Thursday, February 27, 2014

Knit One, Pearl One

Via Las Teje y Maneje

In the back of our hallway, behind my office desk and beside my little bookshelf full of curiosities (including an anatomical figurine and a handmade Viking doll wearing a real pelt), I have a yarn stash. It's not huge by any stretch of the imagination—one of my friends recently told me about her mother's stash, which fills three IKEA bookshelves and, I would imagine, a large chunk of her mental real estate. Mine is much smaller and much more random, consisting mostly of the ends of skeins and yarns that were bought with some ill-conceived project in mind. But I keep going back there to mull things over. I pick up a ball of yarn, squint at it, try to picture what it's destined to be. A pair of gloves? A toque? Maybe something with cables? Then I put it back down. Up, down. It's all part of the process.

I've been a knitter since early university, when my mom basically wrestled me into a chair, thrust needles into my hands, and said, "Here, knit a scarf." I was baffled. The basic mechanics of knitting boggled my minds: endless looping and twisting, and then, at the end? A hat. The two things had about as much in common raw eggs and a pile of fluffy pancakes; I could conceptualize the importance of one to the other, but there were steps in between that were a complete black hole. But I kept at it. Knit one, purl one. That was a rib stitch. Do enough of those and I ended up with a scarf.

Slowly, understanding started to emerge. Scarves. More scarves. Piles of long, skinny rectangles started becoming neckwarmers. I learned to knit in the round and made fingerless mittens and legwarmers. Hats! Oh, the hats I made. Knitting and purling had become second nature. The mechanics started making sense, and it became a muscle memory. I understood what do if I dropped a stitch. I could watch a movie and three inches of stockinette would suddenly be there. It was like a miracle.

So much of my day is spent in my own brain. I write, I make a spreadsheet, I do some freelance work, I play on Facebook, and then I write some more. As an introvert, I need my alone time. As a writer, working often looks like staring off into space or walking around the apartment mumbling, "But why is she upset with him? Why?" which, as you can imagine, is not particularly physically demanding. The end result might be a lot of fun, but I need a counterbalance. to that thinky process.

I've always jumped at the chance to work with my hands. I love cooking. I actually enjoy a good toilet scrubbing session. I've done beading projects, made tiny quilts, and preserved bacon-onion jam. I imagine that, at some point in the future, I'll end up on a hobby farm scattering seed to idiot chickens and weeding a vegetable garden. I have a stupid romantic filter over this, even though all the literature suggests that this particular lifestyle isn't all that easy. But sweat equity is important to me. Muscle in, product out. It's earning your own reward. I think part of the reason my mother is an interiour designer is because I know at the end of a project, she can step back and say, this is beautiful because I made it that way.

One of my favourite memories of the last year is when I biked home from the Junction in October after an early-morning book sale. The rain was lightly falling, it was chilly but still bearable, and the moon rose from the horizon like a ghostly jellyfish surfacing from the deep. It was breathtaking to watch this bone-coloured smudge resolve itself into a full moon. But I had nothing to do with it, nor do I have anything to do with the Swedish coffeeshop's perfect cookies, or my mother's welcoming spaces. I am a passive, if happy, receiver.

Knitting requires buy-in. It's an architecture project, a textile experiment, and a colour schematic. It's taking one long string and turning it into a three-dimensional object. That is nothing short of miraculous. I love the process of learning new knitting skills: new stitches, new patterns, new techniques. This winter was a riot of brain activity as I learned how to knit a moebius scarf, how to do colourworked patterns, and began making actual (albeit teeny) sweaters (for babies). Next on the agenda is a nubby, earthy-looking vest and a slouchy hat.

This is the same type of mindset that will probably build a tiny house one day. It's the mindset that has already helped create a thriving writer's group, which proudly produced a 'zine for Christmas this past year. It's the part of me that waters the plants, that slivers the garlic for the guacamole, that hangs the posters on the wall. Beautiful things take work, and there's nothing quite like the satisfaction that comes from making them with your own hands.