December 15, 2011

22 Scarves

My father used to call me a "frustrated perfectionist." He would say this as he watched me practicing my piano lessons and trying so hard to make each piece right--no mistakes. I was motivated  by a desire to jump on to harder things. I thought that the harder pieces would sound better and more like "real" music than scales, arpeggios and simple tunes.

It is definitely hard as a beginner to hear others so much more practiced--so much more talented, maybe, too--than you are and know it is going to take a very long while to reach your lofty goals, if you ever do. So instead of playing where others will hear you, you keep your music to yourself, working on your own until such a time as you feel you might be "worthy" to be heard by others. In knitting, there is a similar feeling sometimes among beginners: they feel shy about their skills and don't feel worthy of knitting with more experienced people or giving knitted gifts.

We get down on ourselves. We do things like compare knitted retail items to what we could make, for example, and tell ourselves it isn't worth it to make an inferior product that will surely cost us more in yarn and time than the store bought knitwear. Maybe we also think about the things we are good at, and feel like knitting, too, should be at the level of our other talents before we share it. After all, only kids can get away with being beginners, right? Adult women and men should have learned those skills long ago, right? Wrong.

A friend of mine emailed me a story out of the December 2011 issue of Guideposts Magazine about this very thing.

In the very short story on page 16 of the issue, a woman tells of not only her novice knitting skills, but of how she has never really improved them. As she says, "I only know one stitch." "Know." Present tense. And I must assume she means garter stitch since there is no mention of others.

This woman wanted to make scarves for Christmas for 22 people. 22! That is daunting for anyone. I would have to start in spring to finish a goal like that by Christmas. She goes on to say that since she can only knit in "one stitch," she understands that there will be no variation in the scarves. They will all be garter.

Her idea was this: she very carefully considered every person on her list. Were they artistic? She bought them more avant garde colors, and bolder combinations than most might wear. One friend was a cook at a camp. Colors of veggies for her. Another was someone she admired for her insight and wisdom. That friend received a scarf reflecting those personal qualitied in jewel tones and richness of color.

This list of painstaking detail goes on 22 times. The knitter was poetic, insightful and showed that she really, truly knew her friends. It was not on her mind that the scarves would be the same, or people might feel like she "cheaped" out making a beginner's pattern. Rather, she poured her heart into every gift, and I see no way they could have been received with anything but astonished gratitude.

So to you knitters who feel you little or nothing to offer your family and friends (myself included in that), you are wrong. A little love and attention to detail can go a long way. A really long way.

Are you secretly asking yourself what this woman must have done with all the left over yarn?

She knitted herself a scarf, matching in stitch, with every single color she used for her friends. That way, every time she wears it, she thinks of each of them.

How's that for a Merry Christmas?

Want to create that feeling with your own friends? Here is a quick, loosely retold guide to a "friendship scarf," borrowwed from "Knit it Together" by Suzyn Jackson.

Gather several friends and be sure you have a nice block of time, say 3 hours.

Each person brings a new skein of yarn to the party in matching size/approx gauge. Bulky might be good for speed.

The yarn is to share and each participant uses their own needles.

Sit in a circle and begin knitting a scarf, any pattern, any width. Just keep in mind that you will want to have a scarf when you are done, so maybe not too complicated.

Begin with your own yarn and knit away (try garter!) until a signal occurs. This is agreed upon before the game begins--we have one gal who likes to mention her cats, for example, this might be a signal. When the signal occurs, cut your yarn and pass it to your left.

Do this until the alloted time has passed, then everyone has essentially the same scarf, but different, too!

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