Knitting My Brow, Looking for Purls of Wisdom


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A couple of years ago, I signed up for a two-part knitting class, offered through the recreation department in my town. The woman who taught the class could probably knit upside down and with her eyes closed and her hands behind her back, but very patiently she got us started in the language of yarn and knots and needles. I wanted to learn to knit, to be creative with my fingers, and to make something through the slow process of handmade, instead of the instant gratification of mass-factory-made. I did not finish the scarf, and, like lots of my obsessions, I put it aside. A year later, I turned up for another knitting class and began again. This time it wasn’t like picking up a foreign language, instead my fingers clumsily remembered the language and feel of yarn and knots and needles. After the second knitting class was over, I put the unfinished scarf away, picking it up in fits and starts, knitting a few rows, before putting it down again.

A few nights over this winter have had me dreaming about scarves and knitting. I realized there was something unfinished in me, something unfinished that went beyond two piles of yarn in a bag gathering dust on a shelf. I picked up the two incomplete scarves and curled up to get reacquainted again. In some ways, it felt like I had never put the knitting down. In other ways, I kicked myself for leaving it behind. The needles and wool, threaded precariously through my fingers, were welcome. My mind moved into the monotony of counting to 20 and the quiet clicking of the needles. It was a beautiful boredom, not distasteful at all. I felt like my mind, spirit, and body were all happily occupied. It was just an easing into the moment where all that exists is the row of the knit. I finished one scarf and am three-fourths through with the other one. All that is left is a visit to the knitting store where the kind and helpful knitting teacher will show me how to “tie one off.” For those of you familiar with the phrase “tie one on,” this is very different. To “tie one on” is to binge with alcohol, to “tie one off” is to put the finishing touches on the knitting so it doesn’t unravel into oblivion. They are quite well opposites, because to finish a project means the binge with wool and knitting is complete, always leaving the possibility for a new one to begin.

Luckily, for me, I don’t think the binge is over. I just need to pick some yarn for the next project. I’m a beginning knitter and it doesn’t come easily to me. Very quickly a nice row of 20 becomes an incongruous row of 23 or an abbreviated row of 18 and my self-corrections include things not recommended by a knitting expert. I just drop the extra stitches in the middle of the row to work back to 20. When I come up short, I split the thick yarn to find two extra loops. I enjoy solving on the fly, the messy, uneven rows evidence of my inexperience. I revel in the unravel. I don’t have aspirations of knitted hats or knitted socks or other knitted attire. I’m quite content with rows and rows of knitting, not sure if I care about the mysteries of purling or cabling or other such words in this knitting language. My creations may be limited to scarves–I’d better find some friends or some charitable folks who will pleasantly wear long randomly unbalanced adornments. Maybe I’ll figure out how to make really small blankets, or at least see if my sorry scarf skills can translate into hand-knitted dish rags, where the ugly can gain beauty in the functions of scrubbing and cleaning. After more evenings with those beloved needles, I may even have the audacity to attempt a blanket.

I have dear friends who live hundreds of miles away who are lovely women and lovely knitters. There’s a group of folks that gather here in town to knit and they’ve become friends over yarn and through the intricacies of their projects, intimate in art. I yearn to use yarn in the language with others, with strangers, with old friends. I also enjoy the solitary act of knitting. I can imagine bringing the knitting along, while others work on their own creative projects, solitary and yet together. Creative companions enjoy company.

Sometimes, there’s joy in the simple act of counting and knitting. Sometimes, there’s joy in the silence. Sometimes, there’s joy in a skill that doesn’t come easily. Sometimes, there’s redemption in knowing that practice is needed. Sometimes, it’s enough that when the fingers are busy, the mind gets quiet. Sometimes, it’s enough to know that there are lots of ways to create. Sometimes, it will be enough to sit quietly with friends, knitting the evening away. Sometimes there’s contentment in knowing it’s never quite finished. Sometimes, I hope it will be enough that my enjoyment creates something to keep someone warm, my love lost among the stitches.

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