Health & Fitness

In a tense time, knitting for calm and connection

As I sewed the next row, I thought of this lost world: big professional meetings. Casual trips from one city to another, armed with restaurant recommendations and a determination to take an hour to visit a local yarn store (The Quarter Stitch in the French Quarter). Family car trips. I cast 30 stitches for this scarf, as the very simple shop pattern suggested, but my daughter wanted it longer and thinner, so I tore it out after a few inches (“frog” would be the common term) and didn’t start again until I was 24 .

How disgraceful, I thought as I walked back and forth through these short rows (knit 3 knits 3 to the end) and started beating myself up; I could have made a few inches of progress every day, this scarf could be finished, I could start the next project. And I immediately realized that this is how I tend to groom myself. I jump very quickly from something comforting that a little sense of achievement could lead to bitter self-reproach.

At Zoom we talked about how to knit – who taught us and why it matters. Do you think knitting sometimes skips a generation? I asked, and some of the others agreed. My own mother didn’t knit; I learned from my father’s mother, my grandma Mimi, born in the East End of London who was transplanted to the Lower East Side in the 1920s, where her self-described “Jewish Cockney” English was useless and she had to learn Yiddish to shop, to fraternize, to place curses and to counteract them – my uncle wrote a story about my grandmother’s Yiddish witchcraft.

I am telling you this to explain that she taught me to knit in the “continental” style and not “English” which may be due to this mix of ethnic identities. Thanks to her I am a “picker”, not a “thrower” – I catch the yarn with my right needle instead of wrapping it. She made me the knitter that I still am.

We cannot skip this generation. If you know the joy of knitting, this is the time to pass it on – and you have all the generational tools available on YouTube to help you find all kinds of starting videos. In English knitting there is how to knit a scarf for beginners, or Ryan explains how to knit in a cheerful, accessible way – for continental there is Nancy or Maryna or Rokolee.

Rachel Schuster, the owner of Ewe and You, spoke about using distant gatherings to foster the sense of community that used to manifest itself in group activities. Many of her customers, she said, knit for charities and give away what they make. “Just keep going, keep going when you start getting sad, just keep going,” she said. “The completion is huge.”

I have to be in the moment, but I also need the future and the past. I now make a few inches on the scarf for my daughter every day, and I have another ball of brightly colored velor, also from New Orleans, to make one for my son. I will feel the yarn in my fingers, I will be in the moment, but I will also be in those past moments with the people I love most, moving through a world we want to see again. I will be done.

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