I’ve taken up knitting. Today as sun coated the city, I sat in the shade, and knitted with my bamboo needles and merino wool.
I’ve also started quilting inspired by two beautiful quilts I bought in New Holland, Pennsylvania from an old Mennonite woman. While many sew using machines I love the peace that comes over me as I quilt. First I become absorbed in selecting patterns and fabric that will harmonize with each other, and create a textile song. I stitch neat little rows, biting the thread with my teeth to cut it; pressing the folded pieces out and watching them form a map of color and images.
I was inspired to start knitting by my friend Claudia. She visited recently and I would make her tea in the morning then sprawl across the bottom of the bed like a teenager while she sat propped up by pillows knitting. We would talk and talk of children and politics, she is running a political economics class at a prestigious New England university.
After she left I drove past a yarn store called Knittin’ Kitten. It was open, which it isn’t always, when Mary Jane Wedlock, the owner travels she closes the store and wistful women cruise by until she returns. I bought some thick brightly colored wool to knit a beanie – it was my first time using circular needles and they twisted the wool and the hat around and around and inside out – it was unwearable. I pulled all my knitting out. Second time the same. I fled to Mary Jane for advice. She has a long table at which desperate women like me sit, our fingers fumbling until we ask her counsel. The simplicity of what she says always strengthens us; we’re again in command of the yarn. Newly confident we smile at others and settle peacefully back into our chairs.
She said I needed to cast on and then press all the stitches inward – somehow they know they needed to behave after that and so a warm hat was born.
But there was some really lovely rough organic wool I’d spied that I couldn’t get out of my head, and so yesterday I went back to the Knittin’ Kitten. There were other three women seated at the long table smiling serenely as their needles clicked and yarn skimmed over their fingers. A radio was softly playing Second World War type music favorites.
I bought seven skeins of yarn and while Mary Jane spun it into big balls I sat at the table and cast on.
I joined a conversation that sometimes falls into silence as someone casts off, or retrieves a dropped stitch, or counts rows. The woman next to me, a teetotaler who wore earrings that looked like red peppers, had become fascinated by websites about homemade liqueurs. I don’t really like strong alcohol but I love Limoncello, an Italian liqueur. I told her my recipe which is basically vodka poured into a glass jar, with an equal part of sugar, juice of a couple of lemons, zest of those lemons, and then I pop a whole lemon in with slits cut into it and leave it for about three weeks. It thickens and becomes syrupy; it’s good over creamy vanilla ice cream. Other women discussed cruise and shipping lines, while an elegant woman discussed shares.
As I sat in the sun today, one inch complete of the sixteen I need to finish for the back of the cardigan, I thought of how knitting is a crafts more should try. It is a meditation, and a stress reliever, science tells us that it lowers cholesterol, and improves brain function. I knit in lectures because it improves my concentration. Next time you see a knitter, contemplate on how peaceful she or he looks, and how they seem to create an island of tranquility around them. We’ve forgotten how simple it is to create peace within.
Charlene Smith is an award-winning journalist and an authorized biographer of Nelson Mandela. She lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts.