Knitting · Memoir

A Crafty Childhood Memory

I guess the weather decided to grant us some snow in honor of my birthday yesterday. It is really coming down!

To honor my birthday in my own way, I am traveling down memory lane a little bit, remembering my very first knitting project.

Flash back to the mid-1990’s.

Pre-cellphones, pre-internet, pre-puberty (for me, anyway).

I was about 10 years old, summer vacation had finally arrived, and I was preparing to visit my grandparents for two whole weeks. I was going to be flying from the west coast to the east coast all by my myself for the first time, and I was very, very nervous about it.

Even at that age, I had a tendency to turn to arts and crafts for comfort, especially when I was unhappy, nervous or bored. I vividly remember finger weaving being my obsession that summer. During the days before my trip, I plowed my way through a bulk bag of nylon loops, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the living room in my plaid shorts and ninja turtle t-shirt, very likely watching Nickelodeon cartoons.

nylonloops

Before long I had a huge pile of multicolored braided doodads: hairbands, bracelets, necklaces, even a six-foot garland that I then wrapped around my bed posts. I found that I loved the calming process of twisting the loops one by one onto my fingers, pulling each loop up, over, and then slipping them off my fingertips to create a squishy chain that seemed to appear magically from my hand.

Halfway through a bracelet, I reached into the plastic bag to find the last remaining sad neon green loop. Immediately, I went to my mom to beg her to take me to the craft store. I was a professional beggar by this age, and we were soon in my mom’s blue Oldsmobile heading to Michael’s.

Once inside the chilly air-conditioned store, I made a beeline straight for the kids’ crafts aisle, while my mom strolled off to another section, instructing me to meet her at the checkout counter in a few minutes. I quickly found where the big bags of nylon loops were stored, and I snatched one up, hugging it to my chest. I turned on my heel to start heading back towards the front of the store when I stopped mid-aisle to inspect something that had caught my eye. A clear plastic zipper bag with a big label that read, “Learn to Knit!” hung on the right side of the aisle. Under these words was a grinning blonde girl about my age with a blue hat and scarf with fringe.  She was holding up two pointy sticks horizontally in front of her, a colorful loopy fabric draping from them.

Carefully, I reached up and lifted the bag off its hook so that I could get a better look at it. It didn’t seem like much, really, but the description on the back promised that I would be able to make a scarf similar to one that the girl was making with the materials provided. Squeezing the kit to my chest with the loops bag, I headed towards the cash registers where my mom was waiting for me.

carygrant
Cary Grant knitting in Mr. Lucky (1943)

A day or so later, I was sitting on a plane next to a grumpy plumpy guy with a baseball cap, who was reading a thick book with aliens on the front cover. It felt really weird to be on a plane without one of my parents sitting next to me. So to distract myself, I put on the pair of earphones that the flight attendant had given to me, and I plugged them into my armrest to listen to the radio and fiddled with the cord. After takeoff I fidgeted around in my seat and pulled out my backpack from its cubbyhole on the floor in front of me. I fished out the knitting kit, pulled down my tray table, and took inventory of the kit’s contents.

Inside the bag was a pair of plastic yellow sticks that were pointy on one end, which I soon found out were called needles, with “US 8” stamped on the blunt ends, a ball of smooth, pretty yarn with flecks of purple, blue, pink, and white, and a “How to Knit” instruction booklet. I was intrigued by the picture diagrams in the booklet that showed me how to create the tiny loops with the yarn that would eventually make up the scarf.

After reading the directions through, I was relieved that it seemed somewhat similar to finger weaving. My fingers fumbled with the needles for a while and I finally managed to “cast on” some stitches, and I then started the awkward movement of “knitting” them. Slowly, I got into the bumpy rhythm of pushing one needle into a loop on the other needle, wrapping the yarn around, and then pulling it through without letting the loop fall off. While I was working, holding the needles close to my face, I imagined that I was training to become like a silver-haired grandma in a rocking chair, like the ones from TV.  I wanted to be able to twist-click my needles together effortlessly like they did, a scarf or sweater just seeming to flow from my hands down into my flower aproned lap.

airplane-knit
One of the super grannies: Mrs. Elise Meylan, Champion Red Cross Knitter (1950)

By the time the plane landed, after knitting, ripping out, and starting over a bunch of times, I had about an inch of knitting done. Throughout the two weeks visiting grandparents, I slowly worked on my knitting during car rides and in my grandparents’ living room until I ran out of yarn. Having messed up so many times, a portion of the yarn was badly unraveled and I had to throw it away. So I didn’t really have enough yarn to make a full scarf. Instead, I did the final step, “binding off,” to finish my awkwardly sized rectangle. I declared that it was a potholder for my mom, which I then presented to her when I arrived back home.

Mom being the wonderful woman that she is gushed over how pretty it was. When I told her what it was supposed to be originally she laughed and replied, “Oh poo, I think it’s great. Who needs a scarf in Arizona anyway?”

Many other crafts made their way into my hands after that summer and many summers after that, like lanyard necklaces, beaded key chains, cartoon drawing, ink stamping, cross stitch, pipe cleaner animals, but knitting managed to be a constant through it all. I knit a potholder or two in the midst of lots of reading while I was in middle school. By the time I was in high school and then college, I was a knitting fool, making gifts constantly for my friends and family.

Now that I am in my early 30s, many many sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, and shawls later, I am not quite one of the silver-haired super grandmas yet, but I’m pretty sure that I could do a decent good job at keeping up with them.

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