I love hearing people's stories about how they fell in love with knitting. Here's mine...
I can’t quite remember what possessed me to dig my mother’s old knitting needles and leftover yarn out of the basement one fateful day when I was in high school. To be honest, I don’t really remember ever having seen my mother knit prior to that day. In any case, I dug those artifacts out of the basement, brought them upstairs, and asked my mother to teach me how to knit. And, remarkable woman that she was, she barely bat an eyelash before agreeing, even though it probably had been fifteen-plus years since she had picked up those needles. Nor did she discourage me when I told her I didn’t want to start with something boring - I wanted to start with mittens.
And so, the first project we made (I say we because whenever I put my project down, it would mysteriously have grown by the next time I picked it up!) was a pair of mittens that were knit in the round. I still have them - they are a bright sunshine yellow with pink and blue stripes on the cuff. They have a bit of an awkward “teardrop” shape, due to the fact that we realized, part way through, that they were much too big. At that point, I didn’t have the heart to rip it out, so we just added a few decreases. Imperfections aside, I had fallen in love with a new hobby: knitting.
My second pair of mittens, a Christmas present for a boyfriend, was much more successful, although my passion for knitting far outlived the relationship! I started making mittens for all my friends, and expanded my repertoire to include hats, purses, and scarves. Incidentally, scarves are still one of my least favorite things to knit - sooo long and boring! I even made myself a tank top by knitting a large tube in the round, and adding straps. I used a pretty, fluffy, lilac yarn that I bought at Sears with my mom. I still have some of that yarn left over in my stash that I can’t bear to let go of.
At that point, I had never used a pattern. I had no idea how to read instructions or a chart. In fact, since my mother was French, for the first few years I didn’t even know the knitting terms in English. To me, my knitting was “mon tricot,” stitches were “mailles,” knitting was “a l’endroit” and purling was “a l’envers.” I made up my “patterns” by trial and error, and used my previous finished objects for reference. Eventually I started recording details about each project, such as the number of stitches to cast on, and what size of needles to use. I did this merely to avoid frustration - like what happened with the first pair of mittens I made for my husband when we had just started dating. I think it was a combination of using a chunkier yarn, and casting on way too many stitches, or maybe it was my subconscious grossly overestimating the size of his hands… In any case, the mittens, both of them, (yes, I made two - I still was not ruthless enough to just rip them out and start over!) came out waaaaay tooo biggggg. They are in no way wearable, but we still jokingly refer to them as his oven mitts.
At some point, I think I fell in love with a mitten pattern I saw at my local yarn shop. I decided that this was it: I had to learn how to read knitting patterns. I bought the kit for the pattern, and set about learning a whole new language. At first I borrowed the book, Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book, from the library, but it proved so indispensable that I ended up asking for my own copy for Christmas. After many years and many different books, it is still my favorite book, and the best reference for anything I need or want to do.
My mother once told me that I needed to learn how to read & write patterns to be able to make really beautiful things. I now understand what she means - there is such creative power in being able to communicate complex patterns, either for designing or knitting. Once I understood how to read patterns, I couldn’t get enough of making new things. I started making sweaters, including a hooded, cabled cardigan that I still have, even though it turned out a few sizes to big! (I still needed practice determining my gauge…) My most memorable triumph was an heirloom lace shawl that took me a year to knit. I had fallen in love with the pattern a few years earlier, but at the time had never tried knitting lace. After a few simpler lace projects, I was ready to give it a try. It was a challenge, but once I finished I realized it was worth every minute I spent on it - I refer to it as my “masterpiece.”
It wasn’t long before I started to use this amazing new skill to write my own patterns. I started small, but slowly forayed into more complex territory. Most often, I would design to fill an unsatisfied desire - to fit an idea or image I had in my head, but couldn’t find a pattern for. My aran delight mittens were a perfect example - I had just the right cable stitch in mind, but I couldn’t find a pattern that was everything I was looking for. Eventually I started designing sweaters and more complex garments. I loved the being able to create something from scratch, exactly how I imagined it- that I could wear, no less! And now, thanks to ravelry, I can live out a small part of my “dream job” and share my designs with other people.
My mother died from cancer several years ago, but I often think of her when I am knitting. I don’t know if she knew, when she fist started teaching me to knit, that this would become a life-long passion, but she never hesitated for an moment - it just seemed like the most natural thing in the world. Whenever I get frustrated or intimidated, I remember her gentle encouragement, her patience, and her fearless enthusiasm. When I knit something that I am particularly proud of, I can still hear her motherly praise in my heart. And it makes me feel happy.