A Really Good Beginning is Good Enough

Three hats I knit from Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting Workshop. I donated these to the homeless shelter, where I'm confident they'll go to good use. My first attempts at stranded knitting and reading a chart.

About seven years ago, when I still lived in Pennsylvania, and my oldest daughter lived in Dallas, I started knitting. It wasn't because I wanted to. In fact I didn't. At all.

She broke her toe. It was just a toe, but she had to have surgery to repair it and driving was outlawed for a bit. At the time she had three small children. So I boarded the plane, and flew to help her because when you have any number larger than zero children and you break a toe so that you can't drive, you need help. Oh, the adventures we had, driving all over the metroplex, in her minivan filled with children and groceries and library books and such. I possibly yelled at her that I had no idea where I was going, and she may have yelled back at me to 'just keep steering and pushing the pedals' and she'd get us there. As I recall, (and likely her too) it was an all-around blast for both of us.

Since we were already having so much fun, she decided I should learn to knit. I told her I didn't want to. I already had more hobbies than time, had a tendency to spend too much money on new hobby paraphernalia, so it was best if I didn't take up knitting. We bantered back and forth, in the way only a mother and daughter can do. She 'explained' to me, 'if I would just T.R.Y. (visualize a tone and furrowed eyebrows directed my way), I would love it.' Emphasis on love.

So I told her,  'if I try knitting while I'm here, then you have to learn to sew.' To which she responded, she didn't really want to learn to sew. Hmmm, who does that sound like? Remembering back to when she was 15 and I was 35 and we'd had a few more conversations that held this tone, I considered removing the condition. I'd made the mistake of trying to teach her once before, which resulted in her selling her sewing machine for $30 at a garage sale,  the reporting of which felt like knives to my heart. How could my daughter not only not like sewing, but make so final a decision that it involved practically giving away the machine?

We were at a standoff and stuck together because of the toe, so she agreed, and I agreed, and off we set - kids and us in the minivan headed to the warehouse sized craft store. That  experience apparently doesn't change, give or take twenty years.  That day brought me right back to years earlier, taking my rolling-ball-of-dirt boy to the craft store, where he somehow disappeared in the aisles that were taller than him, so he was quickly pulling little packets of embroidery thread off the racks, so the grouchy clerks could give me looks that made me want to disappear.  It still feels a lot like sticking needles in your eyes. We persevered while I bought yarn and needles and she bought a few bolts of flannel, a pattern, elastic, buttons, thread, we fled the store so as not to hear the chorus of cheers behind us, then loaded our purchases and the pack of kids and headed home.

I still remember sitting there on her sofa, her forehead leaning over mine, holding both my hands in her hands, with a ball of yarn attached, while together we made the motions of casting on. I probably remember this wrong, but it seems like ten minutes later, when I was completely confused, she determined I was ready to learn the knit stitch, which felt like I needed ten hands and four thumbs and was completely impossible. Another ten minutes and she was showing me how to purl. What?! My brain hasn't wrapped around these two things and you want me to learn another? So I knit, learned what frogging meant, and muttered under my breath, but I pushed on. To say I was an angry knitter was an understatement.

The next day we cleared her dining room table, took the nightgown pattern apart and laid out the tissue paper pieces on the first piece of fabric. She cut it out. I showed her how to sew straight lines and press the pedal, while taking care not to sew over her fingers. As soon as that was mastered I showed her how to baste and gather, how to sew in a ruffle, how to set in sleeves, do facings, and finally, to make buttonholes and sew on buttons. Four hours later she had survived and had produced a long-sleeved flannel nightgown with a ruffle at the hem and tiny buttons down the back. Keeping with her determined first-born personality, she immediately laid out the next piece of fabric and repeated the entire process, alone, and sewed that one in two hours. At the end of the day she could truly say she could sew.
So seven years later she sews beautiful quilts made up of tiny patches of bright fabric, and window treatments and squishy toys and more nightgowns and such. She loves it, and I love that she loves it. I am confident she will not sell her sewing machine at a garage sale, ever. Her nine year old daughter has her own machine and sews delightful things she's concocted and that tickles me even more. Pass it on!

So me? I've not only kept up knitting, she was right - I actually love it. While she has really progressed as a seamstress, I have improved with my knitting but not at the level she has. And that is quite okay. Ann Hood, said it well, in her book 'Knitting Yarns' "After seven years, I am a very good beginning knitter. And I'm fine with that. I'm sure I'll improve over the next twenty to thirty years, as I continue to knit, but even if I didn't I'd keep at it. Producing hats and scarves and sweaters and such that may or may not fit anyone.
Knitting, for me, is not at all about the product that results. It is the process. The magical taking a ball of string and two sticks and with swishes of my hands making a something, all the while, much more importantly, making a space for me. To let my mind wander over a myriad of things, never settling too long on any one. To let things come to the surface, flit across my brain feeling no heavier than fairy dust, and let them go, to possibly consider again later. It gives me a place to go away, while still being amongst others. Nobody is more surprised than me that I have grown to have a sweet love of knitting. I can be present with others, a ball of yarn and needles in my lap, and not be thought rude. It is the being rather than doing that pulls me toward it. And just once in awhile, it's the beautiful balls of colored wool, all sitting in their little cubbys at the yarn store, calling my name. When that happens I climb into my own minivan, and go alone, not feeling the least bit guilty, because I've already done my share of time putting back little packets of embroidery thread and slinking out the door.

So, if you've never tried knitting - I highly recommend it on many levels! You can actually go to this link and watch the videos, or buy Elizabeth Zimmerman's book. Or do what my daughter did, pick up Susan B. Anderson's book. Susan knits continental style, and often with circular needles, so consequently my daughter and I do also.

I've got a few websites I love to go to, just to see what they're knitting lately:
Heather at Beauty that Moves
Amanda Blake Soule at Soule Mama
and Susan B. Anderson at Here

Websites that are so beautiful, they'll fill your heart, even if you don't want to learn to knit. Or spend too much money on balls of beautiful wool yarn.

But, if you decide to try it? Give it a chance? You'll love it, and eventually, if you stick with it, you can be a really good beginner. I promise.



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