Category: Knitting

Creating Beauty for No Particular Reason

In keeping with my latest goal of creating beauty, I’m finishing up a wrap I started knitting during the Christmas season. The wool was ridiculously expensive, but I couldn’t resist the colors.

Sometimes spending a lot of money on something beautiful is worth it.

I originally bought the yarn for two pillows I wanted to knit for the sofa, but I decided those colors were meant to be worn and draped around someone’s shoulders.

I’m not sure if I’ll keep the wrap for myself, sell it, or give it away. It doesn’t really matter what I decide to do with it. It’s all about creating beauty.

Have you noticed, like me, that there isn’t enough beauty in our man-made world? When I look around the city where I live, I see a lot of generic sameness. I acknowledge that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, but it seems too often today that if something doesn’t have a strictly utilitarian purpose it has no value.

I disagree wholeheartedly.

I love poetry. When I’m in the right mood, I love to curl up with my favorite poems and swim in the words. Reading poetry is such a visceral, emotional experience. Certain opera arias have the same effect and can bring me to tears.

The last time I took the train I noticed that poems had been posted on the walls. I loved it, and read the poem on the wall above me over and over.

What a great way to get to work, reading a poem instead of an advertisement. I loved that someone had the idea to post the poems, something that seems so frivolous, yet beautiful.

Children understand the need to create something beautiful. There were always certain kids in my classes who couldn’t stop themselves from constantly doodling, sketching, writing, folding, and making. It wasn’t boredom. Boredom is spitballs, talking, falling asleep, and knocking your book on the floor on purpose.

This was making and doing just because you can’t help yourself.

I understand those kids because I used to be just like them, only I usually saved it for the privacy of my bedroom where no one could see me. I generally like to keep my creative projects to myself, maybe because showing them to the world is showing a little too much of yourself.

Nothing exposes you more than poetry. I used to write a lot more, but rarely showed my work to anyone. Even if it’s unclear who or what the poem is about, you can’t hide the emotion, and showing others your deepest feelings in a poem is like standing naked in a snowstorm.

Knitting something is a little less gut wrenching and transparent. For some reason, I feel almost guilty when I take time to knit during the day. I feel the same way about reading a book. Maybe it comes from all those years of teaching and feeling like I had to stay “busy” every second of the day, but knitting doesn’t feel like real work.

And perhaps that’s the whole point of creating beauty, that it shouldn’t feel like work, that there shouldn’t be any point to it, other than bringing something beautiful to life.

Knitting in Texas is Hard

Knitting in Texas is hard. It’s always hot, usually humid, and not exactly conducive to sitting on the couch with a pound of wool in your lap. Okay, of course I’m exaggerating, but only slightly, and not about how hard it is to knit in Texas.

It really is hot here. Running in the summer is bad enough, but knitting is almost impossible. It’s the farthest thing from my mind, no matter how much cold air the AC manages to blast out. Today is literally the first day I’ve noticed the trees changing colors–and it’s the middle of November. Which means the temperatures are slowly going down, after a veeeeeerrrrrryyyyy looooonnnnnngggg summer. Finally, I can enjoy knitting. However, by mid to late February the temperatures will already start to climb, and knitting will begin to lose its grip on my psyche.

It’s hard to knit something when it’s 105 degrees outside.

Where I live there are exactly two knitting stores. I’m not counting the crafts stores that sell knitting supplies and acrylic yarn. I’m talking about real knitting shops, filled with high quality yarn and real people who actually know how to knit. Since we only have these two knitting stores, shopping there isn’t cheap.

Which means I troll the internet for affordable yarn. I have this thing about acrylic yarn: I hate it. I hate the feel of it, I hate the look of it, I hate everything about it. I refuse to knit with it. Why bother spending hundreds of hours knitting something beautiful with an inferior material? It pains me to see someone knitting with acrylic yarn.

Harsh, I know, and the alternative usually means dishing out a lot of money. But to me, it’s like buying organic versus nonorganic at the grocery store. I prefer to knit with natural materials, even if I really can’t afford to. Nothing beats a beautifully knitted garment made of soft, natural wool.

Another reason knitting in Texas is hard is because there are so few of us who do it. I grew up in Texas but learned to knit in Switzerland. Go figure. No one in my family knits, though both of my grandmothers made quilts–something I wish they were still around to teach me. Knitting in public garners a lot of attention, which isn’t something I enjoy. Most people just stare, wondering what the heck I’m doing, and where exactly do I plan on wearing that warm looking thing that’s cascading off my sweaty needles?

If I want to talk about knitting, or have a question about something I’m working on, I have to go to the internet or one of my many knitting reference books. When I learned to knit in Switzerland and had a question, every woman I knew could help me. Everyone knit like crazy there, and they rarely used patterns. Knitting sweaters for their families was something women were proud of, and also a necessity since sweaters were worn all year round. I loved the way knitting was valued and passed on from one generation of women to another.

