Monday, February 26, 2007

My Journey Into Knitting

What I Learned From an Ancient Craft.

Where It Began

Three years ago my Mom and older sister walked into a yarn store on a whim and were shown how to knit. They purchased some needles and yarn and brought their enthusiasm home. At first, I could not see what was so special about this hobby. It seemed time-consuming and difficult. Learning how to make your yarn go “over the fence and off it leaps” even seemed childish or old-fashioned. But after seeing the delight that my mother showed as she made progress on her scarf, and the fun that she was having overall, I knew that it was time for me to pick up the sticks and learn. My first attempt at knitting, and what I thought was a scarf, turned out to be an oblong rectangle filled with holes. I have to chuckle to myself when I think about the way that I often wondered why there were, all of a sudden! so many stitches on my needles, or, a few rows farther up, why there were so few?

Stuck In A Knitting Rut
It took me awhile to branch out of knitting and purling, and the scarves that could be created so easily. I really did not think that I was capable of making anything beyond them. But I loved to knit, and the way that I felt productive sitting in front of a movie now, or finishing a gift for someone in the car, suddenly made everything feel useful. Even movies were productive if they gave me another two hours to work on a project!

Branching Out
There are only so many scarves that one can make, own, and pass on to others before they begin to be very old. It was with great trepidation that I embarked on a very ambitious project - a cap-sleeved sweater made with bulky wool yarn in the most beautiful blue and green colorway that I had ever seen, and on very big needles. It promised to be a very quick knit. With some pride I finished it and wore it - and took it off. It just didn’t work. The yarn was too bulky, and standing in front of the mirror, I noticed that I had very suddenly gained weight! It was just too big and heavy for me. The sweater still sits in my yarn bin, waiting to be ripped out and made into something new. I felt discouraged at first. All of that time and effort, only to be tossed aside. For some reason, it did not discourage me for too long, and I found myself picking out more ambitious projects to do. I still stuck to the easy knit and purl stitches that I had now mastered, but refused to go beyond. I just didn’t believe that I could knit a lace shawl, or a pair of socks (such tiny needles! And the stitches! Wouldn’t you need glasses to see them?); I felt sure that something so beautiful could only be ruined by me. After all, I’m the person who breaks things, loses things, rips things and has to clean her sunglasses that get smudged with fingerprints several times a day. Genteel certainly is not I. But last year, after months of very slow progress and a growing desire to try something new, I started on a lace sweater. Very simple, but the result was lovely. It absolutely amazed me. I bought more lace weight yarn and began a shawl. I work on it off and on, and the stitch pattern is stunning. Who would have thought that I could throw the yarn off and on the needles like that and make such a lovely pattern? Encouraged, I then tried a pair of socks at my mother’s recommendation (“If I can do it, anyone can!”). Tiny needles. Yarn that looked like a very thin, stretchy string. I thought to myself: “This will take forever for me to knit”. I was wrong. The yarn flew over the needles and before I knew it, I had mastered heel turning and toe shaping on a sock. My very own, hand-knit sock. You wouldn’t be able to buy it in a package at the store. You would never have to worry about seeing someone else in the same pair. It was uniquely mine. Now I was more than confident. How about cabling? Drafting my own pattern? Intarsia? (okay, intarsia is still a future challenge). Knitting has been addictive (“just one more row!”), fun (have you ever seen how people stare as though you’re some crazy person who has just stepped through a time-machine from the nineteenth century?) and a learning experience.

What have I learned from knitting?
After all, it is much more than sticks and string. It’s knowledge, creativity, productivity and a connection with our ancestors’ way of living. It is creating beautiful things with your hands, turning idle time into productive minutes. Here are a few things that I have learned since beginning to knit...

1. You can teach an “old dog” new tricks. We are often led to believe that education and learning end with our high school, college, or master’s degree. Not so! We have a lifetime of learning ahead, and you will always be learning something new. Sharpen your brain at all times by tackling new thought processes and ideas, and keep yourself a student for the rest of your life.

2. I really can try something new and possibly be good at it. I really never had much confidence in my ability to create things, but this is because I never tried to create something. Knitting has taught me to branch out, try it, and not be afraid of the consequences.

3. Patience. Ah, yes, I admit: I’m not a of this virtue. It eludes me at all times and I often reach for it only to get frustrated because it isn’t there in my nature. But this doesn’t mean that I can’t achieve it, and knitting has certainly helped. I cannot tell you how often I have had to rip on a project, all of those stitches so lovingly and smoothly crafted on my needles, hours and hours of work, ripped because of a mistake, and I am then soon forced into beginning again.

4. Perseverance. Last year, I ripped 1,000+ stitches on a ruffle that I was creating on a cardigan. Two times, no less. I don’t even want to think about the equation of 1,000 + 1,000. It still makes me shudder. But what a pleasure to hear compliments now when I wear that cardigan. And when people ask me where I bought it, it gives me that much more of a thrill - and almost makes those ripped stitches worth it. In any case, I feel a reward for the perseverance, though it was reluctantly and painfully learned.

5.Listening to Others. I don’t like to be told how to do something. Well, not often anyway. It is very hard for me to receive instruction, and knitting has forced me into humbling myself to learn from others. I have had to realize that I don’t know everything, and that, in all probability, the person teaching me knows how to do something better than me. I have had to sit, listen and learn, then humbly ask for more help when I don’t get it right the first time. This is so important because it made me realize that I have struggled with this nature for a long time now. When my parents have lovingly corrected me or attempted to guide me, or when a sibling has tried to help me with, say, html, I have often rebuffed their advice and knowledge. I can figure it out, I would think. Now I’m realizing that I can’t. If I can’t listen to advice, teaching, caution, etc.,. how can I then be inclined to listen to God?

So you see, knitting has been a wonderful learning experience. When I first picked up those big needles and made a slip-knot with my yarn, I never dreamed I was in for such an adventure. Crafting and experimenting, working with my hands and creating beautiful things uniquely my own, all the while discovering more about myself...

You, too, might want to give it a try and see what an incredible adventure you will have!

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