Friday, January 21, 2011

On knitting

I learned to knit when I was 8 or 9 but never took to it like I did crochet. After all, I was in grade school in the mid-1970's, the height of the granny square craze. I would sit around with the other 4th grade girls and churn out multi-colored acrylic granny squares one after the other.  I don't recall ever making anything with them; the fun was all in the process.

I took up knitting again in college, although half-heartedly. I went to Smith College, where knitting was practically a major. I had one government professor, the late Leo Weinstein, who would occasionally admonish those fiddling with cables and tricky Fair Isles in the darkened rows of Wright Hall auditorium to listen to what he had to say about Hobbes and his views on absolute sovereignty. I was too chicken to bring my own knitting to lectures for fear of being called out.

I picked up my needles occasionally once I graduated, but was convinced that my technique was horrendous. I was -- and am -- an English-style knitter, which has always felt deeply physical, vaguely pugilistic to me with my elbowing right arm punching out yarn around my needle..  Most of my friends knit efficiently in the Continental style, something I could never master. I also had a habit of balancing the knitting needles against my thighs, which my mother once remarked she did also when she knit, much to the amusement of my paternal grandmother and great-grandmother. These two women, of Scottish ancestry by way of the Maritime provinces, were effortless, graceful  knitters. I shuddered to think what they'd say of my odd style.

It was only until last year, in my mid 40s, that I've come into my own as a knitter. I picked up my needles again as a way to relieve stress (I'm an anxious, nervous person by nature.) I was reading somewhere (a blog? a book?) that with knitting today, any style goes. There's no right or wrong way to knit. As I started lurking around yarn shops, I'd see students as well as salespeople knitting without wrapping their yarn around their fingers for tension, or throwing the yarn around their needles far more aggressively than I've ever thrown. By this point, I'd learned how to "flick" the yarn off my index finger and around the needle in order to preserve the integrity of my hands, which I need for writing. I definitely knit far more gracefully than I did in my youth.

There are nights when I dream of knitting. A couple nights ago I received the vision of a camel-colored shrug with a raised star motif. Most nights it's just the repetitive knit-and-purl that soothes me. Today, I knit because it was another day of snow with my 9-year-old stuck at home. He knows I don't like to play racing games on the PlayStation, so he came into my office and said, "Mom, will you come out and knit on the couch while I play?" There was a nice ring to that. So I put my work aside and knit a couple rows of a sweater I'm making for him.

Later he was bored again, so I found this video. It includes the two things both of us love: dogs (him) and wool (me).


  1. Surely you knew I'd respond to this! :-) I don't think I'll ever be a great knitter, but hardly a day goes by that I don't knit at least a little bit. It's something to do while watching TV. I like making things, even if they turn out funny (you should see the cardigan my husband wears around the house--first, and possibly last, sweater). Plus the joy of spending time in the yarn store can't be overestimated.

    Also? English-style knitter here too. Never could master Continental.

  2. Amy, I knew you'd chime in. I love to knit while I watch tv or movies, too; don't you find you get more out of them this way? I become a better listener. And yes, yarn stores are *the best*. Last night I got to spend a whole hour in one by myself. Of course the one yarn I fell in love with was $50 a hank, made of cashmere, silk and BISON. :-)

  3. I fell in love with some yarn while on some research travels in northern MN this fall--Blizzard, by Reynolds. So. Freaking. Soft. I knit one scarf out of it, then found an excuse to return to the store and buy some more. Must have more Blizzard!

  4. I think I've seen that around here; it sounds familiar. If you ever get a chance to fondle the bison yarn, do so. It even has an aura.

    Are you on Ravelry?

  5. I absolutely love to knit. Sometimes I just start knitting without any aim, and end up pulling it out because it's not "going anywhere". I learned from both my grandmothers growing up but we also had lessons at school (late 60's) almost before we could write!
    I'm going to investigate that Cath Kidson pattern. Love it.


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