how I became a knitter

It all began on a hot, dusty Texas prairie about 30 years ago…

Well, actually, it was in the suburbs of a major north Texas city. My mother, who had been knitting since the Great Depression, since the time when you had to knitif you actually wanted a sweater, taught me the basics of knitting. Mom liked the practical yarns–those tough, hard-wearing acrylics that could be washed and dried without shrinking or fading. She taught me to knit the English way, where you keep dropping and picking up the yarn. I learned, clumsily, and made a couple of truly hideous sweaters. An argyle vest big enough for me and my whole family to wear. A red-and-white boucle short-sleeved sweater that bagged around the neck. Each project uglier than the first. Needless to say, I just gave up.

Which was just as well, because at that time (late 1970s/early 1980s), knitting shops were going the way of the dinosaurs. First the fabric and yarn departments of major departments stores disappeared. Then the local yarn shops. Pretty soon, all you could find in my town was a bunch of squeaky, petroleum-based, plastic-feeling yarns from the local branch of a national craft store. Who wanted to knit anyway?

And then I went to Austria.

I was an exchange student in Graz, Austria, for a year after I graduated from high school. From the very beginning, I was charmed by the old-fashioned traditions that many Austrians still practiced. All the teens I knew took ballroom dance lessons in preparation for ball season. All the kids in my host family (all six of them–it’s a Catholic country!) were musical and played classical music the way most American teens played the radio. And they knit. Even the boys. They all knit.

On Saturday nights, the kids (from 13 to 20) would gather around the kitchen table with their friends and boyfriends and girlfriends. They’d drink coffee and some would smoke cigarettes and talk about politics and philosophy and life–and they knit. When they knit, though, they flew–none of that time-wasting pick-up-the-yarn, drop-the-yarn, pick-up-the-yarn business. No, their hands looked like parts of a machine, click click click, as they made stitches and rows and whole garments. I had to learn myself.

So my host mother, whom I called Mutti (“Mom” in German) taught me how to knit continental style. She took me to a yarn shop at the Hauptplatz that was full of amazing wools. Big bulky wools, delicate lace-weight wools. Not a squeaky artificial fiber in sight!

And I was hooked.

My mother was amazed when I came back from Austria–not only was I drinking coffee and speaking German, but what the heck was I doing with the yarn? I tried to show her how I’d learned, but she had about 40 years of knitting behind her at that point, so continental knitting was something that just wasn’t going to take. But she was so pleased that at last I was a confirmed knitter.

Then there was the infamous American Airlines incident.

Fast forward to the mid-1990s. My career as an editor had finally taken off (after years of making coffee and answering telephones), and I was off to a conference in New York City. Wow–the Big Apple! I was going to eat in fabulous restaurants, visit world-class museums, shop in all the right places, and be as urban and sophisticated as a girl from Cowtown could be. And of course, I had to look the part, so I took all my best clothes–including the hand-knit Aran sweater my mother had given me for Christmas just a few weeks before.

You know the rest of the story. The airlines lost my luggage on the return flight. Never to be seen again.

I was mortified. How could that have happened? I’d never lost luggage before! How could I have been so stupid as to put my favorite sweater–the one that my mom had just finished–in a suitcase??

Well, I couldn’t tell Mom. She had worked for the better part of a year making that sweater. By that point, I was living three hours away from her, so she’d probably never know about the sweater, right?

But I couldn’t take any chances. I’d have to duplicate the sweater myself.

I tracked down the pattern she’d used. I found the same yarn. And I taught myself how to knit an Aran sweater. It took so long to finish, I couldn’t even remember when I’d started it. But at last, after months and months, I could be proud of what I had accomplished.

And then I told my mom my deep dark secret. I admitted I’d lost the sweater in a suitcase, and her response was….

“WHAT sweater?”

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2 Responses to “how I became a knitter”

  1. crafty chica Says:

    nice story… your mom’s response made me giggle 🙂

    thank god in here yarns and knitting are not fashion items. the are always there.. maybe few stores down, few stores up.. but in the end we have this huge wholesale (also retail) arcade for yarn. .great 🙂

  2. I loved your story……

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