Monday, December 04, 2006


I learned to knit when I was six years and a couple of months old. It was the summer after first grade, we were at my grandmother's, and my mother had promised during the school year that she would teach me to knit that summer. We brought those shiny aluminum single-point needles that are color-coded by size, and some acrylic, and the first morning she sat me down and taught me to knit. To everyone's shock, I sat on the couch all day long, knitting away at my garter stitch... thing.

Sometime the next summer, I learned to purl. I learned one way to decrease (k2tog) and one way to increase (knitting into the front and back of the same stitch). I learned a knitted cast-on and a knitted cast-off. And sometime after that, I learned to knit with two colors.

I never learned how to follow a pattern, or do anything else. I realized later that my mother had shared with me all her own knitterly knowledge; she could sew very well and creatively, but knitting was not really her thing. I thought it was cool, but looking back I just didn't have the tools, or the materials, to do very much.

Throughout elementary school, I confused people by taking whatever spending money I had to the five and time and spending it on skeins and skeins of space-dyed Red Heart acrylic, which I would wind into tight balls and stack on shelves. Occasionally I would knit a baby blanket for a doll. My babysitter taught me to crochet, and I crocheted a few more baby blankets. My senior year of high school, at a mall, I went into a craft store and discovered my first all-wool yarn--a couple of skeins of it, in heathered blue and green, hiding among the Red Heart. I bought them, took them to college, and freshman year made myself a scarf in basket stitch-- half of it in blue and half of it in green. It got lost at the beginning of my sophomore year, after I'd transferred to a new college. I haunted the lost and found for weeks, but it never turned up.

The following winter I had an internship at a magazine in the town near my college. I took the bus there and back twice a week, I think. The bus left three times an hour, in theory, but there was no appreciable schedule. It was cold and this presented a problem; I was wearing skirts, nice shoes, and hose, and I still remember the cold, and the pain. I quickly hit upon the solution of walking an extra block from the office to the bus stop that was in front of what was then Woolworth's. I'd walk inside, keep warm, and keep an eye out through the window for my bus. I'd look at the sale table. And sometimes I'd pick up a diet coke. It worked fine.

And one day...

There was a Teach Yourself to Knit Kit on the sale table.

I don't remember how much it cost, but it can't have been much if I bought it. There were, as I recall, two sets of aluminum needles, an instruction book and a cable needle. The cable needle was what really sold me. I can do cables? But cables are hard!

They're not, of course, as any knitter knows. I figured them out pretty quickly. I had some yarn somewhere in a closet, bought the previous summer at a farmer's market. I found a pattern for cabled mittens on two (two!) needles (with a seam! a seam on mittens! can you imagine?!) I made them for Anne, my friend from high school.

Then I made a pair for my boyfriend.

Then I made a pair for my father.

Then I... well, I don't really remember. I made a lot of hats and mittens and scarves. But at the time I was also quilting, and knitting had not really become a big thing for me. Yet.

At the end of the year, I moved to DC for the summer, and then to Hungary that fall. The knitting of hats and mittens continued, along with knitting of scarves. But the first sweater, and the beginning of the Serious Knitting Phase, was not until December. It was a rose-colored Lopi with a cream and brown pattern--I must have bought the pattern, needles, and yarn before I left, although I really don't remember doing it.

I made that sweater in seven days. It was my first sweater, my first anything on circular needles, and I was still throwing the yarn, figuring out what the instructions meant, not quite sure about the whole idea of gauge. I'm sure I didn't do a gauge swatch. I just got lucky.

I showed the sweater to my grandmother, and then gave it away. Of the ten or so sweaters I made in Hungary, I still have one; of the dozens and dozens of sweaters I've made since--I must be well into triple digits by now--I think I have ten. I give most of them away. I don't currently have a matching pair of gloves, and my only matching mittens are screaming orange and stretched completely out of shape; I have, of all my knitting of socks, only two pairs of handmade socks (one of which is years old). I don't have a handknit scarf (although I have one that I wove and three beautiful lace shawls, none of which I knit myself).

But all over the world there are people staying warm in sweaters and hats and socks and scarves and mittens and gloves that I made. I made mittens for my Russian teacher in Russia and my roommates in Hungary; I made a sweater for my friend to give her when I visited her in Turkey, and for my former roommate when I visited her in Vienna. There are people wearing things I made in England, Israel, Australia, Germany, Ukraine, Finland, Wales, and I don't even know where else--it's been too long.

For me, giving gifts of knitting is my way of showing love. My gift to my husband when we got engaged was a handspun, handknit scarf. I made scarves for each of his parents before they became my in-laws, and my father-in-law earned my undying love by holding them up for admiration when he spoke at our sheva brachos. I made a scarf for my DSIL the first winter I was married; when we went to Israel, I brought my ISIL a sweater and a pair of socks. I knit for my family, I knit for my friends. I knit for the people I care about. It's just what I do.

