Knitting is sexy. Doing it in public allows my ego to show off to whomever wants to sneak a peek at my creation.
In the last few years, knitting has moved from an activity associated with old ladies to a subversive underground of "stitch and bitch" groups around the country. The Internet is filled with knitting blogs offering patterns for everything from bubblegum-pink wombs to lingerie to the traditional sweater. We knitters are a part of an almost secret society, speaking in a language of knit and purl that only other knitters understand, bonding with complete strangers in coffee shops over a skein and a set of needles, trading tips at art openings and showing off our creations, or even wearing our knitting needles like Japanese hair sticks, all over town.
Now, with the winter air floating in, many of us are picking up our needles with full force and others are starting for the first time. This is the time of year for fires, hot tea and a wool project to keep the fingers busy and warm.
Except that knitting takes time. The birds were about to head north again by the time I finished my first, slightly lopsided, bright orange scarf, the one I'd started the fall before. This year, I want to match the season and make mittens and hats but, as a beginner, I've learned that by the time I figure out how to connect the yarn on my double-pointed needles, the iPod case I'm making might be better suited for some as-yet-to-be-invented technology, and I'll probably have to buy mittens before I actually finish the handwarmers I'm imagining.
Learning to knit is intimidating. There's always someone with more experience, more skill, ***image3***better yarn or a faster technique. So far I'm self-taught, which makes the process slower than I imagine it should be. No one has explained how to read a pattern and, though friends have shown me the basics and I've read about patterns in books and online, it's been up to me figure out and sometimes make up my own idea of techniques as I go along.
But the beauty of a knit project lies in the mistakes: the scarf my editor got frustrated with, makes fun of, but wears anyway; the sweater local knitting goddess and artist Sylvie Baumgartel (spouse of SFR writer Zane Fischer) ran out of yarn while making and finished shorter than she'd intended but still wears with pride and style. I love to look at the top of someone's hat in winter to see if it was handmade (as evidenced by the tiny hole where the knitter had to stop). Everywhere I look, I see men wearing flawed hats and scarves with the pride that someone loved them enough to spend hours on a project that could easily have never been finished and certainly won't ever be perfect. I haven't yet finished anything for someone else. I'm OK with wearing something imperfect that I've made, but for a loved one, it's going to have to be better than store-bought. Experienced knitters have told me if I make something for someone else to make it small. Also: Never knit a sweater for a boyfriend, only a husband; the ***image2***commitment is too big. And they've told me that the desire to make everyone gifts is common and that it will go away after a few frustrated holiday seasons.
The camaraderie that has sprung up around knitting among the young women (and men) who are picking up the craft is, according to Baumgartel, necessary in a time when the world seems to be falling apart around us. Knitting seems, to the outsider, a quaint activity that hearkens back to a time of necessity, but in truth it's a way for us knitters to seize our creativity, take time for ourselves, make something that we can use and assert our beliefs with a project. I know that I'm not saving money by knitting. The yarn and supplies cost more than a mass-produced sweatshop garment, but by knitting I've purchased one less, making the world a tiny bit better with each stitch of natural fiber.
The next time you see someone knitting in public or wearing a crooked hat, know that they are part of the subculture of obsessive knitters who make up the college students and young professionals of Santa Fe. We knitters are smart, hip, creative and politically aware. And really, what's sexier than that?