Knitting

comments: 233

BSJ1

I didn't come to knitting naturally. When I was little, my Grandma Ieronemo crocheted and didn't knit, my other grandma partied at the country club, my mom occasionally crocheted and didn't knit, none of my other relatives or neighbors or friends' moms knit (that I knew of, at least). In college, my roommate Ann's mom knit her a sweater. It was her special sweater. A brown wool turtleneck. I asked to borrow it all the time. My boobs were about four times as big as Ann's. She let me borrow the sweater frequently and must have wanted to punch me in the face every day for stretching it out. I didn't get it.

Ann tried to teach me to knit one New Year's Eve. I was living in Missoula with Andy but I was home visiting my parents for the holidays. Andy had had to stay in Missoula to work. Ann was still living in Chicago then and came over to spend the day with me. I remember that day we had been driving around way out in the western suburbs (in Chicago the suburbs stretch out for hours), looking for something at some specialty store somewhere that we never found. I can't imagine what it was. She had a maroon Toyota Corolla. It was getting late and I was supposed to babysit that night. She was going to come to babysitting with me. Somehow we suddenly got a bee in our bonnets for me to learn how to knit, but we had no supplies. We switched our quest and starting looking for yarn. The stores were starting to close — it was around dinnertime on New Year's Eve — and we were pretty far from home. This was long before the iTouch. We went careening into a Wal-Mart (one of two times I've been in a Wal-Mart) and found some hideous acrylic yarn and big plastic needles. We raced back to River Forest, and the O'Hallorans' house. We played with the kids, then watched Saturday Night Live and my friend Andy Greer was an extra on that episode (it was either him or his twin brother, Mike — I can't remember). It was pretty awesome to see someone I knew on TV. After the O'Hallorans came home, we left and slowly drove back across River Forest to my street, looking at the Christmas lights and the houses. It had started to snow. The houses in River Forest are the prettiest houses you'll ever see in your life, especially in the snow. It was so beautiful there. You aren't allowed to park on the street past a certain time of night, so the streets are all wide and empty. That night was so ink-dark and quiet, everything sparkling and muffled in the snow.

Back at my house, my parents were still having a party. It was about 1:30 in the morning. My sisters weren't home yet. It is so classic that I would be sitting in my room with Ann, learning to knit with a party going on downstairs. We were so close back then. I remember that she told me that when she was a little girl and first learned to knit, she wouldn't stop doing it for anything. No matter what else she did during a day, she only wanted to be knitting, and would stay up long past her bedtime, knitting under the covers. I thought that was such a sweet image, little Ann with little fingers flying. She tried to teach me. I couldn't learn. We eventually fell asleep, and forgot about it the next day.

I went back to Missoula, finished grad school, and got a job in the marketing-and-publications department of a managed-care company. I hated this job with the white-hot passion of a thousand suns. I had two bosses and they despised each other, and made my life truly miserable. The company was remodeling the corporate office and they moved our department (of four) to a crappy satellite building across town, far from all my work friends. The building smelled so bad. The two marketing people were on the road all the time. I sat in my office alone every day with my one boss, who never spoke. To anyone. Andy and I were engaged then. I walked to JoAnn Fabrics on my lunch hour one day and got a pattern for the simple, pretty wedding dress I was going to make for myself. I showed it to my boss. She was nonplussed. I said, "You don't like it?" She said, "I just don't like dresses very much." I wanted to punch her in the face. I went back to my office and listened to wedding music on a compilation CD of wedding music. You were supposed to pick songs for different parts of the ceremony. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was far from home. I signed up for a knitting class. I sort of learned how to knit and purl; I could do it if the teacher was watching, but I got messed up when she walked away. I took the bus to and from work and would try to knit on the bus, and get so confused I wanted to cry. I couldn't do it. Everyone said it was so simple and I was bewildered and lost. The other people in the class had half of their sweaters finished, but I'd had to start over, and I was still on the ribbing. One time I was at the coffee shop and I saw one of my knitting classmates, happily knitting on her circular needles. I knew that she, like me, had never knit before the class, and there she was — laughing with a friend — and already halfway up the body without a care in the world. I couldn't believe she was laughing. When I knit, my brow winched up as if it had just been put through the pleater, and was ready for its smocking. My diastolic blood pressure neared triple digits. I found it completely mind-boggling that anyone actually found knitting "relaxing."

