Knitter’s Notebook: How the Needles Hug the Wool
The ragged edge of my German short rows was unfortunate in its visibility and it haunted me whenever I reached for what I’ll call here, Cardigan X. Two winters passed and I wore it only twice, both times uncomfortably, self-conscious about the glaring imperfections and my own crafty shortcomings.
What kept this gawky knit in my closet, and not in the Goodwill pile, was the wool. A fine merino single ply in a red so deep and rich that a mere glimpse gave me an aesthetic jolt. I could give up on the sweater, but not on the wool. I loved that wool mightily; it deserved better.
Then at the end of our long and bitter winter, when hope and more springs eternal, a neighbor and I stood outside, and in the course of a conversation about life, we veered over to discussing discipline and resolve, and on that terrain, something clicked. Something wooly and red.
“I am going to take a sweater apart so I can reuse the wool to make a new one,” I told my husband later.
“Planning to move to Siberia?” he asked, referring to a knitting story Esther Hautzig told in her memoir, The Endless Steppe. I had often repeated to him and anyone else who might listen, how in World War II Siberia, the 12 year-old Esther unraveled a dirty old machine-knit skirt in order to knit the scavenged wool into something new and earn some food to keep her family from hunger.
“I love the red,” I explained, but by then he was back into reading the Wall Street Journal, leaving me alone with my discipline and resolve and my 12 year-old role model.
Unmaking Cardigan X was a triumph of both surgery and reverse engineering. Only the insistent beauty of the red held me steady until the hacked remains of the sweater body became a familiar path, and the winding finally proceeded with as much speed as could be expected from the delicate stitches. The result was an abundance of stray strands of dubious usefulness, many small balls, and the necessary joins to make them into larger ones.
In an odd dance involving vigorous arm movement, therefore counting as my daily exercise, the unleashed wool was re-skeined over the backs of my kitchen chairs. I soaked the skeins, relaxing most of the yarn curls. The wet bundles hung over the wooden drying rack in my laundry room, basking near the window before being called again into service.
I was committed that my new sweater, a woolly Phoenix, would be a keeper, worthy of this wool. I would take my time and do things right. We all know that means making a careful swatch, a step I have learned the hard way not to skip. A few days later when the wool was thoroughly dry and rolled back into balls, I cast on, paying close attention to my stitches from the start.
It was pleasurable to finally be knitting with this wool again. I made a 4-inch swatch in size 5 needles and after binding off, I blocked it. The swatch was right on gauge, perfect. Measuring it, I couldn’t help but admire how the stitches cuddled each other, cozy.
They were happy little stitches, matching my beloved red with their own simple grace. The wool had endured, waited. As I marveled, it came to me; this is what the poet Pat Schneider described in her poem, The Patience of Ordinary Things.
It is a kind of love, is it not? How the cup holds the tea, she wrote.
And recalling those lines, I silently added my own, how the needles hug the wool.