Monday, November 29, 2010

The Tao of Knitting

I will be knitting in India. More specifically, I plan on knitting my niece, Zoe, a scarf that I can give to her at the end of the trip. The remarkable thing about my recent addiction to knitting is that I am not crafty at all. My inability to craft anything that looks better than a colorful turd cannot be exaggerated.  I cannot cook. I cannot scrapbook.  I cannot sew or paint or sand things.  I’m sure that my failure to learn not one craft competently has its roots in the fact that I simply don’t care to. Which is largely true. But it’s not that simple.  I also lack any natural talent.
             So why knitting?  A college friend of mine visited me this summer and knitted through her entire stay.  She and I went to a yarn store and I liked the pretty colors. Standing in the store, I thought that this was something I can handle. A scarf was something I could actually, conceivably, accomplish. And I’d had half a year of precious few accomplishments. In a semi-somnambulant daze, I found myself being led by my friend over to the needles.  And within minutes I was purchasing a ball of soft, pretty, light blue yarn with shy little flecks of gold and darker navy.
            My first scarf was wider in the middle than it was on both ends. Laid out on a bed, it looked sullen and insecure.  But subsequent scarves have been straighter, more confident.  Even bold.
I don’t ever plan on knitting anything other than scarves, because I have that down now and I don’t want to think too hard.  As soon as I finish one scarf, I start another. And when the day comes and I find that I have knitted a scarf for every one I know, I plan to keep on going. I’ll send scarves to the troops or to any other cold people on the planet who need warmth. I plan on knitting scarves until I die.
            Ever since I gave up smoking, I have not known what to do with my hands.  I tried ripping notebook paper into little squares and twisting straws and paperclips, but nothing brought me the same satisfaction as lacing a cigarette through my fingers over and over. Until knitting. It’s relatively cheap, my hands stay busy and, at the end I have something to give to people. In a year that has been jam-packed with anxiety and self-doubt, this feels awfully satisfying.
            And everyone likes a scarf. Or they say that they do. No one says, “That’s a crappy scarf, can you make me a different one?” Or, “Can I exchange this for a whole sweater?”  They don’t.  They don’t even point out the little holes or places where you screwed it up.  On the contrary, they light up when they get their scarf.  You see, they don’t simply see the scarf.  They see you choosing the yarn, thinking about them, and spending hours making a thing that will keep them warm.  I can’t even pearl (that’s knitting lingo) and I’m not sure I’ll ever need to learn.  Everyone’s digging the scarves just as they are.
            People talk to you when you’re knitting in a public place, say at your sons’ soccer games. For someone who has a hard time striking up conversations with strangers, this is a huge ancillary benefit. 
            These people say something along the lines of, “What’s that you’re knitting?”
            And you say, “I’m knitting a scarf.”
            Then they say, “Who are you knitting it for?”
            And you say, “I’m knitting it for my mother for Christmas.”
            Then they say, “Oh are you going home for Christmas?”
            And you say, “No we’re all going to India.”
            And, bingo, that’s one more person you’ve told about your trip to India!
             Yarn stores calm me down.  They’re full of calm people and I can only think that it’s because they have knit themselves into a state of wellbeing. They look and act like they’re on heroin.  Someday I’m going to be like them. Yarn stores are also full of soft, colorful wool that you can finger for hours and no one will bother you. If you knock down several skeins (knitting lingo again) of yarn, the woman behind the counter says, “That’s OK, we’ll pick it up later.” And the skeins simply lie there on the floor until I don’t know when, because I’m gone by then.  Also, yarn stores have a table that you can sit at and start knitting your scarf RIGHT THERE, RIGHT NOW.  The fix is immediate.  You can cast on (also knitting lingo) right there, in the store. You can get started and within minutes you have an inch of scarf that everyone will “ooh” over and want to touch.  There’s no place like a yarn store. Imagine buying a dress, putting it on in the store, and sitting in a comfy chair while everyone stops by to tell you how great it is--IN DETAIL.
Yarn stores have odd hours like 3pm until midnight. Sometimes they are closed when they say that they’re going to be open. That’s because knitters are so easy going that they simply close up the shop, when they feel like it, to walk to a local cafĂ© to knit and have a hot cup of Earl Grey.
            People who work in yarn shops all knit themselves.  They’re like proprietors of medical marijuana stores.  They know every brand, every smell and texture, because they’ve tried each one and they’re probably using one now.
            I’ve noticed that the knitting demographic overlaps hugely with the demographic of crazy cat ladies.  Lots of lesbians knit for some reason. As do gay men. Is it a gay thing? I don’t know. The only straight men who knit are those who are very comfortable with their masculinity and have decent small motor control. Of course, straight women knit too but, again, they usually own at least one cat. Like me. Knitters tend to drink tea, not coffee. And not a whole lot of knitters wear make-up. This is where I splinter off a bit because whenever I appear in public, without make-up, people ask me what’s wrong.
            Knitting brings me the same kind of relaxation that traveling does. Both require surrender.  When I’m traveling, I cannot go through the tall stack of unread mail on my desk.  I cannot do anything about my career.  I can’t vacuum up the cat hair in the living room.  Heck, I can’t even feed my cat, because a neighbor is already doing that.  All I can do is be present and stay loose for the next big thing that I can’t even anticipate because I’m in a totally new place.
            While I’m knitting, I can’t do much else either. I can listen to a conversation or television, but that’s about it.  Knitting slows me down. And I find myself giving in, giving up my mental accounting of all the things I should be doing, because I AM doing. Sort of.  See this pretty scarf?

Brett's first scarf


  1. That scarf has character and don't you dismiss it.

  2. There is an organization in Boston that knits scarfs for the fisherman. If you could make your scarf as wide as it is long, you'd have a baby blanket.

  3. Your scarf is beautiful. It reminds me of the one I spent weeks knitting for my first college boyfriend, except mine was short and wide, very nearly square. Like a placemat.

  4. I'm struck by the photo background. The skyish blue is so vibrant with that warm golden tones! Just stopping by on my search for Tao, a knitter who showed some advanced pieces a few years back. Maybe I'm mixing up the name.

    Anyway, I love knitting. The most important thing about knitting is to enjoy it. To feel that you are mastering the needles and the thread(s) and are capable of creating a piece from it. It's magic what you can do with one long thread, isn't it?

    Yeah, reminds me that I need to stock up on green tea tomorrow! And for a cat, I don't have one, but had two as a kid. And a dog. :) Actually, I knitted my very first tiny little red doll's scarf at the time when I got my little greyish tiger shorthaired kitten, which was baptised under the apple tree. Being the big sister, I knew that baptising was part of giving a name to a new brother, or cat.

    Never been to India, but it's such a different world. A world, totally apart, with the thousands of years of history and cultures. Travel of your lifetime, I can only guess.

    Best wishes, fellow knitters