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I of the Needle

Knitting can bring personal satisfaction

By Traci Vogel

KNITTING, TO ME, is like alien abduction. I want to know the truth, I really do, and I recognize that there are probably some very straightforward mathematics or psychologies behind what seems so dauntingly mysterious, but I just can't get past the needles.

I have tried, two or three times. One Christmas I asked my mother to buy me a book and a set of needles and some yarn, thinking that if I had the essentials laid out in front of me I couldn't help but become an expert. My mother was very enthusiastic. "Anyone can knit!" she chirped, pointing me towards the pattern for a simple potholder. She even bought me an instructional video, knowing that I was a visual learner. The woman in the video looked like the ham-fisted traffic crossing guard I was so afraid of in the fifth grade (another story entirely), and I strained dutifully to follow the slo-mo diagrams of her hands, the needles flashing as she chanted, "Drop one Perl three," all to no avail. I was left with a mess of knots that looked less like a potholder than an embarrassing sexual device.

What made it all the worse was that my mother was an incredibly talented knitter who had wooed my father with gorgeous ski sweaters and warm booties, and who now not only carded and spun her own yarn but dyed it, too, using things like bayberries and chamomile buds which my younger brother and I were assigned to collect from the empty lot next door. Other kids had to walk the dog; we had to collect chamomile.

So I gave up, telling myself knitting wasn't all that great anyway. In fact, it was kind of a dowdy, uncool thing to do. It was much cooler to buy $300 hand-knit sweaters from a chic downtown boutique. Really.

Then, three things happened. First, a few months ago, I got an email from a friend in New York, a woman who epitomizes "cosmopolitan." What had she been doing lately? Knitting.

"Knitting?!" I emailed back, even though using a question mark and an exclamation mark together isn't very cosmopolitan. "Next you'll be telling me you're raising llamas."

Actually, she replied coolly, she had that very weekend visited an Alpaca farm in Vermont, where she had purchased some incredibly beautiful wool.

Second, I started reading in fashion magazines that celebrities like Naomi Campbell and Nicole Kidman were taking up the K-word. Naomi I could understand--wasn't she trying to kick smoking? You had to have something to do with your hands--but Nicole Kidman? I emailed my friend back, irritably. "It's some sort of Martha Stewart virus," I said. "Right?!"

Lastly, Sept. 11. In the wake of that tragedy, people across the country found themselves wanting to do something nonconsumerist, something human. Many of them took up knitting. The New York Times even ran a piece about it: "Homespun Activities and Purchases Have New Appeal."

So, along with everyone else, I'm rethinking knitting. What's that insirational Peanuts slogan? "Happiness is a warm puppy"? Knitting is like that, but literally. Nothing is more comforting than wrapping yourself in a scarf or sweater--or even a potholder--that has been knitted, perl by perl, by someone thinking especially of you. Just don't complain if the potholder you receive looks a little ... kinky.

You can buy knitting supplies and get instructional help at craft stores like Michaels Arts and Crafts or Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts, various locations, or at Beverly Fabrics, 1400 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose, 408.294.8725; Continental Stitch, corner of Monterey and First, Morgan Hill, 408.779.5885. Get free patterns online at The Knitting Library: knitting.about.com. Buy yarn online at Red Barn Farm: www.redbarnfarm.net/knitting.html.

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From the November 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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