The other day I was at an urban knitting store working on a new project. While I was there, I asked the owner where she had learned to knit. "My mom taught me," she replied. I could totally relate, but I didn't want my mom to teach me when I was a kid. I thought knitting was boring. I felt I had more adventurous things to do, such as playing outdoors and pretending to live out West with my siblings and friends.
Since then, I have had times when I've gotten into knitting, including a few years ago when it was all the rage. It's still in vogue, but my enthusiasm had just about tapered off until I got the idea for knitting scarves as wearable thank-you notes.
What I've been doing is quickly working up scarves on sausage-width knitting needles for people in my life who should be thanked. The responses to my first few creations have been enthusiastic.
What has intrigued me is that as I knit each scarf, I think about my mom. Not that I haven't before, but this time it's different. I have actually been knitting to the delightful conclusion that Mom was a bona fide artist – a knitter, crocheter, rug braider and teacher, ceramicist, quilter, flower enthusiast, cook, and seamstress. It's all art, and it's something that had never occurred to me until now.
Of course, I did see some indication of the intrinsic value of knitting when I was a kid, even though it was mostly symbolic. One time, when our family was on vacation in the Maine woods, what seemed as though it were a minihurricane whipped up on the small lake that our cottage faced. As the funnel of wind made its way toward our side of the lake, my mom herded us from the front porch to the back of the cottage, but not before she grabbed her green-and-black knitting bag.
I also realize that all the trips to fabric stores with my mom – and all the time spent around texture, color, and decisionmaking, and around yarns and cloth – was part of a covert art apprenticeship. Both the overt initial knitting instruction and these later activities that made up my art apprenticeship are now showing up in my ability to design and knit scarves that are crucial creative expressions of gratitude.
I say crucial because when you are dealing with transitions, as I have been, knitting is a good way to get your focus on something else. It's also in some ways a helpful problem-solving exercise – whether it's a dropped stitch you have to fix or losing your place and finding it again – because it makes larger issues seem less daunting.
Among other things, knitting is fun, makes good use of pockets of free time, and the result is an obvious product that synthesizes creative ideas for yourself and others. It's a visible expression of joy.
Knitting is also like a gym workout, with knitting needles as your basic equipment. It clears your mind, builds dexterity and stamina (especially when you have to pull out tons of rows you've already knitted), and the world seems just a bit brighter on a foggy day when you've got a snappy scarf at your fingertips.
If you can do all this and then also find, to your great surprise, that a new, colorful facet of a relationship appears – especially a relationship with a parent – then I think you could say that knitting is so much more than just art.
I mean, if it takes you about a half century to realize that your mom was an artist – and you're benefiting from that – well, that just goes to show that the fruitful aspects of parenting keep on showing up in the most unexpected ways. And when you feel as though your relationship with a parent takes on a different spin entirely – one that not only has the effect of untangling knots but revealing art and highlighting appreciation – then you've got more than a scarf. You've got a legacy of woven love. That, I will gladly learn!