The happy knitter…

30 03 2015

IMG_0308I used to knit many years ago and it was anything but pleasant — maybe because my knitting reflected my frame of mind at the time: uptight! I cast on my stitches so tight that I had to fight to knit each one and my knitting never loosened up. As a result, sweaters, painfully (literally) stitched over several weeks, were too tight when they came off the needles, so had to go to other smaller kids rather than my own. Eventually I lost interest.

Years later, after retiring from a very satisfying but hectic career, I embarked on a two pronged approach to what to do with my new freedom from schedules and deadlines and meetings and reports and…the list goes on. First, I wanted to get into better shape and second I wanted to pursue something more creative. This seemed like a nice balance to me: active/sedentary, physical/mindful, body/soul. I found a wonderful trainer and soon found myself feeling much better and able to do much more physically. However, the creative goal was a bit more elusive. At first I thought I’d like to paint. I had in the past and really enjoyed it and, heaven knows, Victoria offers lots of inspiration for painters. However, the problem of where to set up for painting in my smallish condo was definitely an issue. What to do?

I came across information about a knitting class at the Beehive (a local yarn shop) and decided to go for it. At that point I didn’t know many people in Victoria and my reasoning was that even if the knitting didn’t work out, I’d meet some people. At the first class, I was easily the worst student there. I fumbled around trying to cast on and the knit stitch was totally incomprehensible to me. You would think I’d never knitted before in my life. Our instructor was endlessly patient though and I went away feeling like I kind of knew how to do one stitch and that stitch was enough to make a dishcloth. I proudly brought mine into class only to discover that it was about 2/3 the size of everyone else’s. My stitches were still too tight…so tight that I had the red marks on my hands from trying to force the needle through two stitches for a double stitch. It wasn’t a promising start but for some reason, I was hooked. It was just the challenge I needed and, unlike teaching, parenting, and writing, the results were tangible, immediate and predictable (at least they were when I began to knit more confidently). For the next class, we made little slippers and for the last class, our assignment was a pair of fingerless gloves. Easy peasy but when I’d finished, I was almost as proud as the day I handed in my dissertation…and my knitting was beginning to loosen up.

Since then, I’ve gone through my cowl phase — everyone got one for Christmas — which helped me learn how to do cables, drop stitch, increases, decreases, and knitting in the round. Then, due to a mini population boom among my friends, I IMG_0167learned how to knit baby sweaters, which required a whole new set of skills I had to learn and then had the fun of giving my creations away — warts and all. The thrill was seeing pictures of these beautiful little people wearing something I had created. Hats, then socks, mittens, and an interminable Dr. Who scarf for my son, were next. My granddaughter loves her grandma made hats and that makes me very happy. I tried lace but I think that will have to wait for a while. I did manage to finish my project but I think I’ll wait to try another project. However, I’ve discovered the delights of fair isle and am beginning to explore its possibilities!

Now I’m feeling confident enough to try something far more complex — a sweater for me. I have frogged (rip it, rip it!) many parts of it several times, learned the value of a safety line, and yet, the thrill of seeing it come together has been such a joy. My next project is a summery cardigan knitted with linen which will again test my limits as linen, unlike wool, has no give. As soon as I saw the shimmery hanks of linen hanging there at the Beehive, though, I knew I had to have it. So here we go again….something new to play with and new skills to learn. IMG_0450

I’ve thought about why, at this point in my life, I have fallen in love with this ancient craft…and, of course, that’s part of it. I feel rather primeval while knitting — a wolf woman gathering materials and creating something beautiful for family and friends from string and sticks. I am participating in the rituals of womanhood at its most elemental level — independent, creative, adaptive, caring, and I prefer to think of it as non-patriarchal. The rhythm of the needles as they move softly in and out of the wool as it slides through and is directed by my fingers is soothing, meditative, immediate and tactile.

In many ways, it is the antithesis of the life of the mind that I have lived for many years and yet it connects the body and mind in such a symbiotic way. Some studies have shown, for example, that knitting can help stroke patients create new neural pathways as they connect body and mind through the knitting rhythm of their needles and wool. For me, it has helped me reconnect my mind and body by creating new pathways between them as I continue to learn some of the infinite combinations of knit and purl that can make the most marvellous things.

Knitting can be subversive too as knitters come together to yarn bomb trees marked for cutting, war tanks, symbols of government — a hand made reminder of what matters in the face of pervasive corporatization and colonization.

Knitting has also provided me with a community of fellow knitters. I am greeted — often by name — at the wool shops that I frequent (at one time I had 6 full points cards at one of them — no wonder they greet me so enthusiastically…LOL), I meet new people in the classes I take — many of them young women, and I am now the lucky participant in a knitting group of smart, thoughtful, fun women who knit, laugh, (small g) gossip, comment on current events, and learn together.

And so I proudly declare, I am a knitter…a very happy knitter.