January 26, 2010

Knitting Together

It never ceases to amaze me how something as simple and common as knitting can bring so many people together. Let me tell you about a very special project.

I met my boyfriend just over a year ago. We hit it off really well and we had tons in common. The dating turned into more and here we are, living together, parenting a small poodle, and weathering storms both literal and figurative (as I type it has been raining for the better part of 10 days).

When we met we shared a lot about ourselves as I think is usual. I told Keith about my weight loss, about my cranky dog, and about my knitting obsession. I even confessed to the plastic bag project which had taken over my life at the time.

Keith told me things about himself, and since they were shared with me and not this wide-open blog world, they will remain with me. Except one. He told me about his mother. She had passed away within the last year after a struggle with breast cancer. As you would expect, the story made me sad. What I didn’t expect was the way that sadness would change. 008

It went from a general sadness as the loss of another, to the concerned worry of a girlfriend wishing I could ease his pain, and recently to the very painful realization of what I have lost as well. Never getting to know her, to laugh together at silly childhood stories, the family history that only mother’s seem to know. The loss seems to grow bigger with every step, knowing that we have so far to go in our lives and each milestone will be missed by someone special.

I like when Keith talks about her, it lets me feel a little closer to someone I won’t get to know personally. It made me so happy to know that she was a knitter. It brought me an extra bit of closeness.

No one in my family knits. I am the lone carrier of this skill. Everyone always asks me how I learned to knit, and they wait expectantly for the story of how mother taught me. They seem a little puzzled and disappointed when I tell them I learned from the internet. I feel a little like that myself. But I don’t tell them the more complex version. My grandmother knit. Or I guess she must have at least learned. I never saw her knit. In fact, I never saw her do much in the way of anything crafty. She seemed to enjoy when my sister and I would be creative and encouraged us at every step – making messes, gardening, painting, etc. But I never saw her pick up a needle or a hook.

When my grandmother started to lose herself to dementia, I spent a great deal of time at her house, taking care of her, spending time, providing moral support for my mother. It was a rough time, but now seems very precious to me. I learned a lot about my grandmother, and even more about my mother and myself during that time.

One day while sorting through some things, we stumbled on my grandmother’s sewing basket, a disaster of thread and yarn and random things untouched in years. I pulled it out and went through it. I had just recently taught myself to knit, and I was eager to see what she had. I merged her collection of needles, stitch markers, and row counters with mine. In a strange twist, I knit her a small blankie out of old baby yarn; something soft to hold onto after she could no longer speak. So while she didn’t teach me, I still feel that my grandmother had a large part in my knitting. And I remember her every time I pick up her needles to knit something new.

This isn’t the sort of story you can cheerily volunteer when someone you just meet in line at the movie theater asks you how you learned to knit. It’s a bittersweet memory of loss and pain and love that I usually keep to myself.

So the stage was set for yet another way that knitting would bring people closer.

013 (2)Keith’s dad visited us last weekend as he sometimes does and we had a nice time cooking and eating and going out to eat (this is what dating a cook is like, you eat A LOT) and chatting. I could tell that Keith’s father was getting more comfortable around me. He’s an awkward man made more so by the lack of a woman to smooth things out for him, but he seemed genuinely at ease staying at our house on this last visit.

While we were all sitting on the couch, and I was (of course) knitting. He noticed and told me about a project that his wife had been working on before she passed away. He recounted how he had tried to get a family friend to finish it, how she had declined and brought it to yet another woman who also declined. He wondered if I would be up to the task of completing it.

I was a little shocked, but very honored that he had asked me. I agreed to take a look and see what I could do. He happened to have it in the car – a little puddle of bright blue on tiny needles and a cone of the same fine yarn tucked into a plastic bag. It was the start of a sweater for a close friend.

I nervously took it out and glanced at the pattern. Lord love her, she had copied the page from the book it was from and hi-lighted the stitch counts for the size she planned to make! It was like she had known. It only took a quick count and a little scrutiny to figure out where she had left off. I sighed in relief, I could do this. I could do this well.

There had been no pressure, but I felt the emotion behind the request. It was a moment when I realized I could do this seemingly small thing to aid in healing a much larger hurt.

Keith talks about his mom more and more (and like I said, I enjoy it). I feel like I know this woman a little, and I think it entirely in keeping with what I know that she has managed to bring me into a circle of her family and friends in this way. Knitting us together, if you will permit me the cheesy pun.

January 17, 2010

The Perfect Pattern

When last I wrote, I was in the middle of knitting a beautiful textured shawl. As is the norm for me, when a project it enjoyable, I tend to knit it quickly. I wish I could drag it out, make it last, but it never works. So the shawl was finished and though I could hardly stand the anticipation, I blocked it for a day.

It seems recently that I’ve been trying a whole bunch of techniques that I tried out as a new knitter several years ago and moved away from after the initial taste. I have felted recently, I have knit a shawl/wrap, and I have blocked. All things I tried out in my neophyte knitting days and found to be too complex. I think I felt that they weren’t worth the effort I had to put into them.

Well, I don’t know if I am just maturing as a knitter, or if I am getting bored or what, but I have enjoyed the recent diversity of projects. The blocking was frustrating because I don’t ever have a surface that works and I never seem to get it quite right with my stupid pins. I think I lucked out with the textured shawl, it just doesn’t require me to block the hell out of it. I don’t need a giant, blanket-sized thing to cover me. If I did, I would pick up one of my blanket WIPs and work on that. The shawl also doesn’t really have any lace, so that helped. My wimpy blocking did the trick, with a little cursing along the way.

