Saturday, February 07, 2004

As most of you know, I love to knit. I've loved it ever since I first learned from my grandmother. She was so relieved and proud that at least one of her grandchildren learned how. When she passed away, I didn't care about any of the other treasures in her house. For me, it was an honor to have my grandmother's knitting supplies and leftover yarn.

I learned how to knit from one of her beginner leaflets, penned by an older woman named Evie and the patterns reflected the fashion of the late 80s, lots of pastel colors, inverted triangle cuts with yellow and red geometric shapes. I could have knitted the wardrobe for the entire cast of "Heathers."

But I learned the basics, and I liked it, because that was all I had.

When I would knit in public, I'd elicit stares from people, both young and old. "Lost craft" were two commonly used words around me. My sister would roll her eyes and pronounce it as "weird." Little boys would point and say, "my grammma does that." But I didn't care, I happily stitched and those around me started marveling on how the knit and purl became fabric and how the fabric could be then sewn together into garments. For someone with little artistic talent growing up, it was my shining moment, a pinnacle of creativity.

Then everyone started knitting. I think it was because Monica Lewinsky revealed she was knitting chenille scarves to have something to do as she sat out the whole White House Intern Penis Sucking fiasco, but I can't really be sure. Knitting showed up in People Magazine. Prison inmates were doing it. Celebrities were doing it. Soccer moms and goth chicks and women's studies majors were doing it. Yarn became thick and chunky and funky, with brand names like "Zen"and "Baby." The Knitting Basket became overrun with younger women toting tots, yammering on cell phones and grabbing up yarn, size 13 needles and an optimistic air as they trotted off to knit The Scarf, which I have seen everyone from my coworkers to my aunt stitch up (it's extra long, usually with one main skein of ribbon-type yarn combined with another style of yarn called "eyelash," which is thin, almost like fishing twine. Combine the two and you get a fluffy boa-typed scarf). Knitting stores in Richmond have tripled since the millenium began. Knitting has been called "The New Yoga." You can knit everything from Elvis wigs to penises to bucket hats to dog and cat toys.

All the while, I'm a bit confused.

Now, don't get me wrong. I absolutely love having a variety of places to go to find supplies and yarn. I am very glad for catalogues and email order yarn that comes in gorgeous, vogue colors and soft textures. I love that there are websites and webrings dedicated to knitting. I'm glad I'm no longer stared at. I was really glad that one hospice client's wife could go to the stores every day and pick out more yarn to make another scarf so that she had something to do on her down time while she was in the house taking care of her dying husband. I think it's great that there are pictures out there of Courtney Cox trying to teach her hubby David Arquette how to knit as they lounge poolside, somewhere in paradise. I'm glad it's getting a positive spin as something enjoyable and relaxing, because it really truly is very beneficial to the stressed out masses that have become society today.

But I'm cynical. I wonder how long it's gonna last, this furvor for the craft I am so passionate about.

As I visited three local knitting boutiques this afternoon, I couldn't help noticing a pattern: in each store, a gaggle of people, mostly women, mostly in their twenties or thirties, standing in the yarn store. Usually in the middle of this gaggle is an older woman, usually an employee of the shop, yarn skein in hand, showing off a particular skein, usually the forementioned eyelash and ribbon combo. But in these stores is something missing, something that was there before, but is no longer. Everyone's shopping, but no one is really knitting. Gone are the ladies who sit quietly at the tables provided, working on possible heirlooms for generations to come. I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone as she stared at the many skeins, "I know. I'm here [at the knitting store] now. I'm trying. I know. But this is not easy."
I can't help thinking that people will get tired, frustrated and bored as they make their 50th scarf, not really knowing how to transition to more complicated projects that require more time that can be used emailing, faxing, child-rearing, etc. Are people really going to carry this talent through their lives? Do they love knitting, or do they love being trendy? I can't help thinking that, like yoga, it will branch off into "power knitting," where type A personalities can take it and drive it higher and higher, faster and faster, more and more, excessively and compulsively, before it burns out like a meteor streaking across the universe (wow. Okay, time to stop. Breathe.) And sometimes I can't help thinking that knitting will meet the same fate as alternative rock, indie films, and metrosexuality- ruined by hype.

I went up to one clerk and asked for a particular brand of yarn that was popular a few seasons ago, but remains a fave of mine because it's thick and soft. I asked for it by name, thinking that this "expert," who sold and most likely read the same knitting mags as I did, mags that always had ads for this brand of yarn, and who worked at this store for a reason, because she knew knitting, would certainly know what I was talking about.

I was met with a blank stare. "Nope. Don't think we carry that. Is that a spring yarn?"
"Um, actually, no. It's a nice thick merino wool," I replied.
"We have other thick merino wool yarns," she replied, her hopefulness giving away her inexperience in the knitting world. Knitters are creative gentle people, but they are also precise, and usually when they are looking for one particular yarn, they know there are no alternatives. And in my experience, most competent knitting store gurus don't offer alternatives- they help you find your yarn by any means necessary.

"That's okay, thanks." I plunk down two dollars for two bumper stickers that are being sold at the counter, so that I can proclaim to the world that

I wonder how many people actually share my sentiment.

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