Knitting Life Lessons


While recently at my dad’s house, I came across my eighth grade yearbook that included this snapshot of me in the second sweater I ever knit. You can’t tell from the black and white photo, but the front and back alternated thick cream, red, and blue stripes, and the sleeves featured slimmer cream and red stripes. With my junior high fashion sense, I used cream yarn, eschewing the white called for in the printed pattern, as I felt a red, white, and blue color combination would be a little too You’re a Grand Ole Flag. As you can see, I enjoyed accessorizing my masterpiece with a Foxmoor denim jumper, dark knee socks, and a clarinet.

Here’s what’s important about that Family Circle-featured, plastic-yarn sweater. After the Seventeen magazine twisted stitches fail, a crafty friend showed me what I was doing wrong with my knitting, and I made this sweater correctly — not twisting the stitches, and even switching the yarn color between stripes with little incident. I got halfway up the back when I noticed something: several inches down, I had a little strip of maybe six twisted stitches. I debated. Do I rip it out (something I wasn’t advanced enough to do)? Do I put a flag decal over the error? Do I stuff the half-knit sweater in a bag and forget about it for five years (a technique I perfected several years later)?

I was visiting my grandma in the nursing home where she lived, and showed her my sweater in progress and the mistake I’d found. Grandma was the one who’d originally taught me to knit in first grade, a skill I’d abandoned and mostly forgotten for several years. My mom’s mom, she was the only grandparent I’d ever known. She seemed omnipresent, always willing to babysit my brother, sister, and me when we were younger, and even moving in when my mom was out for a couple of weeks with surgery. She was born in 1902, and her penniless family had emigrated, with the help of a kind uncle, from England to Canada when she was very young. She’d had eight kids and several miscarriages. She had seen an adult son die too young, and had been married for decades to an alcoholic who worked only sporadically, providing little for their large family. She talked with me for hours about her childhood. I adored her.

I painfully brought my mistake to her in her small shared room, and my only grandparent, my beloved grandma, rolled her eyes and pshaw’d me.

“It’s at the bottom of the sweater and no one’s going to see it,” she’d said.

I showed her how, if you stretched that spot, you could see the six twisted stitches.

She grew more impatient, stretching the spot as I had. “No one’s going to stretch your sweater down here and notice those stitches,” she’d said.

I started protesting again, and she strongly implied I needed to Let. It. Go.

Because when you’ve lived with an alcoholic and often not had two nickels to rub together and had to hold your large family together single-handedly, an inch of twisted stitches is really not worth crying over. Grandma’s been gone for more than 25 years, but her perspective and practicality live on, in my knitting, my weedy yard, my chaotic kitchen. It’s probably why I let my kids — all three of them — wear whatever young-kid getups they chose, knowing that sometimes it’s not worth the fight if four-year-old Tommy insists on wearing Power Ranger pajamas to daycare three days in a row. Often when I’m helping a newer knitter with something, I channel Grandma and tell them not to sweat the tiny mistakes that are plaguing them. Because so much of knitting and life is figuring out what is and isn’t important and keeping an eye on the big picture.

See, Grandma? I was listening.

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4 thoughts on “Knitting Life Lessons

    • That’s true. There are times I’ll still rip out a whole sweater because something is bugging me and I know it’ll always bug me, so I fix it. Other times, I forget about the mistake after the first time wearing it.

  1. Excellent lesson and fabulous story! When I teach my cooking classes, I always tell the girls that “no one knows what you intended.” This gives them the confidence to make substitutions and fix ingredient mistakes if necessary.

    • I *love* that advice, Alison! I’m still not confident with my “mistakes” in the kitchen, even though they sometimes turn out better than what I was going for. I’m going to remember these wise words.

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