Saturday, June 9, 2007

I Feel the Need to Knit

A few days ago knitting fanatic Peggy Vincent emailed me about the above pictured cupcakes. On this delightful website, instructions are given to 'knit' marzipan -- excellent instructions, I might add. I'm not sure marzipan knitting will reap as wide an appeal as knitting now has, but it is worth checking out what creative people are doing.

Having spent several years as CEO of my own little cottage cake baking industry, I know a bit about novelty decorations and probably feel more sure of my leaf tip than I do of my number seven knitting needles. Inevitably I begin each knitting project in fear of a dropped stitch. But the need to knit is strong.

My theory: knitting and crisis go together. It brought women together during World War I and II. Whether of Allies or Axis countries, women knitted woolen squares to sew together into blankets for the soldiers. My mother, born in 1912, remembered making these squares as a child. With her mother and other women of the little Ohio community, they gathered in the church fellowship hall armed with needles and yarn. The Red Cross distributed the finished blankets to the wounded. When the recipient touched the hand-knit squares, he would recall loving hands of his own mothers, sisters and wives.

Eleanor Roosevelt could host a tea party and talk politics with her husband and his cronies. She manipulated four double-pointed needles and turned out sock after sock for soldiers fighting World War II. Her knitting spoke as loudly as her words.

I recall one pre-teen summer, waiting my turn to model my 4-H sewing project at the annual style show. I looked out from the stage to see someone’s mother placidly knitting a pink sweater. Knit and purl, knit and purl. Her eyes were watching the stage as her hands did something completely different. She appeared to be an island of control and peace in the lively audience. I wanted to leap from the stage and sit by her side and ask, "Will you teach me such confidence, please?"

A recent move from the Midwest to the South, sapped more than my confidence. With my brain already full of details for the sale of one house, purchase of another and the move from one to the other, the need to knit overwhelmed me. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to follow a pattern. I simply needed to knit.

With some wonderfully forgiving yarn that makes anything look special, I cast on stitches. Forty, fifty, it didn’t matter. Enough stitches to keep me happy. And I sat, knitting the stitches from one needle to the next while my brain whirled with thoughts of this new life ahead of me. No purl, no counting, no thought of what I was making. Just knit, knit, knit. When the end of the skein appeared, I cast off the stitches and gazed at the thing I had created.

My blue collar work ethic requires that everything be useful. So, one more look at the rectangle, admiration for the even stitches and then I knew. "It’s a cat’s blanket."

And, with that declaration, I reached for another skein of yarn. Four cats needed traveling blankets and my soul needed lots of knitting as I unraveled our home and knitted it together in a strange land.

Today, young women have discovered the edginess of knitting as well as the soothing feel of stitches sliding from one needle to the next. Speakers and lecturers, preachers and teachers tell of spotting people of all ages listening and knitting in time to the words’ rhythm. My son, a heavy metal musician, described girls at the concerts, heads bobbing and bodies gyrating while knitting, knitting, knitting to the bash and groan beat. Their knitting needles, as fat as nunchuks, wobble and click, turning yarn, thread and ribbon into something as edgy as the music.

Women of all ages and backgrounds -- and yes, men, too, pick up the needles and gather in knitting groups and classes. Peggy, who introduced me to the cupcakes, helped a master knitter teach a group of young women the basics of the craft. This group began with only five or six members but has grown to more than twenty. They share knitting and one other thing in common: cancer. While their hands create projects of yarn, they fight off cancer and visualize knitting their bodies back to good health. With each knit or purl they zap one more cancer cell, one more malignancy.

Knitting begins with needles and yarn, but with each stitch, something else seems to grow – determination, confidence, good health, solace, even a community. Maybe we can knit and purl a peaceful world.

I feel the need to knit.


Ruth D~ said...

This should be published!

Anonymous said...

Really lovely. Are you familiar with Ann Hood? She took up knitting as a way to work through her grief when her young daughter died unexpectedly. Her essays about that are what inspired me to take up knitting during a stressful time of my life.

Dawn said...

Thanks for the kind comments. And yes, Amy, I think someone else has mentioned Ann Hood to me, but I haven't read her writings. I'll have to look her up. Thanks.