All About Knitting

For some reason, I've always wanted to make things. I've just never been terribly good at it; the finished product never looks quite the way it does in my mind's eye, when that first creative impulse strikes. I am apparently missing some fundamental processing skill, or manual ability, or something.

Of course, that's never stopped me from trying... once. Prideful and vain as I am, I do not continue to inflict my failures upon myself or the world. I'm sure this has caused me to miss out on many of life's great pleasures, but I rarely have time for the pleasures I'm reasonably good at, so I'll deal with it.

One thing that always appealed to me was knitting. I was fascinated by the concept of turning skeins of fuzzy string into wearable garments.
All other clothing-related tasks were beyond my ken. In 7th grade I took Home Ec, and made a barely recognizable stuffed skunk as a class project. The low point of the year came in the spring, when we were assigned to construct a full garment of our choice. I chose a sundress, and I can still see the fabrics: a dusky gold with tiny white flowers, its mirror image for the flounces, and a delicate eyelet lace for trim. The pattern was exactly right for a twelve-year-old in 1978, meaning something no one would be caught dead in these days. But it was simple, which was key.

Despite its simplicity, the dress was a disaster. I have no idea what I did wrong, but it was crooked and looked like something out of a deranged fashion designer's worst hallucination. There were holes in the material where I'd ripped out and restitched seams multiple times, without ever getting it right.
We were required to wear it to school for our final evaluation, and the night before my mother and sister took the whole thing apart and put it back together in such a way that I could be seen in public without disgracing my family, especially April, the Sewing Goddess.

I decided I should take up knitting, instead.

There was only one slight hitch in my plan: no one around me could knit. My mother had learned as a child, but hated it. "All that stupid counting stitches!" she told me. "It's a chore!"
I stubbornly persisted, proceeding the only way I knew how. I bought a book (well, I had my mother buy me a book, since I was just a kid). I pored over the illustrations and followed the instructions, and even managed to knit a few rows. But when I hit the inevitable obstacle, there was no one to show me how to fix it. I finally quit in frustration, knowing I could learn if I only had someone to teach me a few tricks.


The summer after my sophomore year in college, I lived and worked in Germany on a program run by Princeton. My landlady was a sweet and friendly woman, with a daughter my age at University and a younger one with Down's syndrome. We became friendly, and I marveled at how everyone in Germany seemed to knit all the time, and so she offered to teach me.

For my first project, she insisted I stick to plain old stocking stitch. She had me buy circular needles, "because they're easier", and I dutifully spent hours going round and round until the monotony of it all wore me out, and I finally quit from boredom. I did learn how to cast on, though, and how to knit and perl. I carefully stored this knowledge away for a few more years.


Around 1990 or so, the urge to knit returned. At that time we were still living with my in-laws, so I had constant access to an excellent, willing teacher. Unfortunately, she was trained in the Italian Style of knitting, which involves sticking one needle under your armpit to hold it steady and hunching down over the work-in-progress; I was firmly entrenched in the idea of holding both needles out in front (also because with circular needles, the only kind I'd done any "real" work on, you really had no choice).

We were at an impasse. I bought another book, this time on my own.

I spent hours in our bedroom, once again poring over illustrations and instructions. With no one around to impose any restrictions on me, for my first project I chose a complicated fisherman's sweater for Dario, of purple yarn (of course!), with a mind-boggling array of different stitches in each row. Might as well aim high, I thought.

Marisa of course thought I was crazy. Her own preference was for thick yarn, large needles, and simple patterns. She couldn't conceive of a novice setting out to do a complex mixture of dritto, rovescio, and punti sospesi with 1.5 kg of yarn and 5-gauge needles on her first go; she shook her head at me.
I struggled alone in our bedroom, confident that at least there was someone who could help me fix any mistakes if I screwed up. My technique was a little, um, unorthodox, with one needle propped on my leg but the work held up straight in front of me, a sort of hybrid of the Italian and English styles. Hey, it worked for me.

To her (and my) astonishment, I finished the back of the sweater without a single mistake. It was beautiful, complicated, and perfect, and I'd made it myself! I was so proud!

Unfortunately, I had also tired of the project by that point. I'd proven to myself I could do it, and only half-heartedly started on the front before moving on to something else.

For a couple of years, I started any number of knitting projects, but the only ones I ever finished were baby clothes for friends, which came to a natural conclusion before I could tire of them. Each time I'd pick a new challenge--a complicated set of stitches, a new type of pattern, fancy embroidery on top. Anything to learn something new, to push myself a little farther.

I haven't knitted anything in years; the last project I started during a friend's pregnancy that came to a tragic end. I put the tiny sweater away and haven't touched a skein of yarn since. 


I sometimes think that if I had to pick one item that would illustrate who I am, how my mind works, I would open the hall cabinet and bring out the back of that first, incomplete sweater for Dario, folded away for eternity. It pretty much says it all.