all useful things

My hands and mind itched to blog today. But I had nothing to write about. Well, I did actually, but it’s something I’ve tried not to write about here.

But since I have started an official science blog elsewhere, I no longer feel so bad about writing about KNITTING.

I started knitting about two years ago last fall. I very much encountered knitting during the peak of its recent popularity craze. I saw a blog entry where the writer photographed her “Christmas knitting sweatshop” work as she ground out gifts for her extended family. The things were lovely. Hats and scarves and garments that were colorful, and looked soft and warm and wearable, not hokey, bulky or ugly. There is a nexus in my spirit where creativity and practicality meet, and it is here that my love of knitting lies. For the first time it occurred to me that there was a creative art form that used color, texture, and manual skill to make — CLOTHING. Ready-to-wear art made by hand. I was sold from the get-go.

My first project was a long brown scarf for my friend Laura, garter-stitched from thick brown yarn, with too-short fringe, and probably not very pretty. But I’d made it myself, and still remember the wonder I felt to see my creation come off the needles. I was making something!

Next I made my friend Rowan a blue headscarf. I see now that my blue was bilious, mixed with metallic yarn. Too much. I never did see her wear it…

Next was a scarf for my friend Pete. He’s 6’4″, so I thought he might like a long scarf. I made another simple garter-stitch scarf, a good eight feet long and knit-two-together in a guyish dark charcoal that was perfect for him. And from Pete I first heard the words that let any knitter know she’s finally got it right: “You made this?” As in, Wow, I will actually wear this and like it! I can’t believe someone I know made it!

I’ve known Pete since we were both 16, and in all those years I never gave him anything that made him happy like that scarf did. He put it right on, wore it for the rest of the evening, and emailed me the next day to tell me how much he liked it. Pete is a stereotypical male and does not get excited over clothing. But this he openly and unabashedly loved.

My work came in a flurry after that. Two hat-and-scarf sets for my mom, one in aqua and one in orange, both per her request. Another long scarf in artsy purple for Rowan. A dark blue scarf for Randee, and a cream-and-brown one for her husband Gary. All beautiful things. All useful things.

And that is what I love about knitting. It is practical. It is beautiful. It is a gift of time and attention. It’s not always cheap, but creating your work yourself means you can make it any size, shape, color and texture you are able. Scarves, to my mind, really need to be a good eight feet long, even for people shorter than Pete. IMO the only reason scarves in stores are shorter is that they’re made by profit-hungry corporations happy to cut corners. Store-bought scarves are thin and short. Handmade scarves are eight feet long, soft, warm, everlasting. As much like a store-bought scarf as a home-cooked meal is like a TV dinner. Handknitted things are made by a person, not a machine. A person who sat on her living room couch picking out colors she thought you would like, wanting to make you happy, hoping to shelter you from the elements.

If someone makes you clothing, she likes you. She offers you time and affection.

Knitting takes time. You are giving a gift of time and attention spent. And love is attention, really, if you think about it. With a gift of knitting you tell someone that it was your pleasure to use a block of time from your life to make something just for them.

Obviously knitting is GREAT for gifts. You can make something very pretty for $15 or less. Spend $50 or more, and you can make something absolutely amazing. Spend $100 and make a family heirloom — a handknitted cabled cardigan, a sumptuous woolen baby blanket, a hat-and-scarf set of superlative beauty, all made to last a lifetime. The moth is the only enemy of handknitted things well-made (woolens, anyway).

At Christmastime, I make scarves and hats. They’re easy, fast, and seasonally perfect. An ice-blue winter hat with an eyelet row and a blue-green scarf for a person who may read this and so shall remain nameless. (I don’t like my creations to be too matchy-matchy, and consider it a personal trademark that the hats and scarves I make match, but are not made from identical yarns. ) A really gorgeous bright hat in lilac and aqua blue for Heather, who may well be wearing it right now in Alaska. An extra-thick long brown-and-cream scarf (just like Gary’s) for my friend Britt.

And for Rowan, lots and lots. Of all my friends, she’s the one who most loves my work and even designs her things herself. She too loves colors and textures, and handmade knitwear fits right in with her strong and highly developed sense of personal style. I’m lucky to have a friend like Rowan. She is one of the most electric and charismatic people I have ever known. She has gorgeous spiral-curly (all-natural) red hair and hazel eyes, and looks like a Scottish fairy princess disguised as a goth granola (picture her in ass-kicking leather hobnailed boots, layered skirts, a cropped brown cardigan and a hippie linen headwrap). For Rowan (to whom I have already given two scarves this year for her 30th birthday, and one for Christmas last year), a black neckwarmer and fuzzy, extra-soft black wristwarmers.

And that’s why I love knitting. Because I can make something with color and texture and shape of my choosing (or theirs!), and when I am done — someone can wear it! Practicality and creativity meet in a way that will call to me all my life.

One response to “all useful things

  1. Love it! You’ve pegged so many of the things I love about knitting. Thanks for turning your muse to this topic.

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