Knitting Lessons

Maida - Austin, Texas
Entered on November 25, 2008

I believe that learning to knit yarn into rows of even stitches can shape a life.

My Mom was an occasional knitter as I was growing up, although a drawer full of stunning vests and sweaters evidenced that she had been ferocious about the craft as a younger woman. I was transfixed by the rhythm she made with her needles and yarn, and one day when I was 8 she pulled me into her lap and said “Let’s knit together”.

She showed me how to create the foundation row of stitches and put them onto the needle, a process called ‘casting on’. Guided by her motions, I held a white, slightly bowed plastic needle in my right hand. She tied a slip knot to create a little loop about 2 feet from the end of a pale pink ball of yarn and put it on the needle. “That’s the first stitch” she said, “and this is how we do the rest.” Using both lengths extending from the stitch, she wrapped one around the thumb and the other around the index finger of her left hand and anchored them gently against her palm with her ring finger and pinkie. Holding the needle together, we drew from under the left side and over the right, pulling gently to tighten only just-so. A second stitch lay on the needle, and then a third, fourth, fifth.

Mom suddenly slipped all the neat stitches off the needle, pulling out the knots and straightening the yarn so it became its former self. I was alarmed and horrified to see such matter-of-fact destruction. “It’s your turn” she said. I struggled while she advised and re-demonstrated, and I finally managed to get twenty stitches onto the needle. “Now we knit” she said, showing me how to insert the second needle into each loop, wrap the yarn around the needle and pull it through to make a new stitch, then many stitches, and many rows. I had no idea at the time that the lesson had more to do with self-motivation than knitting, but was deeply satisfied to feel the fabric I created, the bumpy pinkness of the garter stitch that I announced would become my first scarf.

During that scarf project two girlfriends surrendered to my enthusiasm and Mom taught them to knit, too. We’d meet at my house after school to work on our projects and gab several times a week. Occasionally we’d drop stitches and ask Mom to help us fix our misshapen work. Sometimes that meant ripping out rows to a point just before the error. “It’s not worth the effort to knit a piece with a mistake in it” she said in response to our protest. I learned the difference between doing and doing well.

Over the years I’ve knitted scarves and sweaters for others and for myself. I’ve felt the exhilaration of planning a new project, surveying patterns and colors, fingering the textures of wool, mohair, cashmere and cotton. I marvel at the tools Mom gave me through knitting: decision-making and understanding of consequences, consistency and flexibility, patience and moderation, perseverance, control of rhythm and tension, non-instant gratification, camaraderie and connection with heritage, and permission to indulge in the joy of creation.

I am still knitting, and still learning. Thanks, Mom.