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I must have been about 10 years old when my mother first taught me to knit. I loved the textures, the sounds, the artistry, the creativity, and the chance to do something with my mother. I discovered that I loved to knit, although I didn’t continue into adulthood.
About 50 years later, I decided to try knitting again. I was smart enough to look for easy patterns and enjoyed it so much that my hands were aching. (Yes, I know, I was holding the needles too tightly.) I took a break from knitting, learning that too much time knitting might not be a good thing.
But in the few months I stopped, something changed, and I have no idea what it was. I picked a pattern for a lightweight shawl that was marked “easy,” even did a proper stitch gauge and washed the sample. I started to work on it, and it was a disaster from the start.
I had trouble keeping track of the pattern. Every row was different, and although knitting and purling were familiar, I was not as comfortable with slip-slip-knit (known as SSK). I had too few or too many stitches, I couldn’t figure out how to correct my errors, I had the darndest time figuring out how to free the “yarn-over” stitch. And there was no hiding mistakes because the shawl was patterned. Okay for those of you who aren’t knitters, I’ll stop listing the technical problems. Let’s just say it was a horrible experience. Because I couldn’t locate and correct my mistakes, I kept taking it apart and starting over. My resolve to pay better attention vanished at my next mistake. Worse, I couldn’t figure out why I kept trying to knit this particular pattern. Why not just quit?! And I did! At least three times! And then I started all over again. It was pure torture.
But one day, I decided to reframe completely what I was actually doing. I wasn’t knitting a lightweight shawl: I was re-learning how to knit. That goal required me to see my project in a whole new light.
What does it feel like to do a knit stitch?
What does it feel like to do a purl stitch?
What if I carefully investigated the intricacies of doing a Slip-Slip-Knit stitch?
How might I pay such close attention so that I would be able to identify all the different ways I committed my mistakes? If I was able to do that, then I could figure out how to reverse them.
Most importantly, the way I thought about the project made it something special, inviting and even fun. I didn’t need to race to finish it; I could take my time and enjoy the process, the journey, of re-learning to knit. I could enjoy the sensation of knitting, the needles clicking, the bright colors of the yarn, the rhythm of doing this work. Miraculously I made few mistakes and either caught them or found a simple way to correct them.
And then there was the final realization. I wasn’t just re-learning knitting: I was reconnecting with my mom. My mother (who has since passed away) wasn’t always the most patient teacher, but I only have good memories of learning knitting from her, how to pick up dropped stitches, or cast on or cast off stitches. At some point, she also stopped knitting in her life. But somehow, in some way we’ve re-connected through this journey.
I last saw her in her last days, and I tearfully said I would miss her; she smiled and said, “We’ll always be together.”
Update: It’s several weeks later, and I haven’t finished the shawl, but I am loving the process and enjoying myself.