And lest you think I’m being sexist, there were a few men who said their mothers taught them to knit when they were young, but I never once saw a man knitting–at least not in public.

Despite the difficulties, I still love knitting, even in hot old Texas. It’s on my agenda every single day of the year, yet I seldom seem to make time for it. That’s going to have to change. Other than yoga, knitting is always the most relaxing part of my day. I might not be the most prolific knitter, or the fastest, but when I get around to it, I enjoy it the most of anything else I do.

Well, other than eating dark chocolate, that is . . .

Knitting Through the Tour de France

I am a knitter.

There, I’ve admitted it.  I’ve been knitting for the past 31 years and almost no one knows that about me.  I also sing and hum constantly, watch a soap opera, and fall asleep in the middle of movies.  Before it became cool again, I took a lot of grief about my love of knitting.  My ex was visibly and vociferously embarrassed if I ever dared to pull out my knitting needles in a public place.  He told me it looked so “old” (I was 35 at the time).  Sheesh.

Knitted sailor's cap

Simple sailor’s cap

I learned to knit when I lived in Switzerland.  I was newly arrived from Texas and was soon to be married.  Switzerland was a lot colder than Texas.  Sweaters looked like a good idea.  Everywhere I looked young girls were knitting: at the movies, in coffee shops, and standing on the bus on their way to school.  I couldn’t believe anyone could knit standing up, and everyone knitted at lightning speed, talking and laughing, and rarely looked at their fingers.  I was in awe.  I watched.  I wanted to learn.

Knitted mohair twisted cable sweater

Something I knit while living in Switzerland

A very patient Swiss schoolteacher friend named Gabi Schoenenberger got me started.  Since I didn’t speak German or French, didn’t understand anything on TV, and had only my father-in-law’s James Bond books to read in English, I had lots of time to practice.  I was pretty good at knitting and made scarves, sweaters, and baby clothes for my  daughter and son.  I loved the meditative nature of knitting, and it gave me something to do when I got bored of sitting around not understanding what was being talked about around me.

I came back to Texas seven years later and brought my knitting needles and wool with me.  I still tried to keep up my knitting, but eventually realized it rarely got cold enough to wear much of what I made.  Even worse, who wants to sit through a Texas summer with wool in their lap?  Knitting became a winter-only activity, and it was something I loved to do in the evenings while I watched TV.

That is, until I discovered the Tour de France two summers ago.

Knitted chunky wool sweater

Knit in the US from wool I brought over from Switzerland

I’m not a cyclist, but many of my friends are.  I was a girly girl tomboy when I was a kid, and was always outside on my roller skates, skateboard, or bike.  I could patch the tires and put the chain back on my banana seat Huffy and ten-speed bike without any help from my dad.  I rode my bike much farther than my mom ever knew, sometimes in places a little girl should never bike alone, and even used to plan out long trips across town from places I had seen out the side window of the car on our Sunday drives.

I loved biking in Switzerland, but those hills were tough work.

In Dallas, home of the world’s worst drivers, I can barely run without getting hit by a car, so I don’t bike very often.  The last time I did I tried to run my dog on leash next to me and we wiped out when she darted after a squirrel.  It wasn’t fun.

Knitted cashmere cap with cables

Cashmere cap with cables

But in July, le Tour de France . . .  perfect!  I can sit on the couch in the air conditioned heaven of my home and knit for hours as the riders speed through a country I visited many times.  I can look at the castles and chateaux and reminisce about the beauty of the French countryside and the trips we took to the south of France.  I can go back in my mind to the evenings we drove across the border just for a good meal (white asparagus and morels) and skiing in the Jura mountains.  I never have to worry about peloton crashes, broken collarbones, or getting swept off the road by a careening car.  All I have to worry about is not dropping a stitch.

Knitted lace wrap

A wrap I wear often in our Texas winters

I’m relieved that knitting has achieved a new renaissance in the U.S. and that I no longer have to hide my dirty little secret.  I never understood what was so “grandmotherly” about it in the first place (as if anything about being a grandmother is a bad thing).  I was so excited when my daughter asked me to teach her how to knit, and humbled by the knowledge that I was passing on an art form that countless women (and men) have perpetuated for hundreds–if not thousands–of years.  I also loved that she got knitting advice last Christmas when she went back to Switzerland to visit her dad, just like I did all those years ago.

My knitting has come full circle.

Knitted baby blanket

Cotton baby blanket

So, pedal away Contodor, Cadel, and Cavendish as you bike your way towards Paris.  I’ll sit here and knit one, purl two through France and all those memories.  At the end of the day one of you will have a new yellow jersey.  Me, I’ll be a few more rows closer to the cast-off, and the end of another summer knitting project.  Vive le Tour de France!

Knitted lace wrap

My current project, a zig zag pattern lace wrap