Knit and Pearl
As printed in Proteus, the Journal of the Delaware Valley Mensa  (Jun 2011)


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            I was around 9 years old, watching Bugs Bunny with my grandmother, when the show’s “Granny” character made an appearance. She was in her rocking chair, knitting in the cartoon way (i.e. fully-formed garments emerged directly from her needles). I looked from that granny to mine, and pondered the obvious question: is knitting something all grannies can do?

            “Grandma, do you know how to knit?” I asked.

            “Yes, I do,” my grandmother replied, confirming that cartoons convey truth in all things.

            “Will you teach me?”

            I mean, how can you say no to that?

            By the next day, she had unearthed needles and yarn from the stash I never knew she had, and sat me down to show me the basics. I still remember seeing my little hands next to hers, working with the enormous-to-me needles, thinking the two stitches she taught me were called “knit and pearl.” I hope the “purl” stitch takes that as a compliment.

            She bought me some crazy pink and lavender yarn to use for practice and projects, and so I began. But wow, knitting takes time. I learned quickly that I lacked the patience to make something large enough for myself and, as many adults lack the patience for this, I will allow myself some “I was only 9-ish” leeway. But my teddy bear would soon be wearing a very snazzy sweater vest of my own design: pink and purple stripes with the letter “B” on one side. For “Bear,” of course. I actually just found that vest. Unbelievable.

            I started and stopped numerous small projects over the years, but never did much with the needles beyond dressing my stuffed animals until the summer after my freshman year in college. My grandmother had passed away that year and, when I got home for summer break and saw the needles and the yarn, I decided to knit something real, for myself, in her honor. And complete it. Before the summer ended. It had to be something I could actually wear, but it also had to be something I would really, truly finish, or I’d hate myself for the rest of my life for failing at this.

            Long sleeves were out of the question, especially given the length of my arms. Fortunately for me, it was summer; a short-sleeved sweater would be a perfectly logical project to undertake. It was also the early ‘90s, so bare midriffs were all the rage. I used this to my advantage and designed a very cute, white, summery, short-sleeved, cropped sweater with a very wide, square neck. In other words, something not-too-big that I believed that I could complete before returning to school in the fall.

            I got to work. This is where I’ll give you a movie montage with me knitting furiously in the morning and night, beads of sweat dripping from my forehead onto my trembling fingers, and set to a soundtrack of your favorite hits from En Vogue, Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men, and Color Me Badd, courtesy of the year 1992. This was the first project other than the Bear sweater that I had taken this seriously. The day I finished knitting the last section, put all of the pieces together, and cut off the last bit of yarn… ahh. That was a wonderful day. I know my grandmother would have been proud. I was spent, but fulfilled; I wore my very first handmade sweater downstairs to show my mother, and I didn’t touch those needles again for more than five years.

            Long after the bare midriff craze had passed, I was enjoying a lovely summer day in downtown Philadelphia. I have no recollection of where I was coming from or where I was going, but I do remember seeing a shop called, “Sophie’s Yarns.” I stopped. Yarns? Just yarns? Did each purchase come with a really good story? Or could this place seriously sell nothing but that itchy, horrible stuff people use to make homemade sweaters? I had to find out, so I walked down the steps and opened the door.

            It was as though the sky opened up, and a chorus of dearly departed knitters sang together from Heaven to welcome me to this new world. Oh, the colors! The materials! Silk-mohair blend? Washable wool? Cotton in every imaginable shade? Pattern books were filled with photos of items you might actually buy, but could make on your own with the right material. Luxurious sweaters and shawls decorated the tiny store. Logic told me they must have been handmade, but they didn’t have “that look,” the one that says, “This was a gift and I’m wearing it because the person who made it for me is in the room.” A discerning shopper would pay good money for any of them. And, FYI, anyone who enjoys a good, tactile adventure should spend an hour in a yarn store.

            In short, I was hooked. No, that’s crochet… anyway, I discovered a new appreciation for knitting, this age old skill and art form, passed down from generation to generation. From time to time I think about the fact that something my grandmother taught me to do lives on through me. Knowledge can be immortal that way. In my new knitting life, I have made scarves, hats, socks, and – gasp – long-sleeved sweaters for adult humans. I’ve even watched the cycle continue by teaching other people to knit. It’s a beautiful feeling, not unlike the one that struck me when my uncle saw me knitting, and told me it made him think of his mother. I smiled, thinking, “Me, too.”