I got married and moved to Portland. I remember looking in the Yellow Pages to try and find a yarn store. Andy and I drove to it (we had no idea where we were going [which seems so hilarious now, since it was about a mile away] ) and it was no longer there. I found another one in the Yellow Pages on the opposite side of town near my new office (this job I adored). I walked there on my lunch hour one day — and it was no longer there. This was in 1997. It must have been just before the knitting boom. In 1999, the year after my accident, the Yarn Garden opened in Portland, just a few blocks from our apartment. I couldn't believe it — right in our very own neighborhood. I went on the first or second day they opened. I asked if I could have a private lesson, and Heather became my teacher. I think she was in her seventies, and I always thought it was so cool that someone who was seventy years old would be named Heather. Heather taught me to knit. She had learned from her stepmother when she was a little girl. Knitting was no big deal to her. It was like talking. She said I could pick any pattern I wanted, and any yarn I wanted, and she would teach me. We sat in the sunny room at the wooden table on my days off. And she taught me. I made a little sweater for my new niece, Arden. I think it was mint green with little candy-tuft colored sprinkles. I remember that my dad saw the sweater — I think I gave it to Arden for her first birthday — and he was actually impressed. He said, "Each one of these loops is an individual stitch?" I said yes. He said, "But you did each one of these loops one by one?" And I said yes. And he said, "Wow." I think it was the only thing I ever did in my entire life that my dad was actually impressed by. He gave very few compliments, but I got one for that sweater, and I still remember thinking, "Huh. I think that was a compliment."

BSJ2

In a strange way, I love knitting more than any of the other crafts I do. Its stitches have been harder won, and are somehow more precious to me. The fact that my dad might have thought it was cool is precious to me. I never do it for "work," the way I do sewing or crochet or embroidery designs; knitting is only for me, and only ever will be. I still don't really understand how it works, from a mechanical perspective. I mean, I sort of do, but if I make a mistake? Oh no. If a stitch falls off the needles or the count gets off somewhere? I cannot rip it out, because I'll never get it back on the needles. Ever. I just fudge right through. Mistakes don't bother me unless they've somehow entirely messed up the pattern, and then I must frog (rip out) the whole thing and ball up the yarn and try something else. I don't know how to "fix" anything. If I get the right gauge it seems like pure luck, and I rejoice with gusto. If I'm getting too many stitches per inch, I start twitching, and then I have to sit and think forever about what that means. Go up a needle size? Go down? Go down. No, wait — go up. Yeah, up. Wait. No. Yes. Right. Is that right? (and this "conversation" with myself takes five minutes, not five seconds, as my brain locks up and tries to budge itself again).

None of that bothers me. Now (because I'm so old and wise) I love it. I love picking the project and the yarn (this can take all day), watching the yarn get wound before I begin. I love that clicking of the wooden needles, and how the rhythm feels fluid and smooth, how the fabric comes off all drapey and beautiful, how it starts to become something  from nothing, how that's still a mystery to me, one I don't think I'll ever really solve. I even love how long it takes, how many thousands of stitches you have to do. How many chances you have, over and over, to get it right.

233 comments

What a wonderful post about knitting. I enjoy sharing the skill with others, especially young people.
Beautiful colors in that photograph.
Warm wishes, Tonya

Beautiful story! I taught myself to knit using "knitting for dummies". Isn't that hilarious?!! This past fall I taught myself to crochet using youtube videos...even more hilarious. But...I can do both...crocheting is much easier I have found, but they both do something different for me. Thanks for sharing! Loved reading it!

I have felt the same way about knitting as you just described. I loved this post. I always wanna ask people how they got started. I've crocheted for several years and then wanted to learn how to knit. I've mostly learned by watching people on the internet. Reading patterns are extremely hard for me...they're not a bit like crochet. Anyway, I'm slowly learning. I can't take private lessons but maybe one day I'll meet someone like your friend Ann who'll be sweet enough to help me too. ;0) Blessings and thanks for sharing!
Lori

What you are describing sounds just like me and sewing. We should be each other's coach! I'll coach you with knitting mistakes (my specialty) and you can coach me to finally finishing a sewing project!

oh how i wish there was a 'heather' near me to teach me! you tube videos and books really don't cut it - it's hard and i fear the only thing on my knitting horizon will forever be those of the long and rectangular kind. ;)

I adore your story on this! I have been crafting for years and years. I even did a little knitting when I was a child. But it wasn't until 1 1/2 yrs. ago that I really took up knitting. I was living in an RV at the time, and to stamp, sew, quilt or anything else, there just wasn't enough room for. So, I went to the store and bought some cheap acrylic yarn and taught myself to knit by library books and Youtube. Now it is a total obsession. I really don't understand it either, but hubby asked me the other night if I were going to knit my life away. I love the challenge, I love the colors, I love the rhythm, I love all the pattern choices, I love the knitting community, everything. I think the best advice anyone gave me was~when you look at a knitting pattern, don't let it overwhelm you. Take each tiny step at the time and you will do fine. Great advice!

What a great story! Yarn Garden was when I bought the first yarn I ever bought. It was for a sweater for my then-boyfriend, now ex-husband. When we were divorcing many years ago, he was going to give the sweater to Goodwill and I pulled it from the pile and frogged it! VERY fun.

This post hit home in so many ways - my path to knitting was much the same, as is the living in Portland (near the Yarn Garden) and Missoula! (though we lived in Portland first, then Missoula) I could practically taste your determination and frustration, as it brought back memories of my own journey to the world of knitting.

Oh....that was a wonderful read. Thank you. I love your blog and your quilts and your yummy looking treats to eat..My niece and I are gathering fabrics to make a quilt like yours or Arden's. How kind of you to share yourself with us.

