I am a self-confessed craft addict and my creations vary with the seasons. I’ve already written an earlier blog about my epic cross-stitch with which I have occupied many a happy summer hour. But each autumn as the weather turned chilly, I’d put the fabric and threads away and, with a sense of delicious anticipation, open the knitting drawer where cosy, colourful yarns reside alongside knitting needles of every possible size and shape.
Three years ago I decided I was going to knit something for myself. I’d been knitting away like a madwoman since returning from living in Canada but usually I knitted for friends and gave away my handiwork. So upon discovering a beautiful teal-colored wool in a local craft shop bought myself twelve balls, and resolved to knit myself a jumper or as they’d call it in Canada a “sweater.”
A knitting friend passed on a pattern book for my contemplation. The book was from the eighties and most of the designs looked terribly dated. But one had a more enduring appeal, at least when worn by the slender model who graced the front page. I dived in, knitting as the pattern directed on large needles with doubled yarn. In a satisfyingly short amount of time I had completed and sewn together the front and back panels into a vest like structure, ready to check for size.
With great excitement I pulled the green-blue creation over my head and turned towards the mirror to check out the effect. There was only one possible verdict – it looked like an unflattering eighties style sack. So I put the project aside for the summer. As the weather turned cold again I pulled it out of the drawer and considered what to do with it.
I was meditating by then, consciously practicing in letting go of things that no longer served me, so I decided to apply this to my crafting as well. The undoing proved more cumbersome than the knitting – it required two pairs of hands to re-roll the yarn as it emerged from the doubled rows. Soliciting the help of friends and family, in the process creating some good opportunities for conversation, the wool was returned to as it’s original form, more or less, and I was ready and set off again, this time using a basic pattern from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knitting.
Again I reached the vest stage and was confronted with an unflattering sack. This time the decision to unravel came easier. Browsing through a posh knitting book gifted to me by a fellow teacher-knitter I decided to attempt a long knitted coat, in moss stitch, a combination of knit and purl stitches that produces a pleasing pebbled texture.
So I began as the pattern directed with the front right hand panel. All went smoothly until I came to the collar. I just couldn’t make sense of the written instructions. They seemed to be telling me to cast off a long row of stitches. I assumed that casting off was to make a lapel-like collar and so cast off on the inner side of the panel. But it just looked wrong, it was a massive lapel and only a quarter of the stitches left to make the shoulder. I stopped, uncertain of how to proceed. My aunt came over and I sought her advice. She assured me that I was reading the pattern correctly so I finished off the panel and left the final stitches on a stitch holder and began the large back section of the coat.
Here was straight forward knitting for a long time, no need to think, just one row after another for month upon month. I measured it up against the front panels and was confronted again with my irregular looking collar. I went back to the book, trying to make sense of it. Looking at the picture of the finished coat there didn’t seem to me any kind of lapel, yet the instructions had clearly told me to cast off 30 stitches. Maybe I thought the instructions were wrong, a printing error perhaps. Or, as my paranoia deepened, maybe this fancy knitting label just didn’t trust their knitters to do what was in the picture and the pattern in the book was actually a simplified version with lapels? I unpicked the top of one front panel and knitted it up again with my own haphazard pattern, a combination of casting off and gradually reducing. It didn’t look any better.
Meanwhile I had finished the back panel and couldn’t make sense of the collar on that either, it just petered out where in the pictures it clearly had a roll at the top of the neck. I sewed the side where I had improvised to the back, feeling grumpy at the pattern, convinced there was a fault somewhere and it was not mine.
The next day I was teaching the violin. One of the logistical challenges for beginning violin players is correctly positioning the shoulder rest on the underside of the violin. The easiest way to do it is to rest the violin upside down on your knee while you slide the shoulder rest on from the rounded bottom of the violin to a suitable position. My student was holding her violin incorrectly as she struggled to do this and I was sitting on a chair, just out of reach. Feeling tired I tried to use words to explain what I wanted her to do.
“Just turn the violin around,” I said.
She turned it over.
“No, not over, around” repeated, trying not to feel frustrated.
She looked at me confused.
Standing up I reached for the violin in her lap and rotated it 180 degrees.
“Around” I repeated but even as I did so I reflected on the limitations of words to direct practical procedures, especially those that are new to people. Through my frustration I realized that my student really hadn’t been able to imagine the manipulation of her instrument I was trying to get across to her verbally. Feeling slightly superior I little suspected that I was doing exactly the same thing in my knitting!
On the weekend I returned to the project, determined to press on despite the failings of the design. Looking again at the pictures in the book and the written instructions with fresh eyes it was as if a beam of light suddenly illuminated previously hidden text. Of course! The casting off was not a lapel but the shoulder seam. The rolled collar would be created by continuing to knit with the remaining stitches for 9cm exactly as the instructions said. By letting go of my pre-formed idea of what a collar was I could suddenly see the photos and instructions as they were, rather than how I imagined them to be. It was a true moment of revelation. Flipping my understanding 180 degrees, I was suddenly open to seeing things as they really are. Knitting, like anything else in our seemingly mundane lives, can serve as a path to enlightenment.