Material Witness will focus on extreme textile process. Images will be posted here showing the history of my work, new work, developing projects and inspiration.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Crooked Sticks Two

A long time ago in this blog I told you the story of my adventures in knitting as a four year old.
I expressed a desire to knit. My grandmother handed me her twine ball from the kitchen drawer.
Twisted sticks from the field were what I was convinced I could knit with. All through life my stubborn streak has either been a huge advantage or a curse. Determination set in and I wrapped and tangled the thread for days. The results would be brought to Granny for approval which always came without question. But satisfaction in this case didn't happen for me.

I took knitting lessons in the fourth grade at the Eaton's store in town. They offered refining courses for young ladies. The instructor was a local woman who didn't like children very much. She really didn't like noisy little girls who asked too many questions, twitched with itchy and twisted lisle stockings and whose hair kept getting caught in the needles. I would sit down and try my best. I wanted to learn to knit so badly.

She put on her affected over enunciated semi-British accent and wrapped the yarn in twenty ways around her fingers. I was flummoxed. The wrapping of the yarn around fingers has so little to do with how I knit now. I tried but double jointed fingers and a touch of dyslexia really caused a stumble. No way to know I had mixed dominance then. No understanding of the gifts of having the ability to work with my left or right hand would bring. I watched her unnecessary drama with the yarn and was reminded of tight rope walkers or fancy work with a lasso. All done between the thumb and second and forth fingers.

Things got worse when I asked for help. I was being taught to knit English. My neighbour who was a fantastic knitter knit in the Continental style. The other side knit in the "Ordinary"way. Every single person cast on the wool in a different way!

I took the "easiest" which was finger cast on. A snap. Mastered in 10 minutes. And then I knit away like a pro. Straight stitch of course but with flying fingers and needles. I knew I was going to be the very best in the little class.

Pride took over. Budging the way to the front was easy being a full head or more taller than the other girls and louder coming from a family with no sisters. I was immediately sent to the back of the line as part of my lady training. Red faced me proceeded slowly to show my work to the instructor. She looked at me and at the other girls and said, "This is an example of cheating. She has had her mother knit her work and cast on in the lazy way in the first place. This is cheating."

I was truly stunned. My mother could not knit a stitch and prided herself in avoiding this kind of domestic art. She was beautiful. She avoided any reminder of her working class background. She cooked and entertained and had the cleanest house I have ever been in. But she would never knit!

I was insulted that the instructor was convinced my mother was also a cheater. Falsely accused!. I tried to protest. I was shut right down by the internalized oppression that only women can do to other women. I waited until break and went to the metal stalled bathroom and cried. And I left the store and walked the four miles home.

I was haunted by the instruction book for years. I wanted so badly to knit my family hats and mittens for Christmas. Year after year. I stubbornly wouldn't pick up a knitting needle again for years.

And then one day I was at a work placement for my course work in rehabilitation studies and was surrounded by women who were knitting with old metal needles until sparks flew all over the building. Envy rose and that sick feeling. Failure.

One morning I saw one of the young women with Down Syndrome crocheting her heart out. Beautiful colours. Unconventional but beautiful. She sat and pulled the yarns in and out of one another and I sat and watched. She generously asked me to take a turn. "You do it!"  "Now"  I told her I didn't know how. "No good." "Now". She brought me a new hook and some spare yarn and in one hour she taught me four stitches. " See. Easy!".

What was easy was her lack of artifice. Her tongue chewing determination and her patience and understanding of my own challenge. She was honestly the best teacher I have ever had. I would name her but confidentiality in that environment was required.

I crocheted and crocheted for years. And started to collect knitting needles and yarn. No crooked sticks. The first scarf knitted was a 12 foot long muffler. I didn't know how to cast off or couldn't bear ending the project. And I didn't know how to cast off. I kept adding colours. When the cast off was finally accomplished I had this enormous Isadora scarf that I wore for years. Each time brought compliments.

I go to the pub to knit when in Vancouver. Tuesday night at the WISE Club. There are a little clan of knitters there who discuss changing the world while needles click. Who share skills, yarns, techniques and beer. No stuffy mean women with phoney accents but a few real live English women.
Naughty knitters all. And all loud and a little twitchy.

 Latest knitting project with almost perfect tension and cast on in the Continental style.
I did it.

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