Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Brief, Illustrated History of my Life in Knitting - Part I

Given my recent obsession with all things Knitting (with a capital "K"), one would think that I'd always been a knitting fool. However, this is not the case. As with a large majority of knitters, my grandmother taught me to knit the summer I was six. She gave me a pair of big (size 12) plastic knitting needles with red tips and a skein of yarn and showed me the basics: how to cast on (from a loop over my thumb), how to knit and purl, and importantly, how to pick up dropped stitches. I remember that getting a consistent tension was my biggest challenge. I assiduously knit a scarf on our way home by train (I don't remember the details of that trip - why the train?), and I was thoroughly engrossed in the process of knitting all the way home. I ended up with a scarf that waved in and out at the sides due to my very inconsistent tension. And then I stopped. I don't think I knit another thing until I was 18. I can't really say why I didn't knit after that except that my mother didn't care that much for knitting (although she knew how) and much preferred to sew. So, during my school years I sewed quite a bit in an attempt to keep up with the latest fashions.

I wasn't inspired to knit again until my senior year in high school. See my blog entry my-original-knitting-inspiration. It was at about this same time that I saw this picture in American Home Crafts magazine (Spring Summer 1977) and became completely enamored of this look.

The photograph captured a fantasy of what, at 18, I hoped to be: An elegant, sophisticated woman of the world with a great sense of style. In those days I somehow thought that if I knit this sweater I would also magically appear to have great cheekbones like the model's (Margareta Stupakoff, a former Miss Universe). But, I digress.

I went out and purchased the chunky chenille yarn in a dusty rose colorway and a pair of knitting needles and set to work. I did not bother to get gauge and simply followed the directions. I knit the whole thing in simple stockinette stitch and sewed it together with crocheted seams. It did fit me apart from the fact that the sleeves were much too long, despite the fact that they were supposed to be folded up. Also, it turned out that the chenille yarn was quite drapey and the cowl-necked collar never stood up the way it does in the photo. It would flop down in a very inelegant manner, no matter how I folded it. The final insult, however, was the terrible smell of the yarn. It literally had an acrid, dusty odor (as its name "dusty rose" might suggest) and the chenille wasn't all that soft on my skin. I concluded that the chenille yarn must have been manufactured from some offensive plastic and chemicals. So, for all of these reasons the sweater wasn't a big success and after carting it around from place to place in my 20's, and never wearing it, I finally gave it away to Goodwill.

My next two projects were sweaters for boyfriends, and although neither of those relationships lasted (thus providing two instances to support the myth of the "boyfriend sweater curse" from my own life), what did last was my memory that I fearlessly dove into knitting sweaters that involved cables and bobbles and loved every minute of it. I was proud of both of those sweaters and I imagine they are still out there somewhere in the world, hopefully keeping someone warm.

At that point I decided to knit something for myself again and chose this vest:

It was begun in 1983 during a period of time when I was working to save money for college. It then sat around in suspended animation until 1995 when I completed graduate school and in a burst of activity finally finished it. It fit me fine, but I learned two things upon its completion. One, I loathed intarsia and, two, I no longer found an argyle vest to be all that stylish. So, I promptly gave it away.

That was the sum total of my knitting from 1978-1995: three sweaters and a vest. Not very impressive. But, although my output wasn't very high, my level of satisfaction with the process was always quite high. After 1995, my output steadily increased.

To be continued in Part II.