I was eleven when I decided, for one reason or another, that I wanted to learn how to knit. My mother happened to be friendly with a little old lady who lived just down the street from my school, and she obligingly set me up with a teaching session.
I remember going over to Val's house for the first time with my new shiny needles and a skein of variegated colored yarn, which I had bought with my allowance money. Val was in her eighties, tiny and fragile, and she lived alone in a small cute house with embroidered doilies on the backs of the chairs. The first thing she did was to gently suggest that my multi-colored yarn was going to cause confusion because you couldn't see the stitches very well. She presented me with a soft, small ball of maroon wool, thick and yielding to the touch, and we got down to business.
Three hours later I left her house with a few awkwardly-shaped rows hanging limply from one needle. I carried that parcel carefully, as though it was a work of art, and when we got home I promptly went to my room and proceeded adding even more rows. Eventually it turned into a lumpy, crooked square; and I was prouder of that than I had been of anything in a long time.
I had a few more teaching sessions with Val, but for the most part the rest of my knitting education consisted of taking books out of the library. I taught myself the purl stitch, the knit-two-together technique, and the slipped stitch. I attempted complicated Irish lace patterns, seeing visions in my head already of heavy openwork shawls and blankets spread over beds in my future home. Knitting occupied many of my lonely hours and kept me focused constantly on a goal that I never seemed to reach; but I still kept trying, my enthusiasm never waning.
When I went off to college, I put my knitting aside for awhile; studying for entrance exams and meeting new friends was far too time-consuming for anything else to take up my time, and I simply didn't need a hobby anymore. But one day, a few weeks into my sophomore year, I was lounging around the student center with a girl named Kelly who lived on my floor. I'm not sure how the topic came up, but she told me that she'd always wanted to learn how to knit. On my next weekend home I got my needles.
I eventually dropped out of college, feeling that it wasn't right for me at the time, and I moved to another state to start over. Since those days, I have gone months and even years without picking up a knitting project; conversely, there have been weeks on end where I have done nothing but knit. I went through a short period where I was determined to make some extra cash on the side, and I put a few auctions up on Ebay offering handmade scarves, knitted to the buyer's specifications. I made a few hundred dollars on the side and spent many weeks knitting long, elegant scarves in various colors and stripes, with fringes and tassles. I even knitted a few scarves requested for newborn babies. It was good while it lasted; but again, life intervened and I got a full-time job, leaving little time for my knitting.
I've moved several different times since I left school, and even procured myself a fiance. We now live together, and throughout all the moves he's never questioned my need to drag along a big box labeled KNITTING STUFF, full of needles that poke every which way and half-finished projects, skeins of tangled yarn. Now the time has come for me to return to college and get that degree I walked away from all those days ago. And I think it's time for knitting to come back into my life.
Not for money-making purposes; as much as I would like to do that, I simply don't have the time anymore. But money is tight with tuition and rent bills coming in, and I've started to think about the holidays. On a tight budget, with life constantly speeding up and friends scattering in every direction and everything changing, what better idea for the holidays than handmade gifts for those I love, no matter where in the country they may be?
With that thought in mind, I pulled out my knitting box the other day and started to sort through the piles and piles of supplies. I touched the soft, baby-blue yarn and thought about a scarf and matching hat for my friend Cat in North Carolina. I grouped together all the multi-colored bits and pieces of yarn, too short to use alone, and considered a multi-colored throw for Kelly, who was still knitting herself and kept in frequent touch. I paired the rust yarn with a soft, chocolate brown and knew instantly that those were the perfect colors for the long striped scarf my fiance has always wanted.
So I think I will be knitting again. And when I have the time to think about things like this, I love the fact that this hobby, this eternal tradition, has followed me throughout the years in so many significant ways. It's true that I never achieved those huge projects that I once dreamed of completing- at least, not yet. But now, once again, the hobby of knitting will give me the ability to do something I love for the people who mean the most. And as far as I'm concerned, there's no better pastime.