Saturday, November 04, 2006


Did you ever make those friendship bracelets? You know, the ones composed of a series of knots, kind of like a tiny macrame, made with embroidery floss? Well, I did. I made them with diamonds and fish shapes. I made big fat ones and skinny ones. Someone only had to show me how once, and from then on I was hooked for a good couple of years. I made some beautiful bracelets, if I do say so myself, though they were all given away as gifts and I didn't keep a single one. Once they'd been on for a few months they would rot away at the weaker points and eventually they'd just fall off.

That wasn't my introduction to working with fiber and my hands, however. I was always one of those kids who had to touch everything (my mom tells me that when I was a baby and even a toddler she was afraid I'd choke all the time because I put EVERYTHING in my mouth). I even agreed to chew on a rock when I was about 4 because a kid in my preschool class thought it would be a good idea (he also thought it would be a good idea to lick the dust layer on the back of my mom's station wagon, but that's a different story). Anyhow, I was always touching stuff and fiddling with my hands, so when I was about 8 my mom taught me how to do some simple macrame. I thought it was totally lame, so 70s!, so I didn't do much with it. Then came the fad of finger weaving or finger knitting - wrapping yarn around one's fingers in such a way as to create pieces of "cloth" with one's bare hands. In 5th grade I made a finger-woven garland that my mom used as a christmas decoration for years. The secret art of finger knitting is still safely tucked in my brain. Every so often, I take a piece of scrap yarn and ensure myself that indeed, it still works as I remember.

Also around age 8 or 9, my mom taught me how to knit for the first time. I did it for a few minutes and lost interest - knitting was something that grandmas did, and I just couldn't see myself making something with those big metal needles. She taught me again at the end of the friendship bracelet craze, when I was 13 or 14. I made a tiny strip of cloth long enough to sew together to make a headband-type-thing, which kept my forehead warm the one time I went skiing with my youth group. But that's all I did. In college, she retaught me because I had the bright idea to make a scarf for College Boyfriend one Christmas. Unluckily for me, I picked wool yarn without knowing how itchy that makes my hands, and I soldiered on for about a foot or so and then dropped some stitches and didn't know how to pick them back up. So I gave up on it.

And then the first Christmas I was with Hulk, I got the bug in my head again - hey, I could totally knit him a scarf! He lives where it's cold! So I stole my mom's aluminum size 8s from 1968 and went to Michael's and bought some greyish Lion Homespun and retaught myself the knit stitch. Had I known anything about fiber gauge, using the appropriate needles for a given project, or how to read yarn labels, I might have picked some different yarn for my first real project. Homespun is kind of bumpy and weird, with a central thread, and has no stretch or give. Also, it's supposed to be knitted on size 10 or 10.5 needles. But despite my having picked the Homespun and the size 8s, I soldiered on and managed to make an entire scarf without any holes - though I might have done a few yarn overs without realizing along the way, since it ended up with about 6 extra stitches at the end. I got to the end and realized that I'd never learned how to bind off (I had totally improvised the cast on) so I called my mom. Over the phone, she read instructions out of a knitting book that was to be a Christmas present to me (I thought it was her book) the easiest castoff. So I did that, and gave Hulk that scarf, warts and all.

That scarf was the beginning of a love affair. My non-QIR roommate taught me how to crochet, and I started cranking out matching scarves and hats for friends and family. I bought bigger, more appropriate needles, but made nearly all of my projects in Homespun and, even more difficult to work with, big fat chenille with needles that were totally too small for that yarn (your black-with-pink-and-red was the fat chenille, Monks). It wasn't until I moved to Denver that I realized there was a whole world beyond artificial fibers and acrylic yarn. After visiting a few actual yarn stores that sold products beyond Red Heart and Lion Brand, I realized there was much more to know about yarn and knitting.

The first time I went to a real yarn store, it was a specialty shop in San Francisco (ArtFibers) that commissions all of the yarns they sell (and also was where I realized I'm allergic enough to wool and blends of wool that have more than 50% of said fiber). I probably touched every yarn in the store, rubbing some between my fingers and some on my inner forearm and some on my face. I was like a kid in a candy store (or like Hulk in a comic book shop). On moving to Denver, one of my coworkers at my temp job taught me the purl stitch and took me around to a few LYSs (Local Yarn Stores). I can spend hours and hours in a yarn store, and even can spend hours in the yarn section of a Michael's or Hobby Lobby (hobblablaablabya), which I have done on many occasion. One time I was doing just that and a harried Michael's manager came over to me and asked if I'd like to teach a knitting class - just like that. So I did, for about a year and a half. I taught people of all ages (though mostly they were women around 40-50).

Then, the knitting craze began for younger women. Debbie Stoller wrote Stitch and Bitch to help reclaim knitting as a feminist art, appropriate for women of all ages, and the yarn companies began to realize there was plenty of money to be made in novelty yarn. I branched out from scarves and learned to make knitted hats, kitchen linens, purses and socks (and fingerless wrist warmer thingies that I sent to EEK). Though I haven't yet branched out to more complicated things like sweaters (Hulk's getting the first one I do, promise!), I consider myself an intermediate knitter.

But what I like best is the imagining part, the feeling of the yarn on my hands and fingers, picturing in my mind the garment or item that will come from that yarn, the finishing and the giving of the item to its intended owner. I've made a lot of blankets, potholders, purses, scarves, hats, and socks over the last five years, but have only made and kept a few things for myself. I'm currently working on a warm scarf made of a green/blue colorwave of baby alpaca (to which I am, thankfully, NOT allergic) for myself to replace some of the ones that were ruined in the Small Winter Item Storage Debacle. I bought the yarn to make this scarf at ArtFibers just before I moved to Denver and am only now getting around to making it because I kind of have to; it's getting cold out there! It's hard to stay motivated to finish something that is just for me, I'm finding. Though I love touching and working with the yarn, the best part is hoping that the recipient of my hours of time and effort spent on the whatever finds it useful, beautiful, interesting, or all of the above.


EEK! said...

I love those wrist/hand warmers, and they always get lots of compliments. I can also vouch for MLE's hat and scarf knitting skillz. MLE is fibertastic!

Monkey McWearingChaps said...

I love this post and I will attest to your skill with a needle.

I really really want to learn but definitely need to take a class and be guided. I tried to teach myself out of Knitting for Dummies though I realise I should have aimed way lower...maybe knitting for the intellectually comatose.

Cagey knits a lot too...she made Arun a really darling fair isles-esque hat.

I'm thinking of getting into quilting because I feel like I could stich more easily.