I also used the Eucolan that Keith gave me for Christmas. Yes, you read that right. A man (and I happen to date him) went into a yarn store and picked out several great knitting items that I would likely never buy myself because they are splurges, including balm for my hands and the wash. And while I’m bragging, he even managed to buy me a sweater that a)fits and b)I love.

Anyway, back to the shawl finishing. It went well. After blocking it as super soft and flat and instantly a fixture around my neck. It is the perfect accessory. Large and soft and warm, but not too big and was super easy and short. I am happy.

After it was over I found myself in a knitting malaise. I have several recently purchased skeins kicking around. I have several amorphous pattern ideas floating around in my head, none of which I felt like starting. And meanwhile, my sister’s unfinished gloves were sitting on the table, glaring at me reproachfully. I had felt ok letting them sit while I finished the shawl. It was a recovery project, something to keep me sane after the frantic Dad scarf incident. But a little voice in my head (and a not so subtle nagging by Keith) warned me that if I let two projects go by, then they might never get finished. So after not-so-gentle pushing from Keith, I picked up the gloves and finished off the second one.


It was like the weight was lifted and I could return to knitting whatever the hell I wanted with a guilt-free abandon. What I wanted was a small kerchief that I saw at Cast Away. It turned out to be a version of the Silk Kerchief by Kate Osborn knit in Malabrigo Lace with an added ruffle finish. So after some initial struggles with the crochet provisional cast on (I may or may not have expressed loudly some unkind words concerning crochet, lace-weight yarn, and the cruel sadist who invented this method) I managed to get it going. And I love it! It’s so light and airy and soft and easy to knit. A perfect conversational knitting piece or for watching movies, like we did last night. It’s non-intrusive and a pleasure to work on.

January 6, 2010

Security Blanket Shawl

I wish I could be always knitting.

It has been very frustrating going back to work and school after the holiday break. I spent almost all my time knitting and researching knit projects and had gotten fairly used to it. So this week when I had to return to the real world, it has been hard to find as much time as I’d like to knit.

I carry my knitting everywhere with me. I did this with all sorts of things as a child. I would cart around an entire stack of new books. I can never quite recall what the idea behind it was. Did I think somehow that I would finish all 4 of them and need that fifth on the 30 minute trip to the store with my mom? More likely, I think I just liked to look at them and know they were there.

The bundle of knitting that I cart to and from work, never finding a chance to work on, serves a similar purpose. It reminds me that I have something to look forward to. It reminds me of the peace and comfort that await me when I can find the time. It’s sort of a security blanket. Or in this case shawl.

My co-workers have gotten used to the odd jar-o-knitting sitting around my desk or in the case of December’s pre-Christmas knitting insanity, projects being worked on in the odd bits of time between programs starting up (my office uses ancient machines and it can take a good 10 minutes to open GIS). the Yarntainer was a novelty for awhile, but has faded to normal.

It frustrates me that I can’t seem to find the time to knit during the day, but it somehow comforts me that it’s there. I know that should some unforeseen event cause me to wait or have to kill time, I will have just the thing to do. This has rarely happened of course, but it doesn’t stop me from bringing it anyway. And it creates an even greater anticipation for when I actually do get time to knit. It is more satisfying when I finally get to sit down, open the container and pull out the soft cozy project and lose myself in concentrating on a pattern moving through my hands.

January 1, 2010

Cloak of Calm

There is something deliciously satisfying about sitting alone in my pajamas in a thoroughly clean house with a snuggly poodle, some knitting, and rain pouring down outside. It feels as if I am in a secret world all my own. Everything is put away and in order, no noise except those I create and the sound of rain. I can do exactly as I want.

Which as this moment is to alternately knit on my newly started shawl and catalogue a giant collection of patterns I just received. Knitting and organizing, two of my favorite activities. It feels like a good way to start off the new year. I only feel a slight twinge of guilt for starting a new project intended for me while the second glove for my sister sits idle in the basket. I’ll get to it eventually, I swear. 

I just wanted to start something beautiful for me. Something calming and soft and may I call it ethereal? The yarn is lovely for a readily available, non-artisan yarn and it just floats onto the needles. It’s a lovely shade of light gray that almost perfectly mirrors the mist in the middle distance out the back windows. The yarn seems to have connected with the forest behind our house and brought something back from the woods.


Alright, maybe I’m just overly happy to be knitting it and am getting a bit carried away. But I am sure others have noticed how knitting can take on the mood of the day or the weather, or the company around you. Knitting is like photography for me. Within a project is captured the feel of the moment, the place, and the people. The finished object can always bring me back to that time, remind me of how I felt and what was happening around me. The only other medium which does this for me is music. I can be transported back in time by certain songs and albums.

It makes me smile to know that this new shawl might transport me back to this moment. Remind me of this calm, of the slow passing of a dark afternoon, of the metallic clank of rain occasionally hitting the oven range. In my hectic life, it would be nice to be able to reach for a cloak of calm misty rain to sooth me. And the freshness of the new year may linger on, reminding me of the hope and possibility of the unknown.