Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My First Project

Last Wednesday, the entry in Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Page-A-Day Calendar read:

I think everyone should keep the first thing they ever knit. I know it's likely going to be a pretty rough-looking object, but save it anyway. Then, a couple of years later when you're really struggling with a cabled hat, you can look back at a time when you thought garter stitch was challenging and feel way better.

So, I decided to pull my first project out of the closet and show it to you and tell you about how I came to be a knitter.

I don't have a romantic story of how I learned to knit sitting at my grandmother's knee. In fact, the only time I remember using yarn as a child was when I chain stitched an entire ball of yarn. Yards and yards of chain stitch. To her credit, my mother praised me rather than laughing out loud.

Fast forward about twenty years. I had just broken up with the first great love of my life and decided I needed a big change. So, I took a job selling college textbooks, packed my things and moved from Saint Louis to Kansas City.

Geographically, this wasn't a big move. But I didn't know a soul in KC. And I didn't know anyone who knew anyone. The topper was that I worked from home which meant that I didn't have a natural outlet to make friends. There was no one to come over to my desk and say "Wanna join us for lunch?" or "We're heading out for happy hour, grab your coat".

Even in a friendly place like KC, people think you're a little off when you approach them on the street or in the grocery store and invite them to dinner. Or knock on their door when you see they are having a party and introduce yourself as the new neighbor two doors down. Don't think I didn't try. Needless to say, I got some very frightened looks. I was also very lonely.

I don't want to mislead you, it wasn't like there wasn't anyone for me to talk to. I did have colleagues there, but we weren't really a good fit in terms of socializing. I was young and single, they were both married with small children. As you might expect, their lives revolved around the kids.

Besides children, my colleagues also had knitting in common. One afternoon we got together for a meeting. I immediately noticed their sweaters. It turns out they were both knitters. I started asking questions and decided I wanted to learn to knit too.

One of my big clients at the time was the University of Kansas. There's a great yarn shop in Lawrence called The Yarn Barn and I signed up for a beginning knitting class there.

They had us pick a project and buy the supplies before the first day of class so we could hit the ground running. We got to pick any project we wanted too! I had been expecting to have to make something small, like a scarf, but their theory was to let us choose whatever we wanted so that we would come away from the class happy with the end result. Since the class was six or eight weeks long, there was plenty of time to learn many skills.

I chose the roll neck pullover you see here. It was from one of the very early Rowan books, I don't remember which one. The yarn is Brown Sheep's Lamb's Pride Bulky. (By today's standards, it's oversized and boxy, but I still pull it out and wear it a few times every winter, usually when it's really cold. It always makes me feel warm and cozy.)

Boy did I learn alot about knitting during that class. There was the basic stuff like knitting, purling and ribbing. I learned to increase, decrease, cast on, cast off, pick up stitches.

I also learned that creating fabric from string can give you a real sense of accomplishment.

...that if I think something through, and refuse to let myself get frustrated, there are lots of things that I can figure out on my own.

...that spending two hours together once a week for eight weeks can turn a perfect stranger into a lifelong friend.

...and that a ball of of yarn and a couple of sticks can become a life's work.


Meg said...

I wish I had kept my first project, I think I chucked it. That analogy is sooo true, I am working on a cabled hat right now and am so frustrated! Also, wanted to let you know how much I admire your yarn, just got some self-striping from Purl Soho yesterday!

Anonymous said...

This cracks me up. I just dug out my first sweater and it looks very much like yours only mine is knit with cotton and has a giant seashell that covers the front. It's a one color sweater and the seashell is knit in the pattern. I did a good job but the darned thing has way off the shoulder seams and I keep thinking I should chuck it. Maybe not.

grumperina said...

What a sweet story! Happy to hear that knitting stuck with you!

Angelika said...

Looks gorgeous to me!!

Anonymous said...

My "first" project is still in my waiting to be completed pile; 48 squares of an "easy knit" blanket (I didn't think/realize that these cute easy to carry around squares would have to be SEWN together and the strips joined and 4 additional border strips added!!!)It wasn't until I had finished my 48th square that I read in another book that always join squares together after you've made 3 or 4. (forget the border, its never getting on).

Anonymous said...

I first learned to knit when I was in nursery school, and the teacher's boyfriend made all the little girls size 15 (10 mm) needles out of dowels with plastic ends. I don't even remember what my first project was, but I still have those needles 39 years later.

The first project I recall completing was a turtleneck sweater for my mom, and the cast-off neck was so tight she could barely pull it over her head! But she was game and actually wore it to work a couple of times before it disappeared into her closet never to be seen again. Ahhh, memories.