A year ago I did not knit. I did not know how to, and frankly the craft was very low on my radar. I had important things to do – my writing, my art – and I didn’t want another hobby distracting me from completing these vital activities. I had a hazy jumble of things I associated with knitting going on in my brain – old women, sweaters, rocking chairs – and the distinct impression that knitting was incredibly difficult to comprehend, let alone master.
But I kept returning to gaze at all the pretty knit things that coagulated en masse on Pinterest and Etsy. Knitting was not merely a sweater-and-scarf construction kit, there were handbags and boot toppers and coasters and dolls. The fecundity of knitting, in all its hothouse displays of color and form, had become deeply alluring. Gatsby may have had his green light to contend with, but when all the colors are calling your name, merely being awake can be sensually rich – almost suffocatingly so.
Knots have never been my thing. Learning to tie my shoelaces was a nightmare that I frequently avoided by befriending velcro at an early age. I cannot tie anything beyond the most basic of braids. My childhood friendship bracelets had the malformed appeal of stunted trees, and an awkwardly crocheted blob I began once in youth remains only fuzzily in memory, and has likely been long-mouldering in some landfill if a shred of it exists at all.
So I assumed that knitting was out of the realm of possibility for me, and it took a community college class taught by a kindly television actress for that to change – which is a very Los Angeles thing to say. Although the typical cliché is that every waiter working here is likely in it for show business, I’ve seen more teachers and instructors aiming for the stars or already oribiting there than anything else. There’s something vaguely magical about it: everybody’s got something to teach, and every teacher has the potential to unlock a hidden talent within their students, even if they often don’t and classes just devolve into casual bullshit sessions.
Fairy godmothering aside, when I began to actually knit – my fingers tentatively touching each node of yarn made stitch – the word annelid immediately came to mind. For each stitch was like the segment of a smooth worm, moving eloquently along the needles. Soon the organic motion of knitting, the subtle sliding, bewitched me utterly. My hands learned how to knit before my brain could decipher what it was that I was precisely doing, and I knew then that I had entered the same light trance that doing all great creative work inspires. Mentally I guided without controlling the outcome of what I did, listened and adjusted but did not interrupt, and found it good. Beyond good – endlessly profound.
But I wouldn’t have gotten to this point of personal illumination without tragedy. I started talking about “maybe” taking a knitting class way back in 2011. Years passed, and I viewed those classes as a financial self-indulgence that I couldn’t afford. They took on the proportion of a retiree fantasy, acceptable as some far-off tomorrow’s hobby alone. Besides, what if it was just a waste of money and time? Losing money was bad enough, but gaining failure was a profit I didn’t want in my margins. Artists and writers collect enough failures along the way, and I felt like my share was plenty heavy without tossing the corpse of another bad hobby on the pile.
It took the loss of my father for me to take a chance on wasting time. After his death I felt so many things and yet so little at once that while life shrank down into one fixed point I could feel distant doors flung open, the possibilities mysterious and myriad. Life is what you make of it, and it is also what you make in it, and I wanted to make everything. I wanted to glut on life. I turned to my old friends, first; I wanted to write, so I wrote. I wanted to paint, so I took oil painting classes. I pursued my amateur studies in the sciences, which have always brought me comfort. Giddy with my brazenness, I finally decided to take knitting – who cared if I failed? I would try to learn something new, and learning itself is fun to do – something a great many teachers and students often forget.
So I found myself in a room full of mature women, who already seemed at least passingly comfortable with knitting, and deeply comfortable with using the activity as a socialization hub. I was an outsider, somewhat shy, and asked to be shown each task at least three times – sometimes more as I attempted it on my own. Sweat broke out on my forehead as I focused. Many of the students in the class had been knitters as children, but although I had asked to learn how to knit as a child, my parents had been uninterested in teaching me. I remember my mother disparaging knitting in favor of crochet, and my father generally looking down upon the majority of handicrafts as being too “immature” for me. It was less stressful on the pair of them when I was engaged in something they could immediately get behind, like reading.
At first I thought my interest in knitting was merely a new-ish graft on the old family tree, but it turned out that I had plenty of relatives who were skilled at knitting on both sides of the family. I began to research, and in the course of my research, found myself invoking an atavistic mindset as I knit. There was something deeply appealing about thinking of generations upon generations of humans picking up sticks and a strand of yarn and clothing their families, creating warmth and comfort when there was no warmth and comfort before. As my hands grasped my wooden needles I imagined similar hands, somewhere in history, grasping and adding something new to the world. The woman as loom, her fingers transformed, one hand a spindle – it is no mistake that women have been long tied to spiders and muses and fate. The making body and the making soul unite in purpose here.
Like falling in love I learned how to knit very quickly, and got caught up in everything about it. Clearly, from the tone of this piece the romance is still ongoing. If the activity merely brought me joy alone, it would be well-justified in pursuing, but it brought something even more important along with it.
Because I discovered that knitting greatly increased my overall creative output. Knitting has rhythms, and once you discover them they become a form of meditation where all kinds of thoughts and ideas get hashed out. Banal thoughts traipse by in their long rows, oftentimes followed by true inspiration. Whole scenes and plot points and editorials arise in between knit and purl. I always keep a notebook close to me when I knit, because the ideas will come willy-nilly, and many a knitting session has dissolved into a writing session, and vice versa. They are twins. I had no idea I was pregnant with twins, but the extra one was drifting along quietly in the brain-womb regardless. Finally developmentally united, they chatter at each other constantly in their twinspeak. I am quite happy to record their babble.
With my own happiness comes a poignant anxiety – how many other people walk through life, deferring their own small passions for tomorrow, unaware that merely supplying themselves with a new source of happiness can be an elixir of creation and inspiration? Innovation can come from anywhere, but only when the mind is ready to receive it, and joyful minds are always ready. It doesn’t have to be knitting, it doesn’t have to be a hobby, but it has to be an honest gift to yourself, given freely and with plenty of love.
Here is my love song to knitting:
Knitting can encompass all personalities and moods, from prim neatness to dreaming whimsy, conveyed through the very inflection of the stitch; its tension, size, and consistency. An ordered mind and strong will can create a garment of uniform beauty. An errant and distracted mind can be clearly read by its irregular knitting – dropped stitches and changing tension. In this way, knitting acts as a visible map of the thought process, recording every stir and emotional swell. And like an unpleasant memory, it can be undone.
There is something Catholic in the passing of each stitch from hand to hand like a rosary; there is something Protestant in the smooth, no-nonsense rhythm of a good knit. And this craft can be beautifully pagan; celebrating each strand of fiber threshed from the natural world – wool, cotton, linen – every stripe of plant and animal passing through your fingertips. Knitting is also wonderfully atheist in its clear logic of assembly, engineering, and comprehension of physical properties.
There is a secret to yarn that I’ve never heard addressed, and that is yarn’s inherently fleshy nature. If you take a piece of knitting and fold it over once or twice, then squeeze, there is the tactile impression that a hand is there, squeezing back. The creation of life comes from the ordering of acids, proteins, and carbohydrates into a precise pattern; the creation of a garment from the precise ordering of fibers. This mere impression of life alone is charmingly reassuring.
There is something perpetually beautiful and satisfying in being bound to the mystery of the annelid. It is my deepest and most sincere hope that you have found, or shall soon discover, your own mystery.