June 08, 2011

A post about knitting

When someone knits something for you, it's a way of saying they love you. Knitting can be incredibly naff, I'll admit. There are some awful, awful patterns and yarns out there.
I will never knit a pair of trousers, or a bikini, or a skirt. You will never see me knit anything with a reindeer or bobbles in the pattern.
But baby hats and cardigans fall from my needles like petals; little tiny garments for little tiny people whose very existence revolves around milk and sleep and love. And when they are adorned in something knitted, they are wearing that love, literally.
Knitting is a winter activity; it's for sitting in front of the fire, slippers on, hot tea on the coffee table. It's what hot biscuits out of the oven and costume dramas were invented for.
At lunchtime on rainy weekdays, I crave going to the knitting shop. I'll look at all the yarns, browse the patterns, but hardly ever buy anything. I have a big enough stash of gifted yarn and leftovers at home that should keep me going for some time. And I can honestly say I don't mind if it's raining on the weekend. That just means less work in the garden and more time inside knitting.
Knitting has its own objects of desire. For me, only metal knitting needles will do. Old, slightly bent metal needles found in a tin at the Sallys are like gold to me. They're my treasure. I have more pairs of needles than I know what to do with; it drives my partner crazy. I've put them all in an old jug, where they stick up like petal-less flowers.
Knitting doesn't have to be a practical thing, like a piece of clothing or a blanket. I've met women who knit everything under the sun from "tree cosies" to genitalia. I recently saw a Dylan Thomas poem knitted by more than 1000 people who contributed a letter each, and in the United States a group of knitters covered an entire petrol station in blankets, turning it into a fluffy piece of art.
I'm a relative newbie to knitting, although my mother taught me the basics when I was a child. She's an exceptional knitter, as if she was born with needles in her hands. Knitting has a language, you have to learn it. Reading a pattern is at first like looking at hieroglyphics or a code to be broken.
It wasn't until five years ago, with the imminent birth of my nephew, that I knitted my first garment. When my sister was still pregnant, we visited an aunt who had piles of ancient knitting patterns. Something in that pile of patterns inspired me. I didn't remember which was knit and which was purl; I borrowed a stack of patterns and got my sister to re-teach me.
The first thing I made, from a 1970s pattern, was a striped red, purple and brown jersey that my nephew wore for about five minutes before it was too small. It took months to make, with lots of unravelling, swearing and reknitting.
By the time my own son was on his way, I was getting pretty good at this knitting lark. So far I've knitted him cardies and jerseys, a hoodie, a hat and a toy bird.
Most of what I make is for babies - me being in my 30s, lots of my friends are having children. And I get bored making anything bigger.
Recently I made a hat for a friend who was undergoing a course of chemo. The best way I could help her fight her disease was to show her I loved her. So I knitted.
Last year we bought our first house. It used to belong to a woman who had lived there with her husband and three children. Over the years, the husband had died, the children had grown up. And when she died, the house was put on the market. The first time we went to see it, her things were still inside. I admired the neatly ordered rows of crochet in a blanket spread smoothly over the spare bed, the unfinished projects in her knitting basket. It was clear, this woman had a lot of love.
Recently, my love of knitting has extended to crochet. One of my most treasured possessions is a crocheted shawl made by my father. It represents hours of time and love and care.
I met a woman on the train one day who, as soon as she sat down next to me, took a ball of wool and a crochet hook out of her bag and began stabbing at a scarf she was making. "It helps with stress, " she told me.
Soon after that, I started work on an epic project - a blanket made from 315 crocheted granny squares for my son's bed. I taught myself how to crochet, and gradually the piles of squares began to grow. I finished it just as the first cold southerlies of autumn came to town, and now when I tuck my little boy in at night, I pull this blanket up around his chin.
I might leave the room then, but my love stays wrapped around him.

*This story appeared in The Press and The Dominion Post's Your Weekend magazine on June 4.

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