Thursday, 7 April 2016

I read several newspapers on line

because I need to. It is part of my job to know what is going on in the world. I don't read them thoroughly - from cover to cover. I ignore the sport entirely. I ignore the gossip and the advertisements. I don't usually bother with "human interest" stories either but I do read Helen Fowler's pieces about her journey with MS in the Scotsman. The last piece was about knitting, knitting as therapy. The link is at the bottom if you are interested. It brought back memories - again.
I rarely pick up my knitting without thinking of my paternal grandmother. She was the person who, oh so patiently, taught me to knit. She was the person who said, "You can" when everyone else was saying, "You can't."
I am not sure why I wanted to learn to knit. My manual dexterity as a kitten was atrocious. My writing was (and still is) appalling. I had problems with pencils, scissors, utensils, cups and just about everything else. Even relatively mild cerebral palsy can do that to you. I still have some problems with all those things but I have learned my way around them. 
But learning to knit? Knitting is a two handed activity. 
If any of you play the piano you have probably come across that exercise where you are supposed to pat your head and rub around and around your middle at the same time. Remember the first time you tried to do it? Unless  you are exceptionally gifted it probably took a little practice in order to be able to do it.
Now, try imagining that about - I don't know - twenty, thirty, forty or more times over? It was like that - and worse. 
I had to be able to hold two things in two hands. That was a problem for a start. Those things, the needles, were small. You should be able to hold them with your thumbs and forefingers. I tended to grab everything in a fist. When I did that I sometimes had problems letting go of things again. It can still happen, especially if I am tired or tense, but back then it was a bigger problem. Knitting? You have to be able to hold on to two needles and the wool. Then you  have to actually do things with the needles and the yarn. You have to be able to make small, precise movements. You need to be able to put the needle through a loop of yarn and hold it there while you put more yarn over the top of the needle and then pull the loop over top in order to make another loop. If you can knit you will know what I mean. If you can't just believe me that it does require some manual dexterity.
Just holding the needles was a challenge. Letting go was a challenge. Moving the yarn around the needle was a challenge. Getting one loop over another was, I thought, impossible. I cried enough to fill buckets with tears. I knew what to do. That was not difficult. I could explain it to other people. I just couldn't do it myself. 
My hands would jerk uncontrollably and I would lose all the stitches on the needle. I would sometimes get the working needle between two stitches - and then lose all the stitches on the working needle as I tried to pull the needle out again to put it back in the right place. 
I am not sure why I didn't give up. Perhaps it was because of my grandmother. My grandmother would give me a handkerchief, cast on some new stitches and we would both try again. We experimented with ways of holding the needles - underneath, over the top, away from my body, tight next to it. Until I grew more confident she tied my hands loosely together so they couldn't jerk apart. She would uncurl my fingers when I became so tense they would cramp up - and then help me do another stitch. She never once said, "You can't." What she did say was things like, "Well, if that didn't work we will have to find another way" and, "It doesn't matter how you do it. The only right way is the way that works for you."
And I did learn to knit in the end. By the end of the second year I had made her a "pot holder". It was a very badly knitted "square" of blue blanket weight wool. She took it from me, added padding and a backing - and  she used it. 
We moved not long after that. We moved four hundred miles away. I was on my own as far as knitting was concerned. My mother was teaching full time and running a house with four children under the age of ten.  She wasn't interested in teaching any child to knit. But Grandma supplied, needles, wool and a book of patterns intended for children. I taught myself from then on. 
I eventually improved enough to discover the joy of being able to sit and knit. I discovered it could be rhythmical and soothing. I still dropped stitches and accidentally pulled them off the needles. I still had to pull it undone and start again but I somehow knew that I was going to reach a point where I could knit well enough to find some pleasure in it.
It took a few more years. I taught myself to read a pattern, to cast on "properly", to cast (bind) off, to knit two stitches together so as to be able to shape something. I knitted clothes for dolls. (I wasn't in the least interested in dolls but the items were small and it meant I could try things out.) I didn't learn to sew things together. Knitting needles I could manage but sewing needles were too small to thread. It didn't matter. There was always a crochet hook. 
I gave up with closely following patterns at about the age of sixteen. I used them as a guide and did my own thing. It wasn't because I was confident - if anything the reverse was true. I just felt it was easier not to be bound by a pattern.
I still don't follow patterns although I write them for other people. I have progressed to making what the Senior Cat calls "that stuff with all the holes in it" (lace knitting). 
I haven't mastered one ply yarn and, realistically, I know I won't. It would be nice but it isn't worth wasting time and effort on. I still have problems and I know that teaching a class next summer is going to be a physical as well as intellectual challenge. But, I will do it. I will do it for the people who have encouraged me, most of all for my paternal grandmother because she told me I could.

And here is the link to Helen's column. It's worth reading. 



Place to Stand said...

Well done you my mum can knit the most extraordinary things and makes wonderfully intricate baby blankets which are treasured...

I can play the piano but knit ? just can't get it.....

Anonymous said...


I can thread a size 10 quilting needle, and do a reasonable job of quilting with it, but your knitting leaves mine for dead. The knitting yarn and the needles look comfortable in your hands ... they don't in mine!