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What I learned from knitting. . .(and it isn't what you think it is)

August 9th, 2008 by tatterdemalion

[ed. note: ‘Tis easier to write than to mess with pictures, and ’tis better to post without pictures than to not post at all. My promised post on design is still in the works, but you get this while you wait.]

You may recall that my elderly neighbor (old enough to be my grandmother) taught me how to knit. I don’t remember what all I said on that subject; I don’t think I mentioned that I had been trying to get her (back) into sewing. I like sewing. She thinks sewing is too fussy, too time consuming. So she wouldn’t jump at my bait to sew, but I jumped at her bait to knit. I think I did mention that I opened her knitting world up by introducing her to knitting books, knitting magazines, mail order yarn, and free patterns on the internet.

She tries to pretend she’s an old coot. She claims she can’t understand all this fuss about knitting with lace, and I get out books like Lace Style so she can see what people are doing. She complains that all the sweaters aren’t designed raglan sleeved, top-down, the only way she believes in making sweaters. In Lace Style, there is this truly ethereal garment—it is diaphanous, floaty, it plays with the sunlight. It is also, of course, meant only for effect. It’s insubstantial as a garment; it is meant as an accessory, to bring it’s unique appearance. I sit there and marvel at the huge effect that has been captured by a simple garter stitch in plain white yarn. She fusses, because what kind of a garment is that? And kids these days. . .!

But it’s all just a charade.

‘Cause a couple weeks later, she’s telling me about ravelry.com, and the “naughty” tab, and generally giggling like a teenager. My mind struggles to grasp this—I can look at a garment I would never wear, yet still cataloge and be captivated the various elements I could take and use as see fit. She can look at the same garment and deride it as utterly useless, not being able to harvest anything from it. Yet a few days later, she can be getting her chuckles from the same sorts of things she derided in the garments, now in a more blatant form. She is still a kid; she’s just still stuck in the time period she was a “kid” in. The problem for her is never really that anything strikes her as too sassy, sultry, attention drawing, etc. (My google-ads are going to be just awful as result of this post. . .) The problem is that it seems to her to be strange, foreign, unfamiliar. They are speaking in a language she can’t understand.

I get out Elizabeth Zimmerman’s A Knitters Almanac, and enjoy it thouroughly. She looks at it, and say “I don’t have time for that!!” and instead reads Things I Learned from Knitting, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, self-described as “The Yarn Harlot.” In this book, my silver-haired neighbor discovers that she is “addicted to knitting”, and she gets thrills from this. She isn’t in the least bit disturbed that she has this compulsion to knit, knit, knit, KNIT!!

Whoa. Get a grip, lady.

And then I think, is this how it seems to people I am about sewing? I hope not. Sewing isn’t my addiction; sewing isn’t my religion. I don’t really come across that fanatical about sewing, do I?

Here I am learning the wonders of knitting—don’t worry about being exact; it’ll stretch. And here she is, counting every single stitch, repeatedly checking her gauge on the project she’s working on, and still being in a snit because one sock turned out 1/4″ longer than the other. Here I am learning about how life isn’t that big of a deal; if you mess up, no one is going to count every single stitch you made and deride you for the place you made a mistake or two. And here she is, ripping and re-knitting and re-ripping again.

And from this I see that, (1) In my sewing, I have much more the attitude she has about knitting. Which is ironic, because she doesn’t want to become involved in sewing for that very reason. And (2) I would much rather my attitude toward sewing be more like my attitude toward knitting.

It really isn’t that important. Chill out, dude.

Not that I don’t value excellent work; I do, and I strive for it. But it becomes paralyzing. Is this pattern perfect? I can’t cut this fabric unless this pattern is perfect. No, don’t be silly. You’ll wear it anyway, perfect or not. You’ll learn where you went wrong and do better next time. For now—cut. People give you funny looks when they find out how much work you put into an everyday, ordinary garment, and with good reason. It’s just a regular old, ordinary thing—and you’re obsessed over it? You do realize, don’t you, it’s just a piece of clothing? It will serve it’s purpose and wear out. It’s a temporal, fleeting thing. Ride the waves and get on with life.

I am reminded of this every time I hear her obessively counting stitches, which I know is a futile thing because her gauge will change from moment to moment depending her mood. She is worrying futily, and it opens my eyes to the futility of my worry.

I am also reminded that human nature has never really changed from the beginning of time. The scandal of one generation at another generation is largely just a scandal of the differing ways of expressing the same basic humaness.

And age bears no realtion to fuddy-duddiness. She, being many years my senior, would be considered less fuddy-duddy than me, the one who has no interest whatsoever in clicking on the “naughty” tab on raverly.com.

And that time will march on; if you won’t make the effort to keep up, you will be left behind. You sometimes don’t realize how true this is, until you have become accustomed to watching late-middle aged people struggle with new technoloy, and then—having been thouroughly inoculated to the whole old-people-don’t-get-it—seeing a most definitely 100% of the way senior citizen whip out a digital camera and use it without hesitation. Suddenly you forcefully realize that the process of being confused by the world starts very early. If you are not prepared to look the future in the eyes and grab it by the horns, you will become confused. Perhaps it won’t be noticable until you are middle aged, or until you are firmly in the senior citizens territory. But if you don’t hang on now, it will be too late to grasp out for handholds later on. You won’t be able to grasp making sweaters any other way than raglan sleeved, from the top down. It becomes nearly as much a law as gravity itself; it is insurmountable. Meanwhile, “kids these days” will be doing some incomprehensible thing that seems utterly pointless and bizarre.

People don’t really change. But if you loose your ability to communicate with them and interact with them, it seems like humanity totally reinvents itself on a regular basis. And if you are from Humanity 1.08, how can you understand Humanity 1.5?

It seems as though the best way understand the world around you is to have one hand in the past, one hand in the future, and your head firmly in the present. If you don’t understand at least some of the past, you can’t understand the present you are in. And if you don’t keep an eye on where the future is heading, your time in the present is very limited; shortly you will be living in the past.

It sounds very endlessly difficult. But generally speaking, we’re going to either die young or grow old. And if you’re planning on growing old, you should start figuring out how to do it sooner rather than later. The course you set now will be the one you will be walking on when you’re older, because once you are old, you haven’t the strength to change the course.

Posted in Contemplations, Knitting | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. What I learned from knitting. . .(and it isn’t what you think it is) » The Ethereal Voice Says:

    […] _uacct = “UA-1202685-1”; urchinTracker(); Map of the Ethereal Land The Ethereal Voice Front Page – Politics – Money – Knowledge – Art – Food – Fun Masthead About What I learned from knitting. . .(and it isn’t what you think it is) By Tatterdemalion | August 9, 2008 – 11:18 am Posted in Category: Front Page, Art [ed. note: ‘Tis easier to write than to mess with pictures, and ’tis better to post without pictures than to not post at all. My promised post on design is still in the works, but you get this while you wait.] You may recall that my elderly neighbor (old enough to be my grandmother) taught me Click Here to continue reading. […]

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