Knitting speaks louder than words

The need to knit is strong. The craft brings people together and offers a sense of calm.

A few days ago a friend and knitting fanatic e-mailed me about a knitter who makes cupcakes for knitters and their knitting parties. She even offers easy-to-follow instructions. I'm not sure marzipan knitting will garner as wide an appeal as traditional yarn knitting, but checking out what people are doing renews my awe of human creativity. So I oohed and aahed over her sugary stockinette-stitched cupcake décor with toothpick-size knitting needles.

Having spent several years as CEO of my own little cottage enterprise of baking cakes, I know a bit about novelty decorations and probably feel more sure of my leaf tip than I do of my No. 7 knitting needles. Inevitably, I begin each knitting project in fear of a dropped stitch. But my need to knit is strong.

My theory: Knitting and crisis go together. It brought women together during World Wars I and II. Whether residents of Allied 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 during World War I. She gathered with her mother and other women in their little Ohio community in the church fellowship hall. All came armed with needles and yarn.

The Red Cross distributed the completed blankets to the wounded. When the recipients touched the hand-knit squares, they would recall the loving hands of their own mothers, sisters, and wives.

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

I recall one summer as a preteen, 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 thought already full of details about 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, 50 – it didn't matter. Enough stitches to keep me happy. And I sat, knitting the stitches from one needle to the next while my head 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, I took one more look at the rectangle, admiring 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 again 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, describes 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 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 20.

Knitting begins with needles and yarn, but with each stitch, something else seems to grow – determination, confidence, solace, even a community.

Maybe we can knit and purl a peaceful world.

I feel the need to knit.

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