Cardigan with Helpful Dog

Guest Author: Lee Reed

Lee is a nurse who met one of her biggest life goals when she moved to the mountains. She is originally from Mississippi and has been in North Carolina since 1989. Lee is a member of the Asheville Women Writers Cooperative and has offered to help with me the knitting project I started two years ago.

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I am a knitter. It is my vice and my hobby, my identity and what gets me through the bad times. Buying a bunch of beautiful yarn will make a bad day better; working with that yarn will bring me back to my center, help me calm down, and bring back my lost perspective. Even decades later, I can pick up some item I had knitted and it will instantly transport me to exactly the place and time of its creation.

It all started when I was 16. I saw a cute pullover in a magazine, and the pattern was included. The local hobby shop in north Mississippi was called TG&Y. I picked up some baby pink polyester yarn and some aluminum long straight needles, opened a copy of McCall’s Learn and Make Book and I was off. It was many years before I realized most beginners start with scarves. I started with a pullover with cables and all-over texturing. It fit perfectly and I wore it a lot. I don’t know what happened to it, but I’m willing to bet it’s still intact in a landfill somewhere.

Real animal fibers make the best yarn. Polyester is indestructible, yes, but that’s its only benefit. Wool is warm. It’s warm even when it’s wet. Alpaca is a hollow core fiber. Those hollow fibers trap air, and more importantly, trap heat. My brother wants nothing but wool or alpaca when he’s sitting in a deer stand. He says my hand knits are better than anything available on the market for warmth, comfort, and less bulk. Hand knit socks are wonderful things. If you ever get to wear a pair you’ll never go back to store-bought. They’re made to fit your feet. There is no seam across the toe. There’s no elastic, but they still stay up and don’t fall down. My cousin loves my hand-knit socks, partly for the crazy colors, but mainly for that no elastic feature.

The internet was a total blessing for me and for knitters like me. We found each other and found sources for wool and tools. Generous knitters put out tutorials on their blogs. I learned lace knitting, intarsia, fair isle—all styles of knitting. I learned half a dozen ways to cast on, at least three ways to turn the heel in a sock, and how to do the dreaded nups. In Estonian knitting the nups are a nine-in-one stitch combo that can only be done by hand. No knitting machine can create nups. There were problem solvers, like how to fix a too-stretchy neckline, or fixing a mis-crossed cable so you don’t have to rip out all your work (that will make you see spots in front of your eyes).

The internet knitters have games and competitions. One year the Knitting Olympics was held to coincide with the winter Olympics. Knitting participants were to select a pattern that would be challenging but not impossible to finish in 14 days. The day the Olympics started all the knitting blogs fell silent. Knitters were totally engaged in their projects, and things like sleep, housekeeping, cooking, and the like were abandoned. The finish line was frantic with knitters trying to get their item finished before the time was up and the flame extinguished. Afterward there was a lot of cheering and celebration. Many knitters finished, while others got derailed by grad school, or babies, or other life events, but a good time was had by all.

Another big contest was Sock Wars. You signed up to participate, then were given a sock pattern and assigned to teams. You were to knit a pair of socks for your target. At the same time your target was making you a pair of socks. If you got a package of socks in your mailbox before you could send a pair to your target, you were “killed”. So the idea was to knit fast and get those socks sent out faster than your opponent. If you managed to kill off all your teammates, then you moved on to attack people on the other teams. The last knitter standing ended up with something like 90 pair of socks!

Many knitters like to collect yarn just because it’s gorgeous. This collection is called a Stash. Twice in my life I have reached SABLE (stash acquisition beyond life expectancy). Both times I filled big trash bags with yarn and donated them to other knitters. Somehow the yarn always re-accumulates.

I’m a process knitter. Some people knit because they want the completed item. Some people knit because they want the activity of knitting, then will give away the final product, often to a casual acquaintance at work. Those are process knitters. Most of my recipients like what they receive. A few have even figured out that if you send me a photo of yourself wearing your hat/scarf/gloves/mittens/socks/sweater and tell me how much you enjoy it, then the odds are very good you’ll get another. And another.

As the Yarn Harlot said, knitting is slow magic. A pair of socks will take me about 40 hours, plus the cost of quality sock yarn runs $25 – $35. Obviously, anyone can go to Amazon and click on a pair of wool socks for $20 and then click BuyNow. My husband doesn’t want $200 worth of cashmere scarf, he says a $15 artificial fiber scarf is just as good and a lot cheaper. I love him enough to overlook this heresy, but it is true that the two biggest factors in knitting are time and cost. Those lovely luxury yarns are pricey. If you ever knit for someone who wants to pay you to create a baby garment, all you’ll get is the cost of the yarn, and maybe fifty cents an hour. Maybe.  Otherwise it’s just crazy expensive, and no one needs or wants a $100 baby sweater.

So what about all the time? Forty hours in a pair of socks, hundreds of hours in a sweater? f I didn’t spend it knitting, then what would the time go toward? Watching television or movies? When I pick up that garment much later do I really want my memory to be of giant spiders, or super heroes, or action explosions? I prefer to remember the sound of birds, the comfort of my dog snuggled against me, the beauty of the view out the window, the patter of rain. Emotions can get worked into knitting also. The joy of a new baby, a kid going off to college for the first time, the grief of loss, the fear of the unknown. Knitting gives me the ability to feel my feelings, to work out my tangled thinking, to consider and plan. My niece does the same thing, only she uses running. She calls it her “thinking time.” If I’m anticipating conflicts at work then the alarm gets set for half an hour early so I can put in some knitting time and insulate myself against the crazy. When we lived in Charlotte my 13 mile commute (one way) had three school zones and 27 stoplights. I knitted 400 yards of cashmere into a scarf, entirely at stoplights. Likewise innumerable pairs of socks. Not only do I have something to show for all that time, it kept me from losing my mind on that commute twice a day.

If you’re a married knitter here’s my advice: keep it simple. Your spouse doesn’t want to hear “not now, I’m counting” as you work out a complicated lace shawl, or an intricate three color fair isle. My marriage is much happier if I’m doing “cruise knitting”—simple projects you could take on a cruise that you don’t have to look at or count. A sweater made in the round, socks, or even a stockinette scarf will work just fine.  The work can flow through your fingers while you’re talking to your spouse and looking him or her right in the eye. The end result may have no cables or color patterns, but it’s a warm garment in beautiful wool, and it’s made with love.

8 Comments

  1. Great article from of a creative, awesome knitter who brightens the world with her handiwork and unique wit.

  2. Beautiful story writing!! I admire knitters!! 🥰

  3. You continue to Impress, my multi-talented friend! I have a vast assortment of scarves and three teddy bears in my repertoire, but haven’t picked up my needles in years. You are a source of inspiration!

  4. Great story Lee! I do not possess any of these wonderful talents such as knitting or crocheting so this helped me to admire further the people that do. Nice insights into your world!

  5. I WAS JUST DISCUSSING LEG WARMERS WITH CHERYL. how about if I commission u to make me a pair. I will buy the wool.

  6. Thank you for a delightful and informative story.

  7. Thank you for introducing me to a whole world I had never imagined, particularly, the meditative and dissociative aspects of knitting. Dancing does that for me. My brain cannot simultaneously dance and hold grudges or worries at the same time. It’s nice that there are forms of meditation available that don’t involve sitting and thinking about nothing.

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