The Creation of a Knitting Addict
A dare from a taunting little sister and a Scandinavian woman with see-through blouses are responsible for my insatiable need to knit.
The obsession began at the tender age of ten, when my family moved to Helsinki. I was thrust into the Finnish public school system without a clue about how to speak the language beyond a few phrases (“Where’s the bathroom?” and “How are you?”), plus a couple of crucial words thrown into the mix (“ice cream,” and, more importantly, “chocolate”).
Grade school students had to pick between shop and handwork classes. I figured that since I wouldn’t understand a word of what the instructors would be saying unless it had to do with the restroom or dessert, I would be safer going the handwork route: it’s far less likely you’ll chop off a finger with a crochet hook than a circular saw.
For the first few months of class, I had no trouble. We sewed and crocheted. We dabbled in simple embroidery. Then . . . well, then we tried our hand at knitting.
And the nightmare began.
Our first project was slippers, starting with what I now know was garter stitch. My hands fought the yarn and the needles, and had I not been so young, curses would have been flying from my mouth at an alarming rate. As it was, my head felt ready to explode, and my fingers were so stiff a simple tap would have shattered them.
During class, the teacher would make rounds, each time fixing my mistakes — which consisted of correcting a good half of my stitches made incorrectly and picking up several I had dropped without knowing it.
I still remember the scent of coffee on her breath and the sheer blouses she wore to show off her black and scarlet bras. As she concentrated on my errors, her mouth pursed, turning her dark lipstick into a burgundy rosebud.
She was always patient and encouraging, but she had to wonder why the dunce of an American couldn’t get it.
By the time I reached the ribbing that was the toe half of the slipper, I was convinced my teacher was a sadist, gentle tone notwithstanding.
My first slipper looked like a mutated rodent. The second at least resembled a slipper, but with one huge, misshapen slipper and the other three sizes smaller, good luck wearing the pair.
The fluffy pink balls on the tops were almost the same size as each other. Did that count, even though they weren’t knitted?
Over the following months, we probably moved on to other skills, but all I remember was the next knitting project: mittens made with DPNS — double-pointed needles. Typically, FIVE dpns are used at the same time. Let’s just say that by the time I finished, I was ready to poke out someone’s eyes with the double-ended sticks.
What I hadn’t counted on was being challenged by my little sister. She took one look at my mittens — which I felt a perverse sense of pride over completing — and declared that I couldn’t have made them. “Or if you did, I bet you can’t make another pair.”
“Yes, I can,” I said in my best snotty big-sister voice, not to be cowed by someone a full two years — almost two and a half years — younger than myself.
“Oh yeah? Bet you can’t make a pair for me.”
Okay, so I didn’t recognize a self-serving dare standing in front of me.
I took the bait, used my allowance on her favorite color of yarn (peach). Then I spent what felt like the next few millennia working on her blasted mittens. At least I knew she could use them almost whenever I finished them, since the Finnish winter lasts just short of forever.
I’ll show her, I thought, knuckles turning white as I my fingers cramped around the needles.
But then something happened, slowly but surely. By the time I cast off the stitches and wove in the extra yarn tails, I’d discovered a few things. First, my hands could relax enough to hold yarn and (five!) needles at the same time in something less than a death grip.
Also that this knitting thing can be fun. Plus, I was pretty good at it — look; I actually created something myself!
I was officially addicted.
Pretty soon I gravitated to the yarn section of any department store to drool. I could spot a yarn store from ten blocks away. Upon constant pleading, my mother ordered a subscription to a knitting magazine.
Day in and day out, you could find me on my bed, knitting away on my latest project or poring over patterns. My best Christmas present ever was a complete set of circular needles. Heaven!
I began knitting for my family. First was the vest for my mother’s birthday. Looking back, I realize how ugly the thing was, yet she wore it several times, humiliating herself in public to make me feel proud.
After that I made my father a pair of slippers. In black and orange. To his credit, Dad wore the Halloween-inspired atrocities until they had holes — but at least he got to show his appreciation in the privacy of our home.
More than three decades later, I’m still knitting, and I have no desire to kick the habit. When they were little, I especially loved knitting for my kids. They argued over whose turn it was to pick out something for me to make just for them, and I never knew if the creation would have cables, ducks, a checkerboard, Superman colors (done all of those) or something else.
An unexpected benefit to my addiction came about eleven years ago. While searching for a pattern to make a my oldest daughter a jacket, I stumbled upon an online knitting magazine, which led to writing a piece for publication, which led me to my bestie Luisa (also a knitter, of course).
My nest is nearly empty, so now I knit a lot of gifts: baby booties and blankets for new mothers, dishcloths and throw pillows for new brides. I knit for myself more often than I used to. Plus, I’m looking forward to knitting for grandbabies in a few years.
The only downside to the way I was introduced to knitting was that for several years after returning to the United States, I couldn’t decipher any pattern written in English
Knit. Purl. Cast on. Gauge.
I had to look up several terms and mentally translate everything. (Oh! Gauge means tiheys!) For a time, I relied entirely on my stockpile of Finnish patterns from that magazine subscription. That worked pretty well at first but less and less over time, because they boasted plenty of hilarious 80s styles.
Out of necessity, I eventually learned to read a pattern in English. But today as I settle in on the couch, yarn in my lap and needles clicking as I work ribbing, you can still hear me muttering, oikea, nurja, oikea, nurja.
And each time I pick up my needles, I’m thankful for that sadistic, transparent-blouse-wearing Scandinavian and my cheeky little sister for leading me to a world of magic I never would have found on my own.