My mom taught me to knit and crochet, along with sewing and loads of other arty crafts, when I was a little kid. Some of them stuck (sewing) and some of them didn’t (yarn-related things). My mom is an amazing knitter and crocheter, and over the years I’ve asked her to teach me how to knit and crochet a few more times, but it just never stuck. This is in no way a commentary on my mom’s ability to teach me, because at each lesson, I did just fine. It was just that after she’d leave to go back home, I’d put the yarn project down and would get distracted by something fabric-related and then forget everything she’d told me.
I never really understood the appeal of knitting. It has always been way too damn slow for me. Example: I’d say to my mom, “I’m going to make a dress this weekend” and she’d say, “I’m going to make an afghan this winter”. Yeah, that just seemed crazy to me. I was way more interested in the instant gratification of sewing. Not that it’s instant per se, but it’s a hell of a lot faster than knitting!
Also, let’s point out another big deterrent for my relationship with knitting: I live in Los Angeles. Now, it’s cool enough here to wear wool knits this time of year (the high today was 55-degrees and the low tonight is 41-degrees), and I have been known to travel to places with even cooler temps, but still, the need to knit a wool sweater is low.
But after loosing Mike two months ago, I knew I needed something. Well honestly, I didn’t know what I needed. I could hardly even swallow solid foods for days. So let’s be real, others were really taking care of me for a bit. But I did recognize really quickly that I had the ability to do certain things and not other things. For example, I cannot really concentrate on anything word-based, like reading or practicing my French. I also cannot do a lot of sewing quite yet. I’m getting back into it, but it’s slow. I’m also just now getting back into real cooking and not just heating or making things that are short-cuts.
After my mom left to go back home and I was left to my own devices in the evenings, I realized that along with the weekends, evenings were the hardest parts of the day. I needed a distraction, but I didn’t want something too taxing or too difficult. Soon after mom my left, my pal Alexia Abegg came to visit for a while. It was perfect timing because I had been on my own for a little over a week (which feels like a lifetime right now) and I was ready for some distractions that were fun, and not just survival-based, which was all I could do for a while.
Alexia and I took a pottery class, which is something I used to do a lot, and Alexia always wanted to try it. (spoiler: she’s a natural!) We also cooked, went for walks, helped me control my panic attacks in crowded restaurants, assisted me on my first trip back to the fabric store, and lastly, she taught me to knit. Alexia’s knitting skills are really amazing, which is something I greatly underestimated until I spotted a cardigan she’s been making on her Instagram feed. So we did a little research and found a lovely local knit shop that is close to me. Though sadly, I just found out that they are closing, so I guess a new knit shop is in order! Another independent craft store closure. Don't get me started on supporting small businesses! That's another post...
I know from teaching others to learn a new craft that it’s best to start small and basic, and master each new skill as you go from project to project. So I knew that odds were good we were going to be starting with a scarf. I literally knew nothing (and still really don’t) about yarn weight, needle size, and all that stuff, so luckily Alexia helped me figure out what to get and how to start.
I picked out a gorgeous merino wool that is in a light gray with slight subtle variegation. She advised me to pick out a single-ply yarn so I don’t accidentally split the yarn while knitting, which is something I remember doing in the past, and also to use bamboo circular needles. I also picked out some gorgeous white wool yarn to make my next project, a winter beret. So once I’m done with the first project, I’m ready to go with the next.
She helped me cast on and make a swatch to learn a basic garter stitch. For you non-knitters, this is just doing the knit stitch over and over again. I only know how to do this one thing, but it can do a lot I’ve learned! After doing my swatch, and learning how to handle my tension, and also how to do a slip stitch at the ends when I turn, I was ready to go!
Alexia helped me figure out the math for the size scarf I’m going to make, then I picked out a blank notebook from my stash, and broke it in as my new knitting journal. I decided it was a good occasion to use a special one that I brought home from Papier Tigre in Paris earlier in the year.
I’m not fast, and I don’t know how to cast off when I’m done, but what I do know is that it’s helping a lot. Here’s the real talk about my mental state of late: I’m super aware of every breath, every heart beat, every time I swallow, etc. And when you’re hyper aware of everything like that and stuck in your own head, that quickly leads to panic, which makes your mouth dry up and your heart beat faster, making it all worse. You get the idea.
But the knitting is helping me focus on nothing but the knitting. It’s remarkably therapeutic and is like meditation for me. I know other knitters have told me this, but I’ve never felt that in the past. I always found it to be annoyingly slow and I quickly put it down and went to sew something instead. But right now, I need the knitting. It’s become amazingly healing. Not only the act of it is helpful, but its portability is lovely too (I took it to San Francisco for Thanksgiving and plan to take it everywhere with me from now on), and I love the bonus that it has nothing to do with my business. I even made myself a little cinch-top bag to cart it around with me!
I also love the tactile quality of the yarn and how soft and spongey it is. It’s incredibly satisfying and it calms me down tremendously. I cannot wait to be done with my scarf and to wear it, but I’m also not in any hurry to finish it and move on. I’ll be done with it when I’m done, and then I’ll move onto the next project. I’m enjoying the purity of it and for now my simple rectangle is enough. My scarf is about 75-percent done, and when it’s finished I will be so proud of that fuzzy rectangle!
Knowing how calming knitting is for me right now, my mom found this book pictured above from Lion Brand Yarn, called The Comfort of Knitting. It's directed toward caregivers, their families, and people dealing with grief and healing. It's so perfect for my mood right now. It is a small book, but it has the basics of knitting, plus some beginner level projects, as well as thoughts on the healing aspect of the repetition of knitting. I love this quote in the book, as it rings so true for me.
So, do you knit? I welcome any of your thoughts and suggestions about this new hobby of mine, including any book and project suggestions! Do you belong to a local LA knit group? Should we form one? I see this staying with me for a long time to come, so any advice is welcomed! Oh, and if you're on Ravelry, I just joined too! You can find me under the username - christinehaynes - I look forward to seeing some of you on there!