My mother knit and crocheted. I have two brothers and a father and we were a busy household, so my mother was a busy woman and rarely had time to just sit. Even when she could, though, she wasn’t still. Her hands were always in motion, needles flashing, while blankets and sweaters appeared out of thin air.
She would tell me stories of sitting on the porch with my father’s mother, my grandmother, and knitting while they talked. My mother is one of those rare women who found a mother in law she loved, perhaps more than her own mother. My grandmother passed away when I was only a few days old. I never knew her. But my mom spoke of her warmly as she knit sweaters.
Mom taught me to knit when I was very young. I completed about 2 feet of a very ugly yellow scarf and didn’t pick up the needles again until I was 19.
Sophomore year of college knitting was suddenly a fad. Everywhere on campus, girls (and the occasional dude) churned out scarves and hats and mittens. I remembered how to actually knit, but I couldn’t remember how to get the stitches on the needle (casting on). So I cornered one of the girls from my Spanish classes and had her teach me how to cast on. I filched some yarn from my mom when I was home one weekend, and made a scarf. I finished it and cornered someone else in the dorm to help me get the stitches back off the needles (casting off).
I mailed it off to my then boyfriend, only to have my heart broken a few weeks later. I still wish he’d give me back that scarf.
I was briefly put off from my knitting, nursing my broken heart with copious amounts of alcohol, bad music, and friends.
A year later, though, I went to Mexico for a semester. I had a wonderful time, five months full of sunshine, laughter, food, dancing, staying out too late, going to the beach, siestas, and the occasional class.
I was homesick, though. I emailed people frequently, called home on Sundays, talked to the mister (who was then just “the boy”) when I could, but I was homesick. Somehow, I found myself at a Wal-mart one afternoon (yes, they have them in Guadalajara) with a friend and I wandered into their craft section. Yarn. Knitting needles. They came home with me.
I knit the world’s ugliest scarf out of the world’s ugliest acrylic yarn and I left it in Mexico when I came home. But the flash of the needles, the gentle clicking sound as I turned out row after row, the familiar-yet-foreign movements of pulling yarn from the skein…home.
When I returned to college my senior year, a new yarn store had popped up in my college town. Row upon row of beautiful colors, soft textures, fun patterns. I was hooked. I made scarves and hats for friends, who were very kind to indulge me and pretend that those things were nice when in fact they were crap.
The mister and I spent a lot of time together in his workshop, me sitting on a ratty garage chair, my feet propped on the warm edge of the woodstove while he tinkered on work equipment or car parts, talking the whole while.
I went to law school and the knitting kept me sane. I would reward myself with a few rows in garter stitch after briefing a case. I started mittens to soothe my mind into sleep during midterms my first year. Socks appeared shortly thereafter, during finals. Learning to turn a heel was a welcome distraction from fee simple determinables.
The mister and I bought our house and I settled my meager yarn stash onto the lowest shelves of our linen closet with excitement. We’d spend our evenings in domestic bliss, my feet in his lap on the couch while he read and I knit.
And slowly, the knitting improved. There were fewer dropped stitches, more intricate patterns, finished products that were actually wearable. I made shawls and scarves and hats and gave them to people who actually wore them in public.
I had knitting in my purse the day I got married.
I graduated and began working full time and the knitting came with me on public transit. I knit socks and hats as the light rail whizzed down Hiawatha, taking me to and from a job I loved at first but grew to detest. I would knit on the train, sick to my stomach with worry and stress over that job.
The knitting sometimes distracted me from my misery and stopped me from breaking into sobs on the train when I couldn’t time my commutes to coincide with my friend B, who also kept me from crying. At least something good came of those commutes.
Knitting kept me company through the months of unemployment, when I spent my days alone. You can only send out so many resumes and receive so many rejection letters before you start to take it personally, to sink into depression and wonder what it is that makes you so worthless. Knitting helped counteract that. At least I had something to show for my time. Hats, scarves, and shawls for friends, socks for the mister, sweaters for my mom, mittens for the homeless shelter. I knit.
I sent my darling friend MJ to International Falls with a huge, warm shawl I knit for her to wrap up in. I began stitching a wedding wrap for my friend Kate, thousands of tiny stitches on tiny needles (a task I’m still working on now) and I cannot wait to give it to her. Even if it’s not warm enough for her to wear it on her wedding day (she might have to resort to a coat), I know she’ll treasure it. The mister got several pairs of new socks, my mom got a sweater, and I spent my meager disposable income on yarn.
Sometimes seeing my yarn shop owner was the only human contact I’d have before the mister came home from work. I wonder if she knows how much her welcoming smile and genuine kindness helped me.
And now I’m working again. Sure, it’s not my ideal job, but I am so stupidly happy to go there every day, so delighted in the 8 hours of honest-to-God work, even as I curse the really awful hours and the occasional moron caller, that it’s nauseating. And I’m good at this job, really good at it, and that makes me feel better. I am not worthless or awful or incompetent, as I thought I was after my last job and the seemingly unending months of unemployment.
And, bonus, during downtime at this job, I can sit with my knitting and crank out a couple of stitches, maybe even a whole row, as I wait for another call. No complex lace or difficult patterns, but a simple sock, around and around on double-pointed needles, occupies my slow moments, just as it has occupied my hands through so many other moments.