Knitting Over-analyzed

I feel like I have just a bit more to say on food waste, but my mind has been off on other things lately, so it may be a while until that post comes together.

In the meantime…

I was sitting in the Honda garage last Monday morning, waiting on an oil change and a tire swap, and I was busily knitting away, pondering the weightiness of life and death as I thought about my father-in-law who was, at that very moment, on an operating table undergoing coronary bypass surgery —

(I was also, to be honest, thinking hard about whether or not sway bars were a real thing, and if so, if a weak sway bar link — which a repairman had just told me our vehicle had — was something warranting a $250 repair. I’m rather ashamed to admit I’m the stereotypical female who might one day be persuaded that the car needs a new mezmerglobber*… )

— when a female employee walking through the waiting room stopped, and said, “Oh! What are you knitting?”

“Socks,” I replied, although my mind automatically pedantically corrected, Sock, actually…

“Oh!” she said, surprised. “Do people still do that?”

“Yup!” I said, immediately thinking of the Yarn Harlot, and the mother-daughter team at my local yarn store, and Kate, and Glenna, and my favourite aunt, all of whom still determinedly do that. I kept my response to that one chipper word, though; I didn’t confess that I was a bit of a pretender, that I had last attempted to knit socks over a decade ago. I certainly didn’t tell her that the pairs I had knit for my older two kids when they were about 5 and 7 years old, while technically perfectly constructed, had been nearly un-put-on-able, a rather unfortunate quality for a pair of socks to possess.

My kids picked out the yarn and they thought it was pretty neat that their mother was knitting them socks. If only they could have gotten them on their feet without a struggle …

“Wow,” she said. “That must take a lot of time. You must love it though, to spend that much time making something you can just buy. I take my hat off to you!”

So I admit I sat there for a few moments after she left the waiting room, my hands still, pondering. Why indeed, I asked myself (not for the first time) would anyone spend loads of time making something, oftentimes at greater expense, when they could simply walk into a store and buy an equivalent pre-made thing?

Because I can?

Because it makes me happy to make things?

Because of what knitting represents to me?

I’ve been knitting, fairly steadily, ever since my first pregnancy, about 20 years ago. Although I had been taught to knit at a young age, stitchery was my *thing* and the Knitter wasn’t born until I learned I was bearing life, which I’m fairly certain isn’t a coincidence. But while I suspect knitting is, for me, mostly about an innate and instinctual desire to slather my kids in sweaters and mittens and hats in order to keep them cozy and warm and protected, I don’t think that’s the whole story. Why IS knitting so appealing to me?

On a purely philosophical level —

(I do believe I warned you, right in the title, about the over-analyzing part 😉 )

— it’s worth noting that knitting is a very positive endeavour. Unless you’ve had a gauge accident and things go horribly awry, there’s not a single destructive act in the process of knitting, except for the snip at the very end. There’s no leap-of-faith cutting-out at the beginning (as with sewing), and there’s also no noisy machine to sit in front of; knitting is all building, all quiet creating.

There’s also something staunchly basic and unapologetically practical about knitting which sits well with my minimalistic and down-to-earth soul. Not only does knitting create warm and useful things, but any beauty that may arise out of knitting feels incidental; it’s part-and-parcel to its creation, rather than being an added-on after-effect. A stitch is a stitch after all, and while cables or lace may take a bit more time, their beauty is integral to the item’s form and function.

Knitting has also always been held in my mind in a lofty, aspirational, one-day-I’ll-be-a-knitter kind of way. And that — the feeling that knitting is a worthy thing-to-do — is entirely due to this woman, sitting next to me: my favourite aunt.

I don’t know what it says about me, the fact that keeping this picture here and pressing publish is so nail-bitingly hard.

I won’t bore you with all the details as to why this woman is my favourite aunt. Suffice to say it involves books, and conversation, and a spirited adventurousness, and a gezellig home, all of which I’ve always aspired to, ever since I was a small child. My aunt has been knitting almost all her life, and her flying fingers, her constant knitting-whenever-sitting, have always fascinated me. She was likely taught to knit when she was four or five, because that’s how things were done back then. There were no made-in-China socks when she and my mother and their three siblings were growing up in The Netherlands, and because she was such a beautiful (and speedy) knitter, the job of producing the family’s knitwear (socks, sweaters, mittens, and hats) fell to her. (My mother, whose knitting was deemed uneven, was the seamstress in the family, and was called upon to do the family’s sewing).

I sometimes wonder: what was that like? Did the pressure-filled fact that people were counting on your creativity turn that creativity into drudgery? Was it even viewed as creativity, or was it simply work-that-needed-doing? And extending forward to today, does the fact that one can now buy ready-made sweaters mittens hats socks turn the individual making of sweaters mittens hats socks into something that isn’t work? Is knitting now a luxury? Or worse: is it a frivolous occupation?

I don’t have the answer to any of these philosophical questions, but I do know this: my aunt is still knitting, even now, when she doesn’t have to. And the fact is, part of the reason I love to knit is because this woman I love loves to knit, and whenever I knit, she drifts into my thoughts.

I thought of her when I bought yarn to knit that first sweater for our first unborn baby. I thought about her as I knit each subsequent sweater, sometimes using yarn she helped my mother select.

I thought about her when knitting mittens for my kids’ growing hands — the small hands that once so trustingly held onto mine — pair after pair after pair, year after year after year.

Pattern from “Projects for Community Knitting”, Cottage Creations, Carol A. Anderson

I thought of my aunt when knitting hats for my daughter, and when I made this one for myself.

Pattern: Greystone by Melissa Thomson

And now, finally mittened and hatted out —

(well, not really, but I can’t seem to convince my boys that I can produce a manly enough hat for them, and they’re both now waaaay too cool for hand-knit mittens)

— and needing to keep my hands occupied, I’m turning once again to socks. I suspect that for some knitters, sweaters are the holy grail of knitting. For me however, it’s socks. Socks (put-on-able ones, that is) are the thing I will one day achieve, and I know that this is entirely due to the fact that it was nearly always socks I saw on my aunt’s needles.

And somehow, now seems fitting. The last few months have been rather full of weighty issues, and I’ve been a bit of a sappy and sobby existentialistic mess. Who knows … perhaps knitting socks — that most basic of items — will help. And perhaps a good dose of thinking-of-my-aunt — and her emulatable life — will quiet some of those what-is-life-and-how-best-to-live-it questions I’m struggling with right now. Of course, the fact that my aunt was about to turn 85 when I last saw her, two years ago, is unfortunately another rather weighty thought to have to ponder.

Progress on the first sock. Before beginning, I asked the mother-daughter team at my local yarn shop for advice, because it hasn’t escaped my notice that, a decade ago, I somehow knit not just ONE un-put-on-able sock, not just a PAIR of un-put-on-able socks, but TWO pairs of un-put-on-able socks. That’s FOUR un-put-on-able socks. Doh!

 


 

*A mezmerglobber is an engine part on the Magic School Bus, which is the best children’s book series/TV series EVER. (IMHO). Ms. Frizzle (another (albeit fictional) emulatable woman) knows all about bus repairs and would never be at the mercy of a repairman.

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