For the love of yarn
Growing up, my mother always had a knitting or crocheting project underway. My Italian grandmother did as well. No doubt, Nona Maria was the inspiration for my mother’s handiwork. Yet, neither of them transferred the skill to either me or my sister Sharon. However, eventually I learned to knit at school. In the fourth grade, both boys and girls were instructed how to make basic scarves by a wicked, spinster teacher at the International School of Brussels. We called her Le vieux corbeau as she was our French teacher, but even more so because she resembled an old crow. Now when I knit, an image of a wrinkled faced, gray haired woman with a bird beak nose all dressed in black with spindly legs and sensible shoes flashes before my eyes.
Over the years, I periodically tried my hand at recreating that simple scarf. Somehow, it always curled up like a snake around my neck. I figured knitting was just not my thing. However, recently I came across a group of Millennials in an East Village coffee shop sitting around a table having a grand old time, chatting and knitting. I had no idea that knitting groups even existed. Turns out these ladies had been meeting for the past ten years to knit and purl together. My interest was piqued.
Closer to home, I discovered that one of my close friends and cookbook editor, Deborah Mintcheff, was an accomplished knitter. I had admired many of her stylish knitted outfits before not realizing she had made them. They were gorgeous pieces, things I would gladly have added to my wardrobe. Then, last fall we had a chance to travel together to Paris. While shopping and showing me assorted items Deborah would declare casually, “Even you, Marsha, a knitting novice, could make this.” Deborah instilled in me the confidence to give knitting another serious try. She became my knitting muse.
Once back in New York, Deborah directed me to String on Lexington Avenue at 65th Street (www.stringyarns.com). After a one-hour lesson with Lidia Karabinech---a former Ukraian chemistry teacher-turned-knitting instructor/artist---I was hooked. This is not to say that there wasn’t a learning curve plus lots of ripping out involved. But, in doing so, it gave me the chance to better appreciate the process and its inherent benefits.
One by one, I realized that quite a few of my friends had knitted for years wearing things I assumed came from high end stores. But, what motivated these people to knit? Most people say they knit to keep their hands busy. Obviously, they also like the feeling of accomplishment when they produce something of value, be it a scarf, hat, sweater, blanket or even a linen kitchen towel. My muse, Deborah, divulged that while a kitchen towel may be an unusual thing to knit, she loves the feel and texture of working with a linen yarn.
After joining me for a visit to Stringstyle, another friend Joan—a tax specialist and lapsed knitter—decided to pick up her knitting needles again. In doing so, she rediscovered how relaxing and engrossing the process can be. “It’s useful to pass time while cookies are baking or to counter the multi-tasking that everyone else seems to be engaged in while on the phone.” Joan did admit that there were times, however, when it doesn’t work. “Such as when watching “Homeland” when every second is crucial and you need total concentration.”
Trying to better understand the knitting phenomena, I uncovered a feature written by Jane E. Brody, the personal health columnist for The New York Times. As a former knitter, Jane’s article tackled many fascinating aspects of the craft at https://nyti.ms/2qh8ZD8. In it, she discussed the national resurgence in interest in needle and other handicrafts, particularly among a young audience. According to the Craft Yarn Council more than a third of women between the age of 25 to 35 now either knit or crochet. Men and children have also started to embrace knitting. So, I guessed you could say knitting is “trending.”
As Jane reported, based on the findings of the council, once you get beyond the initial stages of learning, the repetitive action “can induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation and yoga.” It lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and even “reduces harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” Jane also discussed how knitting is being used as therapy for a full range of ailments such as smoking, weight control, anorexia, as well as stress associated with chronic illnesses.
As a baby boomer, I was particularly thrilled to learn in Jane’s article that according to the Journal of Neuropsychiatry &Clinical Neurosciences, “those who engage in crafts such as knitting and crocheting had a diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.”
But getting back to the actual mechanics of knitting, what about having to rip out your work? Deborah says it is merely part of the process. Further, she warned, “If you don’t rip out your mistakes, you will obsess about them every time you wear the item.”
Jan Hazard, my biker-babe pal and former food editor of Ladies Home Journal, agrees that “Knitting is really about the process and seeing results. Starting with a ball of yarn and getting a sweater in the end- magic! Mistakes and all.” And she continued, “Don’t forget that Babe Ruth had more strikeouts than homeruns. It is all about trying again to get it right and then feeling good about your accomplishments.”
For those of you who are curious about the value of this handicraft, I courage you to read Susan Sokol Blosser’s take on the Zen of Knitting. Not only is Susan one of the Oregon Wine industry’s pioneers, but she is also a fine writer. Her essay makes you want to immediately run to the yarn store! Read it for yourself at http://www.susansokolblosser.com/observations/
If that is not enough to get you to pick up your knitting needles, Joan—a true pragmatist—observed that “There is always someone who can use an extra scarf or a sweater with abnormally long arms.” Or, you could take to the streets and become a yarn storming artist. Have a look at https://ti.me/1fvlCyO.