When you’re a man of a certain age, you start doing inexplicable things. In my case, I took up knitting.
Last weekend, I drove to a local yarn store and enrolled in a knitting class. I don’t have a specific reason for doing so, nor do I know why I chose knitting specifically. It could have just as easily been sewing (still on my To Do list), cooking (though I’d continue to gain weight), or making organic homemade kombucha (my stomach would thank me for it). In the end, I turned to what meditators and knitters swear is the next best thing to meditation. Having met several knitters in the past, and after admiring their needlework, I decided that I, too, wanted to try my hand at the craft. Besides, with two nephews moving north to go to college later this year, I thought I had the perfect [victims] audience to practice knitting on. Come winter they’ll be needing sweaters, gloves, and woolen hats, so what’s an uncle to do but knit them some.
When I stepped into the Knitting Garden in Coral Gables, the store owner asked if she could help me. I must have looked lost, out of place, as I stood uncertain at the door wondering if I should turn around and forget my plan. Instead, I mustered as much courage as I could, took a deep breath, and exhaled, “I’m Walter, and I’d like to learn how to knit.”
There! I had done it. There was no way of getting out of it now. I declared my intention and it was now up to me to follow through or quit like I’ve done in the past.
The lady smiled and said “Come in, take a seat at the table in the back of the store.” She had just tuned-in to the World Cup semifinals and asked if I was following any of the teams. I said, “No.” All my teams had already been eliminated and returned to their respected countries. England did not “bring it home,” and Spain didn’t Olé as much as I wanted them to. Besides, I was nervous enough about what I was about to do, so the less distractions the better.
I took my seat at the table and I waited for the store manager to return with knitting supplies. She helped me choose a blue merino wool skein to practice with and handed me two new wooden knitting needles. After going over the basics of yarns, patterns, and stitching, she pulled a yard of thread and began to teach me how to tie a Slip knot, the first loop threaded on a needle.
My new teacher was patient with me as my fingers fumbled with the yarn a few times before I completed the first task. When I finally put a needle through the yarn loop and showed it to her, she smiled at me kindly, pulled on the yarn, and unraveled the knot. “Do it again,” she said. And so class, and practice, began.
The rest of the class was about Casting on, putting the first row of yarn loops on the knitting needle, and learning the English method of knitting. Apparently, there’s a Continental method as well, but the English was what I practiced for the remainder of my first class. I spent an hour stitching, pulling, and cursing. I was all thumbs when it came to looping and knotting. If my needles didn’t slip out of my hands, then the yarn would get tangled between my fingers. Sometimes I’d miss stitching a loop and the teacher pulled enough yarn to unravel away my mistake. At other times the errors where so glaring I opted to pull everything off myself and start again from a fresh Slip knot. I thought I might as well get as much practice in the store before leaving so I knew what to do when I got home and practiced on my own.
After class, I drove to a MegaCrafts store to buy yarn so I could continue to practice. The merino wool yarn I used in class was too nice to unravel and mess up; instead I bought a hideous, multicolored acrylic yarn I didn’t mind tossing in the trash every time I made an error. I bought additional needles of different sizes, scissors, and a bag to keep my yarn stash together. On the way out, I picked up a copy of Stich’n Bitch, The Knitters Handbook by Debbie Stoller, just in case I needed further guidance, and I went home to practice what I had learned.
I spent the rest of the week practicing my knitting. For the first couple of days, I tied a Slip knot and practiced Casting On before unraveling and starting over again. I did this about twenty times until I felt comfortable enough to try my hand at knitting rows. Then, after discarding yards of abused threads, I began knitting bacon strips.
Falling Leaves, the name of the yarn I bought at the crafts store, is made up of repeating fall-ish color blocks. When I began stitching the yarn into rows, the results took on the appearance of bacon strips of varying cooked colors. I didn’t want to knit too long a strip knowing my knitting was not something that should be turned into anything specific. For practice purposes, small, thin strips would give me an opportunity to practice what I’d learn. Repetition, and practice, are the best ways of learning anything. So short and sweet little strips of bacon were my intro to knitting.
Some strips were too loose. Others were so tight I couldn’t feed a needle through the loops. There were some strips with missing stitches. Others never made it past the third row. The point of the exercise was to simply knit, and before I knew it, my fingers began repeating the moves, pulls, and looping necessary to get as far as a piece of bacon, instead of a mere strip.
Last Monday, I turned off the television, listened to a podcast, and later I began a new audio book; I knitted for three hours straight. It was an enjoyable evening; by far the best I’ve had in a long time. By the time I put the yarn, needles, and scissors back in their bag, I felt elated, happy, and content with my efforts. Mine was no example of fine knitting. There were so many errors, in fact, that noticing them almost made smirk. But it’s only my first week knitting, I told myself, and part of the reason I took up this craft is to learn and practice patience and not being perfect. I reminded myself that there is so much I still have to learn! So instead of looking at my work with a critical eye, I placed it on the table, took a photo, and proudly sent it to my sisters and friends. A week ago I didn’t know how to knit. I made this after just one class, I wrote. The thumbs up and happy faces began trickling in moments later.
Learning something new, as a man of a certain age, is not easy. Science, however, tells us that cognitive skills improve and remain sharp as long as we continue to learn and try new things as we get older. What I’ve taken away from this exercise is that I can learn to knit. I can do crafty things if I give myself the time and space to make errors and learn from them. I can also improve slowly, over time, and learn to enjoy the journey of learning to be a knitter. When someone asked me what my first knitting project would be, I said: “The biggest, longest never-ending blanket ever knitted,” I said. “I want to knit a blanket and keep stitching it until I can’t any longer.” The lady sitting across the table from me smiled and said, “Now there’s a project!”