Thursday, July 02, 2009

Men Aren't Supposed To Knit

I'm 64, I'm retired, and I've given myself carpal tunnel syndrome over the years by "resting" my wrists on the hard front edge of non-ergonomically designed keyboards — especially the forest green, folded aluminum box keyboard on the old Kaypro 10. Also mashing buttons on videogame controllers for hours on end, which is another story. I have to relax my spasming hands and get some manual dexterity back, somehow.

Somehow. I could almost read in the dark from the lightbulb going on over my head. Aha-Erlebnis! What about knitting? I'm already impressed by the fibrous crafts, which seem to stretch in unbroken matriarchal lineage 2,000 grandmothers back to the Upper Stone Age. I can imagine the birth of weaving — sheep not quite domesticated, lambs slaughtered, skins scraped and pelts warm and woolly, some 12 year old genius kid pulling off yarn for a lark and fiddling with a bone discovering Loops. Discovering, in other words, What You Can Do With Yarn.

Because her Cro-Magnon brain works differently than her ancestors, she recapitulates half a million years of Paelaeolithic stone knapping, in fiber, in a single afternoon, and by the end of summer, this one amazing child has laid the foundations of a modern Craft for 15 billion thoroughly happy women.

The single most amazing aspect of fiber arts is their PORTABILITY. Think about that! The mother of all craft, no longer twelve years old, is a fully-grown matriarch of 17, respected in her tribe — probably a shaman — but her kid is no genius. Just bright at best, no more than curious. And, as primates do, mom shows her kid how to Do Loops, with slow, exaggerated, easy-to-see motions. Like nectar, knowledge pours undiminished from one silver-clad inverted skull into another. And because this is a society that values memory (no television, no books, no distractions except the normal terror of staying alive), the whole body of expertise passes whole. It's portable.

And, apparently, it's female. Right away, I've noticed that just intending to knit causes eyebrows to raise, while actually doing the untoward thing — buying a pair of knitting needles, e.g. — practically forces a flood of self-deprecating humor in order to get past the lady on the cash register. My wife, fortunately, has a stash of yarn and is prepared to part with a skein or two of the acrylic stuff, sparing me another gender-bending ordeal at Walmart. My wife... She is staunchly loyal and keeps her slackening jaw tightly closed without actually grinding. I think she Understands, on some high intellectual plane, what I'm trying to do here, but my daughter just laughs and blows it off. "Ok, Dad. Enjoy."

How? That's my question. How? So far, the results of this excursion into Tangletop have been unsatisfactory, if only because the air frequently turns incandescent blue in my vicinity. Things Happen. Thanks to the internet and a number of free videos at YouTube or places like, I've picked up a few essentials, but... For example, when I do Two Needle Cast On, I make taut, manly knots and feel myself accomplished to see about a foot of tightly packed stitches with an even, pleasant keel along the bottom edge. Beauty, sez I. Then, like the girls in the videos lead on (I'm 64, they are girls! Women are my age), I begin to Knit The Second Row. Weirdly enough, some stitches are BIG, some stitches are small and — how to put this? — some are invisible. Or they lean like little yarn Cheerios out of the design, unattached to anything else. And, with just a momentary lapse of attention, the needle in my right hand Falls Out Of The Loops and lands with a toink! on the hardwood floor. Several opportunities for Blue Air have presented themselves in the course of these discoveries, but...

Once, just once so far, I managed to Knit The Second Row all the way back to within an inch of my starting point on the left needle. Then — and I don't know how this happened — the whole left end EXPLODED.

The goddesses of knitting are laughing at me. It's only just begun.

Update — Aha! The Yarn Harlot offers some helpful advice on this topic in her book At Knit's End, leaving aside her charmingly naive claim that knitting can't explode:

In the nineteenth century, knitting was prescribed to women as a cure for nervousness and hysteria. Many new knitters find this sort of hard to believe because, until you get good at it, knitting seems to cause those ailments.
         — Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, A.K.E., p. 51 (2005, Storey Publishing, paperback)

Clearly, this applies to men too. And as far as brightly-hued and toxic atmospheres go, I'm struck by the similarities between knitting and golf. This afternoon, for example, I saw Michelle Wie mouth a perfect short bit of hyperfunctional Anglo-Saxon at the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic on ESPN2. Understandable, her missed stroke was the difference between tied for third at $73,224 and first place at $210,000. That's a lot of woolgathering.



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