Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Things We Do For Love

The very first Christmas Bev and I spent together was one to remember. We were officially a couple and I was in love. What sort of gift do you give in that situation? Nothing I could think of seemed appropriate. I wanted a gift that would be a symbol of the depth of my feelings. The sorts of things I could afford didn’t have the significance that I was looking for. In the end I decided I would make something and it would be a labor of love. I liked the sound of that. The only problem was I was a little short on the requisite skills. Let’s just say that handwork was not my strong suit.

Fortunately my friend, Nora Lea, was more than willing to coach me along. I decided I would attempt to knit something. I had learned to knit and purl as a child but never did keep it up. The project would have to be something impressive that didn’t require anything other than those two basic stitches. I had my eye on these wonderful hand knit pullover ski sweaters that Nora assured me were easy to create. The whole thing was done on a round needle, which actually looks more like two needles joined together by a long flexible plastic cord. It was just about as basic as you could get. The sweater in the pattern I chose had a band of huge snowflakes across the chest but she insisted that anyone who could count stitches would have no problem with it. I bought the needle, the pattern, and wool in the same blue as Bev’s eyes along with a couple of skeins of white for the snowflakes and I was in business.

Some people say they find knitting to be relaxing but I’m sure they must be lying. That’s probably because I never did manage to achieve the easy competency with the needles that expert knitters have. I know my mother could watch television while she worked and sweaters would magically grow under her flying fingers and busily clacking needles. As for me, it seemed the needles possessed a life of their own and if I did not grip them tightly and focus with fierce concentration on what I was doing they simply refused to submit to my control. One moment’s inattention would result in botched work that would have to be ripped out and redone. From time to time I was convinced the instructions were written in Chinese and I would have to call Nora Lea to serve as an interpreter. It was proving to be tougher than I expected but I was far too stubborn to quit once I’d started. Progress was slow so I began to carry it with me to work. I was on the night shift at the hospital and if it was a quiet night I could spend hours on my project. I would work at it doggedly until my hands cramped up and I couldn’t straighten my fingers.

Gradually, the results of my efforts grew to look like a sweater and when the snowflakes emerged actually looking like snowflakes I was thrilled. I was nearly done working on the sleeves when I began to have an uneasy sense that something was wrong. I’d followed the directions exactly but the sleeves looked as though they would end up at least four inches short. After countless hours of blood, sweat and tears the whole thing was going to be ruined and I was frantic. One quick call brought Nora Lea rushing to my assistance one more time. She took one look and told me that the sleeves ended up short because my knitting was much tighter than what the pattern called for. She saved the day by knitting a couple of cuffs and crocheting them onto the ends of the sleeves. By the time she was done it looked as though they were meant to be there.

The sweater was beautiful but it felt a little stiff and heavy. In point of fact, the whole thing was knitted so tightly that it could stand up all by itself like a suit of armor. I tried washing it with a lot of fabric softener but it didn’t make much difference. In the end I wrapped it up and gave it to Bev along with a note in which I’d calculated the exact number of stitches that had gone into it, every one of which was a painful expression of my love for him. He was duly impressed and actually attempted to wear it once. Unfortunately, the ‘suit of armor’ description was almost literal. It seemed that even air couldn’t penetrate those tightly knit stitches. He very nearly cooked in it. It may not have stopped bullets but it certainly would have slowed them down. He stoutly assured me that it would be perfect in case he ever went on an expedition to the Arctic and in light of that he kept it for years. Each time we moved he would lovingly pack it in along with the rest of the clothes. It was my one and only knitting project. I’ve never been tempted to try another. As a Christmas gift that spoke of love it was a huge success. As a sweater….well, not so much.


  1. Oh my goodness, Robin, that was a few years ago! Looking back, I think the technique we used was called "grafting", learned from some old sock patterns of my mothers. I can see the white snowflakes on blue - what a memory you have! Thanks for stirring up those old memories.
    PS-I can see your knitting career was cut short - before you learned the unique spelling for "knit and purl". You made me smile!

  2. Robin, we are soul mates! The only sweater I attempted (with your limit of two stitches) had a diamond pattern around the shoulders. My diamonds shrank as the stitches became tighter. I finally took it to a friend who showed me that I had two outsides - had somehow turned around and gone back the same way??? Molly reknit the whole thing. :)

  3. HaHa! Nora Lea, thanks for the heads up on the spelling of 'purl'. I thought of leaving it misspelled to mark my amateur status in the knitting world but then decided it didn't look good for me as a writer :)