Slow-Cooked Sentences

Knitting is a diary written in yarn

Rachael Conlin Levy

Who’d have thought I needed more tension in my life, but apparently that’s what I lack and it’s the root of all the sliding, sagging and slipping that happens to those who wear my hats and socks, according to the kind and agreeable wool expert at  The Tea Cozy Yarn Shop in Ballard.

Knitting is a diary written in yarn. If you knit on your commute to your job, the tightness of the stitches might indicate whether you’re going to work or returning home, and for those who knit during a movie, the stitches can chart when the film reaches its climax because our emotions are woven into every stitch.

“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either,” wrote Elizabeth Zimmermann in “Knitting Without Tears.” “When I say properly practiced, I mean executed in a relaxed manner, without anxiety, strain, or tension, but with confidence, inventiveness, pleasure, and ultimate pride.”

So intent was on calming my taut nerves and tapping into knitting’s hidden power when I began to knit three years ago I even tried conscious breathing as I worked, inhaling on the knit stitch, exhaling on the purl. And I held my yarn loose. Very, very loose. Too loose. For now I found myself struggling to make a hat out of gorgeous green wool because I couldn’t make gauge. The pattern called for a size 8 needle and I’d dropped to a size 5 and still couldn’t achieve the 4 1/2 stitches to the inch. In desperation I went for help, and this is when I learned that if I didn’t tighten up my yarn, I’d be working in negative needle sizes and still not get gauge.

I’m breaking a bad habit and relearning how to hold yarn. On the first day my left hand ached. On the second, my right shoulder did. But on the third day my stitches starting looking more uniform, and I’d achieved gauge —  on the size 5 needle.

“I am only a moderately loose knitter, but I can quite easily achieve the same gauge with a needle three sizes smaller,” Zimmermann wrote. “I enjoy knitting loosely (and) I see no reason to make myself nervous by knitting very tightly on a size 8 just because the book says so.”

With a bit of collective nose thumbing, the hat again is a work in progress, muscles are committing a new technique to memory, and my stitches are telling a new story of how to better weave stress into my life.

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2 responses to “Knitting is a diary written in yarn”

  1. I don’t feel tense, but the hat I’m knitting at the moment is a little snug. Testing my gauge would surely be helpful, but do I do it? No… Maybe we should knit a hat together, you knit one row, I knit the next, etc. Would we form a hat of perfect tension? Perhaps. Until then, enjoy the weaving.

  2. Rachael says:

    Denise, I like the idea of a shared hat. It reminds me of those chain letters/emails where you pass along a recipe or a dish towel, but in this case we’d send forth a knitting project and get a finished one in exchange.

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