900 Words about Knitting
February 22, 2017
By the time I decided to knit a pussy hat for the Women’s March, there was almost no pink yarn left in NYC, and no time to order any. But there was a half-finished sweater, made of perfect-for-pussy-hats bright fuchsia yarn, that lived, still on needles, in a plastic bag in my cedar chest.
I pulled the sweater from the cedar chest and knew: yes, I could destroy this hideous monster.
The sweater, from a pattern from Stitch & Bitch Nation, was supposed to be French-inspired, romantic, a pale pink confection combining two different weights of yarn. It was light and floaty on top, and cinched in at the waist with a contrasting ribbon and stretchy ribbing below. It would be perfect to wear to the yarn shop where I worked in my final days of dissertation fieldwork.
If only I had stuck to the pattern. My disaster started when the shop didn’t have the right color yarn. Instead of pale pink, I went with a screaming fuchsia. Then, to show off my yarn-shop maven skillz, I substituted an interesting, cabled lace rib for the simple ribbing. It was a beautiful pattern, and well knitted. Unfortunately, it added the bulk of cable and the bare skin of lace, making sure I was hot AND cold.
It also added the appearance of a fifteen-pound weight gain on an already bad-relationship-expanded frame. When I put it on, I cried.
At the time, I’d never given up on any knitting project, mostly because I needed them for my job. But I couldn’t see how to make it better. I shoved it into a plastic bag, and worked on some stupid hand warmers so I’d have something new for work that week.
Soon—and I mean over the span of the next two months—I got a dissertation fellowship, was fired from the yarn shop for letting them know about the fellowship, ended the crap relationship, and moved back to New York. The sweater receded in importance. I forgot about fixing the sweater, because I had a dissertation to write.
And now, more than ten years later, I ripped that sucker. Because sometimes the only way to fix something is to turn it into something else.
Of course, I soon encountered another problem: I haven’t knitted in five years. I was no longer the speedy, facile-fingered gal I was in 2005. The first pussy hat I made was too big, because I didn’t check my gauge. It was also a little sloppy, because I kept knitting after 10 pm. And then I completely fucked up Kitchener stitch (don’t ask).
It looked like crap, at least by my “former yarn store worker” standards. But it was done. And I still had time enough to make another for the March.
I started in on the second. I paid more attention to my gauge, as well as my tension in my hands. I made sure I spent a large enough amount of time on it to make progress, but I also reminded myself to quit before I fucked it up. I did the Kitchener stitch finishing while fully awake, for example.
In the end, it’s a pretty good hat. It’s still a little big, but in a way that is cute, instead of bad-‘90s-alt-band. But I’m not embarrassed to wear it.*
Anyway, this post isn’t exactly about knitting, even though it is.
Since the election, I’ve been trying to write, but it’s been nothing but ugly sweaters. I start things, leave them half finished, and when I come back to them, I no longer recognize the thing I wanted the writing to become. They aren’t exactly as terrible as my ugly sweater, but, like that sweater, I don’t see how I can fix them without ripping them apart and starting over, even when they have beautiful parts.
And, some days, I just don’t even see the point in knitting—er, writing. That sweater didn’t seem like a worthy project once I got back to New York and immersed myself in a dissertation about third wave feminist politics and music. Now, my writing feels unimportant in a United States with a narcissistic, sexual predator president whose every cabinet member seems out to destroy the thing they are supposed to protect. Even in areas where I am an expert, I feel unmoored by the speed of everything changing around me: After years in academia, I’m not good at coherent hot takes.
But sometimes you have to do something, even if it means knowing your actions will be inadequate. You might have to destroy a sweater in order to make a functional, sloppy-looking hat. Or get out and wear that hat to a protest, even if you know that the people who need to listen to you believe wackadoo conspiracy theories and think that George Soros is giving you pin money.
And sometimes you need to write a bullshit essay about bad choices in knitting, because you need to start writing again, even if your writing will never be up to the task of reckoning with the contemporary moment.
*There’s much to critique about pussy hats in terms of white feminism, body politics, gender essentialism, and crafting, and why maybe I should be a little embarrassed by the hat. But that would be an entirely different post. In fact, it is similar to a pitch I’m crafting.