in the shade?), endure the cold vinyl through your sweats and begin the drive home.

Your hands have not really warmed up since you left the house. Seeing a Starbucks with a drive through off to your right, you change lanes and pull in. An Americano is just the thing for stiff, cold hands preparing for a knitting lesson. As you leave the drive through with a cozy coffee in your hands, you notice the heater is working and you bask in the warmth that is finally flowing from the floor, into your slippers and through your sweats.

Renewed, you enter your house, new bag of goodies in hand. What is that smell? The coffee pot! You left it on. You only made four cups. As you drop the bag and run to the coffee pot, you see that the water is nearly gone and there is a crystallized brown residue forming in the bottom of the carafe. It’s too hot to rinse out—that would break the glass. So, enduring the smell, you leave it on the stove top and turn on the hood fan over the stove.

The time is now 1:30pm.

A little annoyed with yourself, you open a window and a little cold breeze wafts through the kitchen and family room. You button up your sweater, pick up the new bag of goodies and the Americano that is now almost to cool to drink. Then you head to your chair and attempt to salvage those good feelings from earlier this morning.

You sit down and remember that there is laundry in the washer—delicates no less! Attempting to avoid indelible wrinkles in your silk work shirts, you jettison up the stairs three at a time. You get them out, hang some, flatten some to dry on a towel on top of the washer and head back downstairs.

The phone rings.

The time is now 1:45.

Ignoring the phone, you are determined to sit down and knit. You firmly plant yourself in your cozy chair. Picking up the original book and the new supplies, you look once more at the materials and the sweater pattern, more dear to you now than ever.

Wrong needles, wrong yarn.

You jump up, forgetting your slippers. Running to the car, you are glad that at the least it is still warm. You hit the store hard this time. You sprint through the parking lot to the doors. The sliding doors are almost closed and you feel a sense of urgency like never before.

This time, you are the woman shoving other customers. The elderly lady you nudge out of the way mutters to her companion, “Where are her shoes?”

You don’t hear them. Your eyes are wild as you approach the supplies. If you open them widely enough, maybe you can take in more of the merchandise at once, saving time.

You forgot the book. Again.

The second book you looked through is still there. Not even looking through it a second time, you buy it.

You run to the checkout stands, pay and run out the door to your car.

Speeding past Starbucks this time, you wish you had brought your coffee. The time is 2:30pm.

Entering your neighborhood a little too fast, you hope it isn’t too late to start knitting before your kids get home. What day was it, again? Distracted, single minded in your mission, you dismiss this thought. People who are driven get more done in less time, you tell yourself.

The car gives a little screech as your bare foot struggles to reach the brake properly. Luckily, you don’t hit the garage.

Barely remembering the keys, you run for the door, head inside, pass the now ice cold Starbucks on the entry table and hit your spot.

Where is the pattern…where is it where is it…you mutter as you find the page. There is a lovely photo of a simple cardigan on the right side and materials on the left…for the scarf on the previous page. A “Garter Stitch Scarf.”

“It’s April!” You say aloud, nearly shouting, “Why the hell would I want a scarf in spring? What—am I supposed to wear it to church on Easter????” You realize you are standing.

You gather your composure. You get the computer, just in case. How can it hurt now?

You sit down—a little too hard—and get out the most recently purchased needles and yarn. You re-read the materials. The needles say size 6. Just 6. Not circular. Crap! Are you serious? You yank out the plethora of knitting gear you have purchased so far from its multiple bags. There, in the very first bag, is one pair of size 6 needles. Those pink ones from the dangling strip. Trying to salvage any imagined fun that was supposed to happen on this day, you breathe, you sigh. Ok…where was that book….

In the front of the book, you find some seemingly helpful diagrams and instructions on how to get started.

It suggests YouTube for a how-to-cast-on-video. You give in.

With the laptop on your knees, and your toes pointed on the floor to raise the screen just a bit, you watch the video, rewind it, watch it again and again and again. Where are they holding their fingers?

You get out your yarn and try it along with the video. The yarn slides off the needles onto the floor as the calm woman’s voice is saying, “Now that you have cast on your 8 stitches, let’s move on to knit stitch.” It pauses and directs you to the next video. It stares at you. You stare back. You drop one of the needles to the floor.

Who do you know? Anyone you can call? Depending on the age of your chosen friend—listed here in descending order—you call Opal, Mable, Ruth, Judy, Sharon, Jennifer, Ashley, Courtney or Brittany. You just need someone you can use—er—get some help from.

This kindhearted superknitter woman, whoever she is, tries to help you over the phone—to no avail. “Can we get together this weekend?” she finally says after hearing you stumbling and muttering as your try to follow her directions over the phone. Trying not to sound like lunacy personified, you hold it together, “Sure,” you manage.

What time is it, anyway?

All you know about time is that it is running out. The sweater idea long gone, you go over and over and over the cast on video, trying to do it over and over and over again. You are still talking to yourself, repeating the instructions again and again with the narrator on the video.

You feel as if you are underwater, your eyes surely are bleary and red by now and you have chewed off most of the nails on your left hand in concentration. Your thoughts are all consuming, and the woman in the video drones on and on. You think you hear your own thoughts audibly. Voices. How is this happening? Have you really sunk this far? What are they saying? You focus harder on the screen, leaning in closer to it. Maybe you can make it out….

Suddenly, something touches your shoulder. You jump. You swear. You turn to see you husband and two kids looking at you.


Still staring, you make no answer.

“Uh…we tried to call you a while back to say we were going out to dinner with Johnny’s soccer team. It’s 9 o’clock.”

Still staring. Who are these people?

“Mom,” Suzie speaks up, “We thought you would like to eat out with us. What are you doing?”

They look at each other.

You look down. You have coffee stains on your sweater, which is buttoned crookedly, and the side with the buttons is sticking up, brushing your chin. As you have been muttering, looking down, it has created a sort of rug burn. You finally feel the pain.

There are piles of yarn, cut, tangled, whole skeins scattered around the family room. Plastic shopping bags are all around you.

“Honey? Why was the front door open?” Your husband motions to the door.

Flash forward 5 years…

Having long ago avoided formal institutionalization, things are better. Those distant memories are dimmer all the time.

Today you are sitting on a park bench in April! What better place to be on a sunny, warm early spring day? You have made a lunchtime habit of coming out here with your knitting. It’s all so relaxing. Today, you brought a pair of socks with you and they are coming along nicely.  It’s your third pair and they have become your favorite thing to make.

In your peripheral vision, you see someone approaching from the right. You look over. It’s a young woman. She comes right up to you and sits down. You smile at her with deep wisdom that can only come out of great difficulty.

With a familiar light in her eyes, she says, “What are you making?”

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