Row by row, a knitter's determination grows

After learning to knit in 4-H, I spent my last year of junior high clacking out motley slippers, mittens, and trivets; one very long winter scarf; and a raglan-sleeved sweater. But upon entering high school, a fast-paced milieu replete with drama club, marching band, and boys, I blithely bequeathed my needles to a more contemplative cousin whom I considered better suited to the task.

Several knit-free decades passed. Then, late last spring, during a holiday weekend at a homey bed-and-breakfast, my sister Ruth revealed that her firstborn was due later this year.

That afternoon, the knitting basket near the B&B's fireplace beckoned me from across the decades. I watched as my fingers seized the needles, cast on two-dozen stitches, stabbed at the first one and ... knit it! Although I'd forgotten how, my hands seemed to remember.

On an impulse, I told Ruth I would knit her baby a blanket.

"You're not exactly the patient, craftsy type," my husband reminded me later. Presumably he hoped to save me some grief. But there was no deterring me.

The following Tuesday, I stepped inside a local fiber shop. Multihued yarns hung from pegs on beams. Colorful spindles overflowed from boxes; yarn crammed shelves. The room spun with textures and hues. Natty vests, jaunty beanies, and delicate shawls festooned every wall.

I told the owner, a no-nonsense woman named Rosemary, about my skill level, my long hiatus from this hobby, and my simple (I thought) goal. Helping me choose a pattern and yarn, she advised, "You'll want circular needles for a blanket."

"But I never learned how to use them," I protested.

"You already know how," she said. "Same as regular. That connecting line just gives the blanket's width somewhere to go."

I frowned at her, dubious.

"Trust me," she declared. Subject closed.

The finer points of purling had long since unraveled in my memory, so Rosemary demonstrated one whole row of the pattern we'd chosen, then plopped the needles in my lap.

But when I began, she exclaimed, "Wait! You're 'throwing' your yarn. Wrap the yarn around your pinkie, then nudge it around the needle."

Suddenly, I doubted whether I could produce a product worthy of warming my sister's baby. Throwing my yarn, in any direction, was briefly tempting.

But off I went, armed with needles and determination - only to return three days later.

Beholding my two-inch hedgerow of brambly stitches, Rosemary spoke more gently now: "I'm sorry, dear, but you'll have to start over."

Then she showed me how to do the "yarn-overs" that had confounded my process. Off I went again.

This time, the instructions made better sense. Still, I'd drop a stitch, not noticing until several rows later, or I'd count wrong, sullying the so-called "pure and simple" pattern.

But as I purged my purling of errors, the beginnings of a blanket with a discernible design began to ooze from the plastic cord connecting my needles.

"See?" I'd say, showing my husband my progress every inch or so.

"Wow," he'd reply, minus the requisite exclamation point.

But the evening I held up a foot's worth of nicely patterned blanket for his perusal, his eyes widened in genuine surprise.

As summer waned, my sense of duty and deadline - "I'll just knock off another row tonight" - gave way to a reluctance to knock off at all. "Just one more row," I'd think, glancing at the clock. And another, and another, until an hour had spent itself.

Meanwhile, the mint-green panel sagged ever lower, draping me in wool as summer grew warmer. But I didn't mind.

As cooler weather arrived, our normally aloof house cat, Josie, began campaigning for a place in my lap. Her behavior puzzled me, until my husband pointed out that maybe I'd never sat still long enough to give kitty a chance before.

Nor had my lap ever been so luxuriantly lined. (The rhythmic twitching of yarn strands also created what our insurance agent calls an "attractive nuisance," and several times my insouciant feline assistant managed to sever strand from skein with a quick, naughty nip.)

With only three inches remaining, I wondered if I would miss my knitting when it was over. For it had begun to summon me at odd moments, as I folded laundry or read. I'd meant this to be a receiving blanket for my sister's baby, my godchild, not a security blanket for myself.

But up to the last row, the soft tapping of bamboo needles transported me to a "pure and simple" state of mind, granting me meditative space by demanding that I focus on a repeating pattern just 12 inches from my face.

When my new niece arrived, the blanket was ready, and so was I. Wrapping her in its warmth, I now savor the memory of how that single strand sifted its way through my hands to become something else entirely.

In the process, I learned not to get ahead of myself, but instead to gather my wool as I go.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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