What about me? she said. My oldest friend, Josefa. She was eyeing the slubby cowl I made for my sister-in-law.
Okay, I said. How about pink?
And so I was off. Seed stitch, ribbon-yarn, simple cast on with 15 stitches.
My friends are not knitters. It may be hard for some of them to comprehend why I have become enraptured with sticks and wool.
This, then, is why I knit.
1. Because I can ply my needles on the couch with my dog snoozing beside me.
2. Because I’m bad at it. Fumbling with needles is humbling. Every dropped stitch, every extraneous loop is a lesson in how much I have to learn, how far I have to go. You can’t be cocky when you’re ripping out a row.
3. Because it gives me goals. Long term: some day I will use a cabling needle. Make a sweater. Upholster a chair. Sit at the back table in the knitting store with the people who really know their craft, the ones bringing into being elaborate mohair sleeves. Follow a pattern off of the wonderful German knitting site Grasflecken. Or, short-term – make it to the end of this skein this evening, before bedtime. Get three lap throws done by Christmas for presents. Wind a multicolored ball using this straight-backed chair.
4. Because I have absolute authority over colors, yarn weight and texture. Slinky, silky, chunky, nubbly. The hues of daybreak or deepest shadows. The coarse, undyed wool scarf made for my brother came from a Jacob sheep and was 12 feet long. Decisions I alone made (and my brother has to live with).
5. Because gifts materialize with my love woven into them. See above, 12 feet of scarf. Someone might not like the thing you knit for them, but they always recognize the sentiment.
6. Because it connects me with history. Men knitted stockings in Renaissance England. In the Scottish Isles, turn of the twentieth century, housewives knitted as they walked. With bundles on their backs! I’m part of an honored lineage.
7. Because it gives me something to do.
8. Because it’s so unlike writing. No paper, no ink, no computer screen, no books flopped open for reference. No stagefright, no verbal errors to erase. Instead, pliable, vibrant yarn, plush in your hands, fuzzy with promise.
9. Because it’s so much like writing. Building nub upon nub of fiber, row after row after row, is the closest thing to building sentences word by word. You make mistakes. You rip them out. You choose color, texture. It’s about you and not about you. If you keep at it long enough, you get a blanket, the same as keeping at the written word gets you a book. At the end, you look at your product and say, did I do that? And smile: you did.
10. Because I can. Now. I always wanted to knit. I never thought I could learn. I believed my fingers were too inept, my hands too shaky. I had already turned 50 when I tried in earnest, asking for help – which wasn’t easy – from my nephew’s girlfriend Paula, and making swaths of nothing identifiable, with huge bulges and ladders. I’m not gonna pick up waterskiing now, at this time of my life, but I can pick up a pair of needles and land on my feet. Even make a pair of socks for those feet. Well, nearly.
This one’s for you, Josefa. Wear it with your pink pants, if you insist.