How I Became a Knitter
Many knitters take to the craft right away, but knitting and I didn’t immediately become friends. The first thing I tried to knit was a headband. I was perhaps ten or eleven. I had Red Heart Wintuk from the dime store, in red, and metal needles and a pattern from one of those little booklets put out by Coats & Clark way back when. The headband was a sensible choice for a beginning knitter–nothing but a straight piece of garter stitch.
My mother, a good knitter, taught me to cast on and to make the knit stitch. I clacked along with my red headband for several inches and Mom was thrilled because I somehow had perfect tension from the get-go. Nice, even stitches with nary a lump or a misplaced loop.
She was so disappointed that I never finished it.
I came close. I preserved my little Wintuk UFO for years, rolled around its needles in case I wanted to go back and finish up and learn to cast off. But it was so boring. Once I’d learned the stitch, nothing else happened. I was still intrigued by the idea of knitting, but this headband business wouldn’t do.
In high school, I tried again. I had a young relative whom I deemed deserving of some knitting, and Mom was only too happy to get me started again with pale green wool and a cute, simple pattern for a child’s sweater. Unfortunately, said relative now has three children of his own and still hasn’t gotten his sweater. Maybe it was the dramas of high school, maybe the yarn was the wrong color, but for some reason I dropped it and never picked it up again. All my poor mother could say was, “But your stitches are so even. It took me ages to get stitches like that.”
At some point during my early 20’s I had the urge to try knitting again. The yarn shop made for a lovely mother-daughter outing, and off we went in search of a good project for me. Mom suggested a scarf, beginners should start with scarves. I was too young then to understand myself as deeply as I do now, but my gut told me I’d never finish a scarf. It would be that damn headband all over again, only bigger. I wanted to make a real sweater.
I weathered my mother’s looks of warning as I stubbornly searched through sweater patterns until I found what I wanted: a seemingly simple garter stitch cardigan. It was in a book, which sealed the deal. True to my family roots, I’m of the belief that any problem can be solved with a book and that any new endeavor worth doing requires the purchase of at least one book. Surely this had been what had been wrong before, the patterns had come from pamphlets.
This seemed foolproof. Garter stitch–I had that down cold. Knit in one piece–only two long seams. No buttons, no collar, no ribbing. What could go wrong?
I bought pretty purple wool, Patons, I believe,
and didn’t pay attention to the origin of the book until I got all the way up the back of the sweater, to the point where something different had to happen. Then the pattern abruptly ceased to make sense. I perused all corners of the book for any information that might shed some light, only to discover it had been translated from Italian. Badly, evidently.
Mom couldn’t figure it out. Back to the yarn shop we went. The yarn lady was good with problems, she’d get it. After much studying of the instructions, all I got was a worried shake of her head. As I packed up my project and thanked her, she gave me that familiar “you should have made a scarf,” look.
In most areas of life I am quite opposed to risk. I drive the speed limit, I get regular checkups, I believe in being over-prepared: belt, suspenders, and a dab of epoxy for good measure. My creative life is different. Cooking is a perfect example. My brother, the Professor, loves to come to dinner at our house but he notes that, “Your cooking always involves an element of risk.”
This does not mean what a normal person would consider risky in the kitchen. It’s not, “Oh, this recipe worked well the first three times I tested it, but today I got crazy and used a bigger pan and now the sauce isn’t coming together right, oh dear.” No. A Miss T cooking risk means I’ve become intrigued by some recipe which requires an exotic ingredient for which a tour of five grocery stores must be made, including a specialty store so obscure you have to answer three riddles to enter. It will often necessitate the purchase of a new piece of kitchen equipment which resembles the latest in alien technology, and/or the cobbling together of a contraption in the garage. I will start this recipe two hours before hungry guests arrive, without having read it all the way through beforehand. Either this process works spectacularly well, or there’s a catastrophe that takes out half a suburban block with it. No middle ground, no backup plan. That’s a Proper Risk.
I’m this way with every creative thing I do. I have to start with the hardest possible challenge, or it’s no fun. I mean, a headband? If my mother had started me with a pattern for a tea cozy shaped like the Chrysler building, that I would have finished. I don’t do this simply to be annoying, it’s just the way I am.
So what happened with the sweater, you ask?
Of course, I finished it. I took my error-riddled Italian book home and, not the least bit contrite, read it again and again and drew little diagrams until I’d figured it out.
I was energized by the problem, and that was all it took to hook me. Knitting was suddenly exciting and I quickly became obsessed and moved on to more complex sweaters. Lots of sweaters. It was years before I bothered with a scarf, and only very recently that I came to embrace scarves as something fun. I’ve discovered that I like easy things just fine, as long as I don’t start with them. Once I’ve gotten an impossible thing or two out of my system, I’m happy to make a garter stitch scarf. There’s one on my needles right now and I’m quite satisfied with it. Mom’s delighted that I’m putting my nice tension to good use, and I couldn’t be happier that knitting is so endlessly fascinating. I can’t give it up again; it’s with me for life.
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