August 29, 2012

Knitta Hata!

Picture: my Blue Bird embroidery project from
1st and 2nd grade, and one of two matching
cutie sheep wall hangings done much later.
Some time ago, I was at a party at a friend's house. I was actually separated from this friend by one more degree: it was really a friend of a friend's house. I didn't know most of the guests at this party and of the guests I was acquainted with, I was not really very acquainted.

Great start, I know.

The party was in a very up and coming, very hip, part of southeast Portland. There were increasing numbers of tidy Tudors and Portland foursquares coming back to life in a massive--and beautiful--rejuvenating effort.

The neighbors (and consequently, many of the guests) were hip to match. Many educated, socially aware and, let's face it: too cool for school people were at this party. Of course, this also means that many of them were clever--be it contrived cleverness or not--and that made for great conversation and usually lots of laughs.

For the most part, I am one of those semi-chameleonic folks who really has no bones to pick with anyone and I can have a great time anywhere. I enjoy meeting all sorts of people and always love to hear what new acquaintances might have to say; after all, what's wrong with learning new things?

The flip side of my "love to learn" coin, is that I also love to share. I love to tell others about new things that I have learned so much, that I have made an art (and a personality flaw) out of turning any conversation into one about myself or my own learnings. I don't mean to do it, but it is hard to contain my excitement about awesome new information. I am very aware of this annoying feature of my character repertoire and try pretty hard to keep it at bay, though I am not always successful.

Back at the time of this party, I had not been an official knitter for long. In fact, it was a New Year's Eve party, which means that I had only been knitting for about 7 weeks--since the second week of that November. This was very exciting to me and I wanted to share my newly found, magical fiber discovery with anyone who would listen.

As we drove down the street to the gathering, I tried to remember that, even though knitting may be almost cult-like to many of us, declaring you are a knitter to certain others may conjure up visions of the Amish or the 50's. And unless those latter people enjoy Mad Men or Pennsylvania, well, they may just not be interested in what you have to say. My social faux pas radar was up--or so I thought--and I was ready to dive into conversation as my husband and I stepped into the soiree that icy December night.

As we passed through the solid wood, hand-carved front door with its tiny square peephole complete with tiny, scrolled, wrought iron bars, I began to have a look around. There was laughter, conversation and food. Someone put a glass of Merlot in my hand. There were folks standing around the now-hip-but-formerly-antiquated old fireplace, with it's graceful Art Deco arch. Some people were standing in the kitchen near the vast wine selection, while others were seated on the trendy, sparsely stuffed, wood framed furniture. And they were all wearing sweaters.

I gripped the slender stem of my delicate wine glass, remembering the ones that were on my wedding registry--that cost $12 a piece. These were much nicer than those. I loosened my grip and instead put my energy into controlling my Chatty Cathy nature. Purposefully, I strode to the food table to stuff my mouth so it could make less noise.

After several minutes, I believed that I was okay. My husband and I had meshed into the larger group. To the onlooker, I had no undue excitement in me; no one would even have known that I was a knitter. Since I was really new to the art of knitting, I didn't even have a headband to signify my status. I was in stealth mode.

An hour passed, we had more wine, relaxed further and were all just having a great time. I was getting to know some of my acquaintances a bit better and we were all laughing and eating...everything was fine.  I had almost forgotten my earlier concerns. Then a group of three women came my way. Most people there were new and emerging friends of mine, but these ladies were strangers.

Two of them were very friendly and introduced themselves as a friend of yet another friend who was also in attendance (don't worry, I couldn't follow it, either). They were pleasant and we jumped right into a conversation about their hometowns and how they used to live in Portland, but no longer do, etc. It was normal, tangential conversation that happens when people meet as they search for ways to connect.

I kept looking at the third woman in the group. She was distracting. She just stood there, too quietly, with her drink in her hand. She looked sullen. She stared out from under a shock of short, frosted hair (Yes, I went there. To 1975.) with starkly contrasting browns and blondes, at others, at me. She didn't speak. Maybe she was trying to shoot lasers at us with her eyes.

She reminded me of one of those women (or men) who, upon reaching 45, had never quite achieved the life she had hoped that enough time would simply bring. And, after many years had actually passed, she had realized that time alone would not change her life. Men in these scenarios stereotypically might buy a sportscar, but women in these scenarios sometimes just become bitter toward other women.

The bitter looking, fortysomething woman had a sweater on, like so many others in the room. It was a store bought, short sleeved, oversized knitted lace top. For some reason, there was something about it that just said, "I couldn't find anything else that fit me tonight and I wore this because it was the loosest thing I had."

In spite of these peculiar warning signs, I couldn't stand her silence anymore. It was too uncomfortable and she was making me really nervous. I had to act. I shot out my hand at a sort of inappropriate moment during someone else's sentence.

"Hi, I'm Janelle." I smiled the most genuine, friendly smile I could muster. Maybe I was wrong about her. After all, people have bad days. Or years.

She smiled back. It was hollow, void. Thin. "Hi, I'm Jane." Her hand was clammy. And limp.

Her two friends jumped right in for her. "Jane still lives here in Portland. We have been friends for, oh, about 30 years!" The two friends laughed heartily, as though all their memories from childhood had flooded back anew with the statement. They looked knowingly at each other, the way old friends do. Jane forced a chuckle, dry and unconvinced.

I took this as a challenge. Here we were at a fun party, it was New Year's Even and this woman had just been reunited with her old girlfriends. What was up? Did one of them steal a high school boyfriend of hers and now she was still mad? Or mad afresh?

