My mother taught me to knit when I was 15. In her day, she said, a woman knit in between romantic relationships. An especially heart wrenching breakup, followed by months of no dates at all, could result in a complete ensemble of skirt, jacket, and short-sleeved shell. Matching bootlets. A cape if the guy married someone else, too soon.
I just knit to get through high school French class, which moved at the pace of its slowest student, an obnoxiously obtuse girl who spent the entire first semester repeating, loudly, “C’est un livre!” (It’s a book. And she never, never studied the vocabulary in the one that she consistently left in her desk.) The second semester she progressed to, “C’est une fenetre!” (It’s a window.) I sincerely hope that she never became a travel guide.
But knitting helped me survive the boredom, my first project an orange baby jacket for a new nephew, using a yarn four times thicker than what was called for (what could it matter? I reasoned). The resulting garment was short and wide, more appropriate for a fat dog than a baby. Perhaps my sister used it as a changing mat.
Through the years, many of my projects wound up elsewhere than the body of the intended recipient — simply because I couldn’t be bothered to check gauge, which in the knitting world means that what I knit is the same size as what the designer who wrote the patterns knit. Wrong yarn, wrong needles, different technique — a lot of family pets enjoyed the cushy comfort of my hands’ efforts.
But eventually I grew up, admitted that now and then I needed to follow some rules, and began producing stuff that looked, and fit, like real clothing. And therein lies one of the two reasons that I knit:
I wear what I make. It looks cool. It’s one of a kind. And it lasts forever.
Okay, so that’s four reasons, but they stitch up into one garment.
The second reason why I knit is crucial, and it’s why I drop everything but the stitches on my needles whenever others express the remotest interest to learn (my beloved sister will never, never do this, alas):
Knitting enables me to survive through life’s toughest times.
When I have prayed every prayer, thought every thought, cried out in my spirit and aloud out in the back of the property where hopefully no one but the beavers hear me (and God, please, definitely God), I knit.
If I’m doing something simple, I release my thoughts from their hamster wheel by forcing myself to concentrate on nothing else but, “Knit. Knit. Knit. Knit,” with each stitch, and “Purl. Purl. Purl. Purl,” on the other side. It’s a welcome break from “WHY is this happening to me?”
More complicated patterns require more complex thinking, like counting:
“One. Two. Three. Four. One. Two. Three. Four.” If that sounds repetitive and mindless, it is no more so than “WHEN will it stop? HOW will this all end?” and it’s certainly more comforting.
Really complicated patterns look like this: “Knit, yarn over, knit two together, purl, knit through the back loop, purl, slip slip knit, yarn over, knit. Repeat 14 times.”
With this on my mind, there’s not much room for too much else.
But as any knitter knows, your brain can devote 20 to 60 percent of itself to a repetitive task, leaving room for limited, random thought, and the gentle click click of the needles is mesmerizing, the feel of the yarn through your fingers intoxicating, the challenge of knitting faster, better, cleaner with each stitch invigorating.
And all the time you are creating something that you can wear or use — the “sweater of pain” that one woman worked on while she waited for a family member to receive chemo treatments; the “socks of joy” that accompanied another knitter to every one of her high school daughter’s athletic games; the afghan that a third knitter, a nurse, worked on after each day’s too long, too stressful stint in the emergency room.
This is why I knit.
Collections of my essays have recently been compounded into two e-books, Life Is a Gift and The Jane Austen Driving School — volumes 1 and 2 of the Ordinary Life Is Beautiful series, which also feature images of Steve Henderson’s paintings. Priced reasonably at $2.99, the digital book can be downloaded to your Kindle, iPad, iPod, Droid phone, and computer itself, the latter through a free app from Amazon. I’m small; I’m ordinary; I’m self-published; and I write so that you can have a smile to your day. Please support me, and pass me on.