The new knitter–let’s call her Petronella–had posted a shy query about something fundamental, like how to count rows in garter stitch or the proper method of stealing Alice Starmore books from the public library–and ended with a sigh about How Very Bewildering It All Is and How She’d Never Get It.
The regulars explained, encouraged, cheered, cajoled.
Of course you will get it, they said. And she will, will Petronella. She will get it, and then she will get more, and more still until the yarn begins to block out the sun from the living room windows and she joins the ring of knitters chanting “One of Us, One of Us” around an unsuspecting newbie–let’s call him Wenceslas–who was only looking for something to help pass the time while “Stargate” is in reruns.
We’ve all been there, or most of us have, and I have been thinking this week about how sneaky people are when they encourage you to take up knitting. They always emphasize the empowerment, the creativity, the yarn that’s as much fun to pet as a Shar-Pei but which will never chew your slippers or wet the carpet.
They glide right past the inconvenient truth that becoming a knitter (or a crocheter, for that matter) also makes you susceptible to an entire flotilla of neuroses of which non-initiates are cheerfully unaware.
For example, I am unable to contemplate the purchase of a winter hat–however fine or functional it might be–without a corresponding wave of guilt. I am a knitter. I do not buy hats. Why would I buy hats? It would be wrong for me to buy hats. I knit hats. Same goes for scarves.
Except that I don’t like knitting scarves.
My first project, years ago, was a scarf. So was my second project. My third was a pair of mittens. After that, four more scarves.
It was a joy, back then, to make my own scarves. You couldn’t buy anything long enough in a shop–just wimpy five-foot swatches of acrylic in WASPy oatmeal-and-rust plaids or boring stripes. It was empowering to motor through seven feet of garter stitch and end up with something superabundant that I could wrap around my neck and face, with enough extra to trail fetchingly in the Atlantic wind.
But, with all due respect to St. Elizabeth of the Schoolhouse, time and repeated exposure take the zing out of garter stitch, at least in the shape of a seven-foot rectangle.
That, kids, is why you’re not going to find a lot of scarves on my to-do list. I don’t cast them on for pure pleasure, portable though they are. On the other hand, life and winter make demands that cannot be ignored. When it happens, the best thing is try to liven up necessity with a challenge or two.
I just finished what I’m calling the Transatlantic Scarf. Last year, I made the triple-thick Transatlantic Hat for Tom, which he obligingly wore as we sailed home from London (hence the name) and which withstood a nasty and prolonged Chicago winter with nary a pill.
However, I wearied of seeing the hat paired with a selection of store-bought partners–thin and wimpy, not a patch on the rich, deep hand-dyed blue of the hat. I needed to fashion a proper mate. And I had enough of the identical yarn stashed away to make that happen.
Of course, the finished scarf needed to be six feet long, and the yarn in question (Sheep's Gift Solid from Joslyn's Fiber Farm) is DK. Garter stitch? No.
The hat was cabled, so I could cable the scarf. Parallel ropes of three-over-three twisted every sixth round would match perfectly. Perhaps with a nice moss stitch border.
Tried it. Got about four inches finished. Had visions of self lying in a box in a funeral home, with friends standing around whispering, “They say it was boredom.” Frogged it.
I dug into my stitch dictionaries and came up with a pattern that looked simple enough to
a) memorize, andand which was also
b) work without a cable needle
c) the same in both directions–a visual palindrome, if you will.That third quality meant I could use it to knit a scarf in the seaman's style, but end-to-end. No fuss with provisional cast-ons, working two pieces, and grafting.
A seaman’s scarf, if you don’t already know, consists of two wide, flat ends with the narrower center bit–the part that goes across the back of the neck–worked in ribbing. A tried-and-true concept with a comfortable fit. And psychologically, it would break up the work into three acts. Good enough for Puccini, good enough for me.
My first thought was to abruptly end the cable pattern when I reached the center and start ribbing. But as the transition approached, I knew in my gut it would be more fun–and probably handsomer–to somehow flow into the ribbing and out of it while preserving the integrity of the cables. After only two false starts (a new record for me), success.
And so it’s complete, and awaiting bestowal upon the intended neck. I keep looking at it and squishing it and unrolling it and rolling it up again. I’ve started writing the pattern.
I also realized, looking this morning through the box of winter accessories, that I have nothing decent with which to cover my own neck.
I’m thinking "cowl."