Loved reading about how you learned to knit. It's always interesting to hear about how others "learn" how to do the things they do and why they keep doing even those things that don't come easy. Me? I taught myself to knit when I was 10 after I bought a "Teach Yourself to Knit" book, a skein of acrylic yarn, and size 10 white, plastic, knitting needles at a neighbor's garage sale. I was hooked immediately. The plastic needles have a permanent curve from my tight hold on them, but I still use that book and carry it with me in my "fun" bag with every knitting project. Thanks, again, for sharing such a great story!

I've got to pile on to tell you how much I loved this post too. You may remember I learned to crochet first before knitting (though only by about 8 months), so crochet still comes easier. But I love the challenge of knitting. With knitting there is still a lot to learn and I think I am secretly taking my time learning it all so that I can postpone that moment when there will be nothing new to learn. What a drag that will be!

Right now I am making a baktus scarf using a skein of noro silk garden sock yarn and watching the yarn change colors as it emerges and the baktus change colors as it is knitted up is something akin to an addictive drug in the way I think of it and want to work on it constantly. Eeee!

ha, this is so great, I totally totally get you :)

My personal knitting story is at the part about halfway through yours. I so identify with the pleated brow. I scrunch up my shoulders to my ears and don't find it relaxing at all. I haven't knitted in awhile now. But I want to. I hear it's siren song calling me...

beautiful. I love knitting too x

I agree with some of the suggestions above that like the youtube videos. I was like you I would just fudge through my mistakes because I was convinced I could not return my knitting to the needles once I ripped out my mistakes. Some videos are better than other but please check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDwAXStG9Gc. This method can be used with a crochet hook also. Please try it, it is truly simple.

That's going to be a beautiful surprise sweater - I hope it's meant for your own little surprise. Congrats on the baby! Can't wait to hear more about her.

That was a completely lovely story, thankyou!
I leanred to knit sitting on my Grandma's knee as a little girl, with her helping my hands do the stitches. I never really bothered but always knew how. Now, I love it. I've always loved the texture but was too impatient. It's funny how when you're young you're always in a rush. I love how long it takes now too, it makes it special. And what's the rush? No-one is standing behind me forcing me to do it!
My husband says my face looks like a slapped **** when I stitch, furrowed brow with concentration. He syas that, for such a happy and friendly person, I'll have the face of a grumpy old hag when I get older, from all my stitching!

If you decide to go back to crocheting any time soon, these look right up your alley!

http://yougogirl.typepad.com/you_go_girl/2010/02/on-the-edge.html

I'm not sure why, but I find some small comfort in knowing that someone like you (creatively talented) struggled to learn to knit. You could have been describing me. I taught myself using online videos, since I live in a small town with no yarn shops, and didn't yet know any knitters. It literally took me to the brink at times. Tears and tantrums were definitely involved...as were tossing of needles and yarn across the room. For a reason I can't explain, I just HAD to learn, and so stuck with it with a determination I've never demonstrated with anything prior or since. I HAD TO LEARN TO KNIT. I did, but I'm still not great at it. I love it, though. I can never wait to finish one project to start on the next (I don't, usually have multi projects going at once). Those who learned to knit at the same time as me can knit circles around me, but that's okay. I love it, and always will, even if I never get really good at it. :-)

Thanks for sharing your long but entertaining journey to knitting. I've felt similarly bamboozled by knitting for a good decade now, and still wonder when it'll sink in and fit. Because I want to knit as a part of my life...but alas, it just never quite fits in my life or stays with me still.
I've linked to this post on my blog's sharing day (http://rosiegirldreams.com/http:/rosiegirldreams.com/2010/6-sharing-saturday/sharing-saturday-02-27-2010/). Thanks so much!

I too tried a knitting class when I was in my 20's but I couldn't master it. Growing up...I wanted to learn but both of my grandmothers for some reason didn't want to teach me. To this day I dream of knitting from time to time and I hope to learn someday. Hopefully.

Comment 222 hardly matters, I know, but I just wanted to say how I loved this post, so. I'm a late-in-life knitter, also, and am finding pleasure in it's over-and-over, all out of proportion to the simple results. Thanks for sharing.

Nancy Morales says: March 05, 2010 at 04:12 PM

Hi! I stumbled on your blog via Ravelry. I've only spent a few minutes here and it seems there's much to explore. Just wanted to let you know that I loved your "knitting" story. I suspect the more I time I spend here, the more stories I will love.

Nancy/Rio Grande Valley, TX

I've been happily knitting since I was 7 [ back in the Late-Cretaceous Era ] but spinning - now THAT was not a natural fit. Mostly I still fly by the seat of my pants and when it all works out, and I produce actual useable yarn, no one is more amazed than I am.

Mercy! I could have written this. This is my very journey with knitting. I wish I had someone here to teach me the ins and outs of everything. I have taught myself how to knit and finally how to purl but that is it. I don't dare drop a stitch. So far, it's dishcloths and scarfs. That's it. Just discovered your blog and am enjoying it!

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About Alicia Paulson

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My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.