I launched into several questions. Where did she live? Go to high school? I told her where I went and that my parents still lived nearby in my childhood home. Did she have kids? No? A cat? A boyfriend? I got a little information about her divorce several years ago, no kids, thank you, just a job.

"Where do you work?" I asked innocently.

"At this shop in Beaverton. We sell cross-stitch supplies exclusively."

I could feel my excitement suppression lifting--like when your Advil wears off and you feel your headache returning because you forgot to take your ibuprofen on time. When was the last time I stuffed food in my mouth? 

I thought this briefly, but I couldn't stand the enthusiasm rising in my body. I had been a sewer, cross-stitcher and embroiderer for all of my life. Not seriously, but I enjoyed those activities. I had not met someone else who knew about cross-stitch for a long time, let alone someone who worked in a whole store of it! Who even knew that existed?!

"You are kidding!" I said, "What is the store? Where is it? I must check it out!"

She told me briefly--only the necessary information, it seemed--what I wanted to know, gave me brief directions and went back to staring. Was she even drinking that drink in her hand?

I dismissed the last thought and went on. After all, maybe my good feelings were enough for the both of us. Maybe I could bring her up a little. I was starting to feel a kind of sorry for her.

I ranted on. "You know, I never meet people who know about cross-stitch. I used to do a lot more of it, but lately I have been doing a lot of knitting! I love it!" That was it. The flood gate had opened. On the worst possible person in the room.

My favorite one. This admittedly took over a year to do, but it
has a nice mat and mahogany frame and will forever hang in
my kitchen!
I went on and on. And on. About how neat all the yarns were and the patterns and all the great stuff on Ravelry and the internet. I told her what I was making for my baby girl and how much fun all the learning had been.

If it were possible, she stiffened even more. Her body had been rising during my rant. Had I been paying attention to her body language, she might have seemed like a 10 foot tall and angry troll by now. Dark storm clouds could have been imagined gathering around her frosty hair, casting shadows and light like white and black clouds mixing up in an impending storm.

I was oblivious.

It was like she was waiting for me to be done. On purpose. Like she was using all my energy to gather her own, looking for a reason to be angrier than she clearly already was.

Upon my taking a pause mid story while talking about a new knitting shop in Portland called Twisted (new to me at the time), she struck.

"We HATE knitters!!"

I stopped, surprised. "WE?" Why would trolls hate knitters?

She went on, "At work, we are always, always talking about knitters and how they are always stealing away all the cross-stitchers! Then, once they get a taste of knitting, they always leave us!! They all say that knitting is faster!" She punctuated that last word with a bitter, drippy tone of slimy sarcasm. Then decided she would put the final touch on it all, repeating, "We HATE knitters!"

Stunned, I stared. She stared back. Her friends had abandoned her during the curious tirade. She and I were left. Standing in a tunnel. A tunnel of blackness. I thought I heard Deatheaters screaming in the distance.

She now towered over me. She was only about an inch taller, but somehow she was glaring down at me over her straight, pointy nose, and the hate was sliding off of it rapidly and onto me.

Hate. Strong word, I thought. Isn't hate one of those words reserved for only very special persons? I mean, for those enemies who you have known for years. Those people who you have fostered an extreme distaste for, slowly convincing yourself that they never have your best interest in mind, that their every deed is a misdeed, intended to slight you. That sort of animosity is very rare and can only come with the very careful crafting of those evil feelings, then linking them together bit by bit, and yard by yard until they become a tangled chain; such a complex entity in their own right that they are alive and begin to control the builder.

Apparently this woman had thought that all out. Carefully.

Knitters, as a group, were thieves, kidnappers even, perhaps even stealing away cross-stitchers in the night! Maybe even from the comfort of their own beds, only to leave their samplers behind them. Knitters were then outfitting these abductees with weapons, needles of a different sort. Needles, medieval and made of wood and steel--in her eyes to resist the existing and dying regime.

Yes, knitters were heading a resistance and committing guerrilla warfare to do so.  In her view, knitters thought of themselves as freedom fighters, deceiving the innocent cross-stitchers into thinking that they could have a better time--and a faster one--creating items not only for show but to wear and to keep their grandchildren warm in the winter.

And I had apparently converted to be a part of this evil group.

Of course, this is all silly. Perhaps in this woman's own little world, she really felt this way. I am not sure if her business was struggling, if her living was in danger or if she was just displacing her anger onto me from another source.

I do know this: I still love cross-stitch. It is a beautiful art and I have several pieces in my mental queue, alongside my knitting and sewing projects. And I love it on Antiques Roadshow when you see things like embroidery samplers from 8-year-old school girls from many, many years ago that are beyond the pale in intricacy and perfect detail. It strikes awe into one's soul to think what people can accomplish when they turn off the computer and television (after checking out Youtube for instructions, of course!). I wish I could have told this woman those things and that just because I had started knitting did not mean I would forsake my stitchery forever.

Alas, in those situations, one cannot say much of anything. We have to let it go. As for the angry woman, no skin off my nose. I have never seen her again. And though I would still like to go to her shop, I have been afraid to encounter her.

One thing is for sure: we are all crafters, no matter what our art. And I know that almost all of us admire one another and really enjoy learning from each other, even oftentimes crossing over our skills or learning new ones.

As my teenage boys say, "Don't be a hater!" And really, almost all of us are not. Aren't you glad? Like my friend Robyn has said when adults behave this way, "How old are we again?"

Happy cross-stitch, knitting, crocheting, embroidering, sewing....even shell art-ing to all of you! Keep our world creative--in every possible way!

Done for my daughter, Jo. I have a matching one for one of my boys.

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