It may sound like an odd thing for a nineteen-year-old to do. Wasn’t I busy with college, work, a social life? Well, yes. And while I was a nerd of the bookish kind, I wasn’t one of the denim jumper crowd. No one in my family was a knitter. But at the time I was a Martha Stewart devotee, waiting anxiously every month for my copy of Martha Stewart Living to arrive. I was also substitute teaching a lot while I worked on getting my own teaching certificate. Basically, I spent my non-class days babysitting middle and high school kids whose absent teachers had left a stack of worksheets for me to distribute (read: I had nothing to do but keep order).
When the November issue of MSL showed up, the monthly “101” article was on knitting, and it included a pattern for a simple scarf. I considered it thoughtfully. The idea of learning how to do something with yarn–something useful and cozy and which involved working with my hands–had appeal.
A few weeks later, my mom and I made our annual foray to Frankenmuth, Michigan. Frankenmuth is a small, German-inspired town roughly two hours north of Detroit. It’s known for its two hallmark restaurants, Zehnder’s and the Bavarian Inn, and their “world famous” family-style chicken dinners. It’s also home to Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, which claims to be (and very likely is) the world’s largest Christmas store. Every year, mom and I spend a day in Frankenmuth, beginning at Bronner’s, where we buy a Christmas decoration or two (okay, or ten), followed by lunch at one of the two restaurants and ending with some shopping in downtown Frankenmuth.
That year, we discovered a new store: Rapunzel’s. Ensconced in a small, white house next door to Zehnder’s, the name alone drew me in. A store named Rapunzel’s? As a child, this Rapunzel was my favorite fairy tale character. I had to see what was inside.
The front of the shop was clearly a boutique. Clothing, jewelry, trinkets of the mouth-watering kind. But the back was . . . yarn. Shelf upon shelf of yarn. Yarn like I’d never seen before. Over the coming years, I’d come to understand that there was such a thing as artisan yarn, and that was what Rapunzel’s sold. None of the scratchy polyester blends you find at the big craft stores. This was softness, airiness, beauty.
I was sold.
For who knows what reason, I happened to have my copy of MSL in my bag. I pulled it out, showed the sales clerk, and she helped me select a skein of yarn appropriate for the scarf, as well as a pair of beautifully shaped, size 8 Brittany straight needles.
Over the next few weeks, I made that scarf. I was meticulous about it, too. I must have done that first cast on twenty times. When a row went wrong or I dropped a stitch, I tore out the row and did it over. I wasn’t satisfied with holes or uneven stitches. I wanted it to be right. I took pleasure in making it right.
And I discovered I loved knitting. I love the feel of the smooth birch needles in my hands, the way the yarn slipped over them, the feeling of working with my hands. I also loved discovering how a yarn project unfolds, revealed row by row as something more than you first imagine possible. I still feel that way today. Even though I know what a pattern intends, it still amazes me every time I knit something new and see how the loops of endless yarn take shape, becoming something that is initially invisible and altogether surprising.
Research shows that knitting–that handicrafts in general–are good for you. They provide stress relief, use the brain in a different way than most modern occupations, and produce something lasting. And who doesn’t need stress relief?
For years, I knit simple scarves because they were easy. There’s no shaping involved in scarves, no increasing or decreasing. I made scarves for Christmas gifts, made scarves as a form of therapy. At the end of a hectic day, knitting soothed me. Then a friend had a baby, and I made a baby sweater as a gift. I felt like I could fly after I finished that tiny yellow-and-white striped cardigan with its little raglan sleeves and buttonholes.
Knitting has been a part of my life off and on for twenty-two years. There have been some seasons when I’ve set it aside because of busyness (the baby years, for example), but I always eventually return to it. Now that my youngest is mobile, I’m back in a knitting season, and I’m looking forward to the day when I teach my daughters how to do their first cast on. Maybe their first project will be potholders; maybe it will be that same Martha Stewart scarf.
When I moved to Grand Rapids in 2008, I discovered a yarn shop in my neighborhood, City Knitting (sadly, it closed a year later). The first time I went into City Knitting, I saw this wonderful knitted cloche. I thought, I want that hat. I’m going to make that hat. And I did. From there, I’ve moved to cowls, baby dresses, boot toppers, and shawls. I make things for my girls (I made the hat and cowl in the photo above–that’s H wearing it). There’s no end to the beauty you can produce with a pair of needles and some good yarn, and anyone can learn to do it.
If you’re curious and would like to give knitting a try, here’s a link to the pattern for that same scarf, the first one I ever made. Feel free to comment here on the blog with questions and issues you might run into, or find me on Facebook. If you can find a small, local yarn shop (an LYS, they call it in the knitting world), all the better. Ask the proprietor to help you choose a nice yarn and your first pair of needles. Find a yarn that feels good against your skin, a pair of needles that feel right in your hands.
You’re never too old to learn to knit, and knitting most certainly is not just for old ladies. As I’m still discovering, it’s a whole world with hundreds of years of history and artistry behind it, all centering around that thing inherent in all of us, the need to create.