At the Yarn Ball in February, one of the people we met turned to my daughter and said, “I know how you learned to knit,” then she turned to me and continued, “But how did you learn?”
“Actually, I taught her,” my daughter said.
This is true. Here’s the story of it.
I’ve been fascinated with making things all my life. In fact, I don’t understand how anyone could not want to make things by hand. It’s so amazing!
When I was four years old, I had a round hand loom, which I used to make long tubes of yarn stuff. I have no idea what I made from the yarn tubes, probably nothing, but I remember loving using the thing. I remember tugging on the finished stuff coming out the bottom, and how it would stretch and compress and be transformed from yarn to a made thing. I kept going until I ran out of yarn.
The loom looked something like this; I think it was green or blue plastic.
I also had a little square loom thing and stretchy fabric loops I used to make potholders. That was all it was good for, I’m pretty sure: potholders. I used all the colors in every one. And then I ran out of loops.
This might actually be the exact thing I had.
So my mom taught me to knit, but only the knit stitch. So I started on a scarf. I could change colors as much as I wanted, from among three colors she gave me, and since the most interesting thing I could do was change colors, I did that a lot. I got probably eight inches of it done, and I remember getting thoroughly bored and I realized it was not pretty and I went back to Play-Doh.
And I forgot how to knit entirely. Up until recently, my mental picture of knitting was that people just clicked two needles together, fast, with some yarn in there, and sweaters and hats and stuff popped out. I tried it once but I couldn’t do it, that’s all I knew.
As I got a little older, my grandmother taught me needlepoint, embroidery and cross stitch, and I worked on projects and actually finished some. I liked it. This was good, because it was pretty much the only area where my grandmother and I could connect. She was from the old country, and her way of looking at the world did not mesh with mine at all, but we could sit quietly side by side and embroider. It’s nice to have those positive memories to offset the unending arguing which was the only other thing we did together. Have I mentioned I’ve always been headstrong? Yeah. Grandmothers from the old country don’t like that, because they get to be headstrong and want their grandchildren to be meek. But strong women breed strong women; that’s genetics, I’m pretty sure. (This is only my experience, you understand. Your immigrant grandmother is no doubt a delight. And I bet you’re better at obedience than I ever was.) Anyway, thanks to that stubborn old lady, I know my way around a needle. I’m grateful.
Then, as a pre/early teen right around the turn of the 1970’s, and living in the San Francisco Bay Area as I did, I went to summer classes to learn tie-dye (batik), candle making, macramé and weaving (placemats, this time) at the local Park & Rec. Center. I also had long straight blond hair, sewed fabric panels into my jeans so they’d flair below the knees, embroidered a sunset onto the back of my brown corduroy jacket, and seldom wore shoes. Obviously. (Please enjoy a mental picture of how much my grandmother loved all that. She would throw up her hands and mutter under her breath in old country language – which I did understand – and she’d try to make me wear dresses and put my hair into pigtails and wear Mary Janes. I, of course, reacted with respect and love to these grandmotherly expectations. Ha. Don’t worry, though. We eventually made peace.)
Never mind, let’s get back to crafting. In high school, I learned to make both stained glass and jewelry, but though I loved the art, these are expensive hobbies that require specialized equipment and supplies I could not afford at home. My mother knit stuff, and I wore the sweaters she made me. But I was not interested for myself.
When I was a young mom, I had time on my hands but no money. I crocheted white lace curtains for the living room from 70 balls of string. Yes, I did that, and they were pretty, too. And I discovered tatting. And some other interesting forms of textile expression, like whitework and pulled thread work. But tatting could be super intricate, so that’s what I did most. I designed jewelry, mostly with black cotton thread and beads, which I quite liked, and my friends did too, since they (apparently willingly) bought earrings and necklaces from me. I was still not a knitter.
And I did the same stupid thing to my daughter as was done to me, but with crochet. I only taught my little girl how to do chain stitch, then went back to my project for a while. So she made a giant long chain from variegated yarn, and by the time I looked up and realized she was completely bored, she was over it and didn’t want to learn any more about crochet. We still use that thirty foot long chain as Christmas tree garland every year. I don’t think she’s picked up a crochet hook since. Let this be a lesson to you, moms: pay attention once in a while. (I kid. I know you are very attentive. I’m the distracted one.)
My mother eventually succumbed to breast cancer in 2002, after long years of illness. I asked for and received her big basket of knitting needles, which I promptly gave to my daughter, because she had just learned to knit from some high school friends. Knitting started to seem a little interesting to me, as a way to possibly keep/create/honor a connection to my mom. But I didn’t do anything about it.
Let’s jump ahead a little. In 2009, I broke my ankle hard. I had surgery, and ended up with 11 pins and a plate (which looks more like bicycle chain than a plate) and a big cast and I was stuck home on the couch for six months. Six month recovery time, people. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiix mooooooooooooooooooooooonths….
So I devised a project for myself: I’d crochet a blanket. I found a design on Ravelry, which I had just discovered, ordered yarn online and I got to making granny squares. You can see the project here: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/FrivoliteByHand/casablanca-crochet-quilt
Oh, what a project! It was huge! I had bags filled with granny squares. I worked on it every day and finished the thing just about the time my doctor said I could start walking again.
You might imagine, after crocheting for six months (and unable to do much of anything else), I was kind of over it for a while. I put all my crafty crochet stuff away. But my daughter was sitting in the living room knitting. She was crafty, making cool stuff. Being, as you can now see, fairly greedy for crafting, I pushed my crutches aside, sidled over and breathed on her neck and watched her. I asked lots of questions. Finally she set her work down, looked at me over the top of her glasses and said, “You want to learn?”
“Yes, please,” I said promptly and humbly, and she gave me needles and some yarn and showed me patiently what to do. And then showed me again because I got lost trying to start. And I couldn’t hold my hands right. And I got lost between what is a knit stitch and what is a purl. And how to turn the work at the end of the row without tangling the yarn all over. And how to not make crabbed little stitches too freaking tight to get the needle in for the next row. And what to do when the stitch falls off the needle. And how to frog when it all goes to pot. I felt so stupid and incapable, I almost gave up and went back to sensible crochet. I must say, she was very patient with me. I kept going. And then it clicked and the needles clicked and I haven’t looked back.
I knit a terrible, dense hoodie from cheap acrylic that I still wear around the house when it’s cold. I won’t wear it outside because it is awful. Tight in the armholes, too. But that’s ok. It’s my first project and as far as beginnings go, it’s pretty nice.
And that’s how, thanks to my daughter, it turns out I’ve been knitting for just four years now. Coming along ok, I think.
So how about you? What do you have to say for yourself? What crafty rabbit holes have you fallen into? What were you doing in the groovy 70’s? Were you barefoot, too, or would you have called me a hippie? Do you have a headstrong grandbother – sorry, grandmother? 🙂 How did you start knitting? Why is knitting so hard at the beginning?