[January 7, 2024]
I never planned to become a knitter. I just happened to read Sheepish🌎 by Catherine Friend, and next time I was in JoAnn Fabrics, the wool yarn caught my eye. Real, 100% wool. Made in Turkey, of course, because that’s how America rolls. Nonetheless, I bought it, and then I started learning how to knit in earnest.
Knitting was a thing I could come to without expectations. With drawing and music (performing or composing), I had a firm idea in my head of what “good” results looked like, and I could never shake the comparison of myself to them. Intellectually, even if I were performing at that level, I would still think I didn’t measure up, because I’d be seeing my process but their final results. Emotionally, always producing “less than I hoped it could be” was eternally discouraging.
Knitting was a respite because I didn’t have any of that baggage. I didn’t need to be perfect; I wouldn’t face judgement about it “as a man,” because it wasn’t manly; I didn’t need to be better than anyone at all. I was free to be mediocre, or even awful. I allowed myself, finally, to just be. To work the needles, and to be at peace with whatever result inched its way off of them.
The act of doing a craft, with such a useful result (I became the household’s official dishcloth knitter), helped me put down some of the anxiety over the world news. It gave me an activity to get lost in. It gave me an analog activity to get lost in, that was neither expensive nor weather-dependent.
(You can spend a lot, of course. My wife already owned an interchangeable circular needle set that is now over $100. But, just to get started, it takes some yarn and a single pair of needles.)
I learned to listen to the fibers with my fingers. As fresh yarn slithered over my hand on the way to being made into a stitch in the fabric, it would leave a feeling, a little preview of what I was about to see at the needle tips. Wool yarns, being natural and variable, are especially talkative this way. Over and over, the yarn whispered the future to my hand, my eyes saw it come true, and it settled into the fabric as I moved on and on. We developed an intimate understanding between us as I worked.
A little paradox slowly developed. A single stitch can affect the outcome of the entire piece, becoming an obvious bit of looseness, a mere break in the pattern, or a tight spot that doesn’t let the fabric drape. Even so, I cannot choose to shape the entire piece from any single stitch. Each one is constrained by its neighbors, all contributing, all important… and yet, none are overly important. None are special, except the mistakes, which will stand out (mainly to the knitter) later.
After a lot of preparation, including knitting up a “rough draft” of the scarf in Wool-Ease to get practice with wool, I knitted the yarn I bought that first day into a scarf. It didn’t exactly turn out as envisioned. (I was also not prepared for breathing through a scarf to make it damp, releasing the wet-wool smell directly into my nose.) However, all of that just falls away looking at the finished piece. The color, the stitches, and the memories of making it push aside all the judgements and what-ifs.
Unexpectedly, working more, I built up patience. Binding off my first dishcloth was awful; the process doubles the amount of work per stitch, and I had already wanted to be done with it a dozen rows prior. On the first set of fingerless gloves I made, starting in 18 rounds of ribbing was dreadful. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do it again on the second glove to finish the pair. By the time I was making the third pair, it was an ordinary step in the process. With experience, the heart finally internalizes that there is no path forward but to make the next stitch.
Two more blessings of knitting soon became apparent.
When I play a video game, afterwards, the time is gone. I have literally nothing to show for it. No matter how well I drive a virtual kart, or how many metroids are blasted, it has no effect on the real, physical world. The skills developed for doing those things don’t even apply to the real world in any meaningful way. But when knitting, the time spent doesn’t disappear. It leaves a (generally useful) physical object behind.
The other blessing is the feeling of being able to create anything. Fingerless gloves? A cowl? A little turtleneck piece to use up some leftover yarn from making a hat? With knitting, I was no longer limited by what was in stock at the store, or even what was available in any online store. My mind broke down the patterns as I worked, and I started to hunger to build my own. The horizon moved ever further away as my ability climbed.
I hope inspiration strikes again soon.
Do you want to learn to knit? The best way is to find someone who knits, and learn from them. A relative, a neighbor, a friend, a knitting guild, or a class at a local yarn shop may all be options. It’s also possible to watch YouTube tutorials and pick up a few books (like the Knitting Answer Book by Margaret Radcliffe and a learn-to-knit kit), but it is a more difficult path. YouTube can’t look at your knitting and say, “You didn’t drop the other stitch off the needle. Knit in here, slide that off, and continue. You’ll just have a loose spot there.”
You will also need that spark of inspiration, that thing you’re working toward. Why are you knitting? Do you just want to learn, or do you want to be able to make something in particular? My first ambitions may have been limited to dishcloths and a scarf, but they gave me something to animate my spirit and carry me through the difficult section of starting out.
Whatever path you choose, good luck!