These days, I have much less time for knitting. Embarassingly, none of my nieces or nephews have a sweater; not all of them even have hats. My DSIL doesn't have a sweater yet, though it's on the list. And my own kids each only have one sweater that I made them that fits--fortunately, other knitter friends have been taking up the slack.

I just started Iyyar's blanket. It is a Knitting Into the Void Blanket, meaning it will take so long to finish that one doesn't even really think about the conclusion. The last blanket I made like this took two and a half years, off and on; I made it on size 8 needles and it finished up large enough to be a bedspread for a twin bed, reaching to the floor on both sides.

In the hierarchy of knitted goods, blankets are the ne plus ultra. You don't get a blanket unless you seriously rank--I can make a whole drawerful of socks in the time it takes to make a blanket, and if I give you a blanket it is because I expect, or at least hope, that you are in my life to stay. I have lost track of most of what I have given away, but I know exactly who has a blanket. The first blanket I wove, of handspun, went to my host family in England; the second to my grandmother; the third to someone I now wish didn't have it; the fourth, a supremely overambitious doublewoven blanket with a mixed warp and mohair boucle weft, was a wedding gift to a friend who I don't think really understood the magnitude of what she was getting. The only pleasure I got from that blanket was giving it away to a happy recipient--it was miserable to weave, and I don't think I'll ever do doubleweave again.

My friend C has what will probably be my last woven blanket, and I've made two knitted afghans, both while pregnant with Barak: one for Savta, and one for the family in Passaic that stepped in when it was time for me to make my wedding and I had no idea how to do it alone. Both of those were the intensely addictive log cabin afghans, of which I made a smaller version for Barak. One of these days I will make one for Grandma E, but it will be a while--it's okay, because she has a pretty impressive sweater and a growing collection of socks. And she knows we love her and a blanket would only serve to underscore the point.

So, blankets. It's time to do one for Iyyar. I cast on over the weekend, and it is growing; by the time he is big enough to sleep alone in a real crib with a wool blanket, I hope it will be ready for him. I don't have a picture right now, but when I do I will bli neder post photographs of the progress; if anyone is interested in a knitalong, it's a pretty simple pattern with brainless knitting but an interesting color progression with good stash-busting potential. Cast on three stitches and increase one stitch at each end of every other garter-stitch row; keep going until you have the diagonal measure you want, and then start decreasing. For the colors, I am alternating rows of different yarns from my stash, which keeps me thinking ahead and allows me the noble feeling of working through some of the yarn sitting around back here in baskets.

I knit primarily because I enjoy it, but I give things away because I enjoy that even more. I like thinking about the hats and gloves and mittens and scarves that are getting brought out when the cold weather starts; I wish I could have a group picture of all the people who have something I've made, all together, modeling their goods. Old friends, new friends, long-lost friends, my husband, my kids.

Iyyar doesn't care, of course, if he's sleeping under a blanket I've made. As long as it's warm and soft and cozy, he doesn't care if it came off my needles or a shelf at Target.

But I do.


yiddishehmama said...

What a beautiful story of "love"! Thank you for taking the time to write and share what is in your heart and life. You've brought tears to my eyes but they are the good kind. I'm sorry we didn't know each other when you were married. It would have been an honor to help you. I'm glad you had someone who "appeared".

LC said...

Beautiful - and another reminder that my 7yo wants to learn to knit. I have no clue, but apparently managed to acquire (inherit? in the loose sense of the word) some knitting needles, and I bought a beginners book for her (us!) for Chanukah. SO we'll see how it goes. It's good to know that 7 isn't too early to start.

Uberimma said...

7 is absolutely not too early! I taught a 5-year-old once. He got pretty good, too.

susan said...

As long as you finish the blanket before this:
My mother is still crocheting an afghan her MIL started for my older brother. He's almost 46; the afghan was started just after he was born.

Uberimma said...

That makes me think of the crocheted afghan in Like Water for Chocolate...

jasmin said...

A beautiful post. This is the sort of thing that makes total strangers check your blog addictively, and then be charmed by the stories of Iyyar and Barak.

I learned to knit a small square that looked like it had been attacked by moths when I was a child, but I re-learned when C had the idea of making a baby blanket for a friend and each of us in our group making a square. Most had never knitted but it turned out beautiful, and we did it again for another member of the group. C made me a hat I love and bright red un-Army socks which I also love, and a Harry Potter scarf for my son. I made a scarf for a friend and then another one: Red Heart acrylic on shiny aluminum needles!

I was just thinking I need to learn to do more. My dad loves wearing button-up knit vests, which have become ridiculously hard to find and are, for some reason, more expensive than cardigans even though they lack the sleeves. He's got paint or something on the only 3 he owns so none of them are fit for company any more. I played with the idea of making 3 rectangles and stitching them together, but it won't be the same. My mom was never into knitting so that won't work. At last I found 2 at Gottschalk's and bought them both for Christmas, but it would be nice to be able to make him one.

Anonymous said...

i love my blanket!! it traveled with me when i moved to sydney and for 6 months (don't ask) it was the home-iest thing I had in my new and empty apartment.