As a child of the ’70s, yarn was among my favorite playthings. There was a lot of crochet in my childhood. A lot of macramé. God’s eyes, pompoms, hours upon hours of cat’s cradle. Even the occasional latch-hook rug. (I remember one particular latch-hook Santa kit that I begged my mother to buy me for a long car trip. She resisted mightily, certain I would lose interest before I finished it, but gave in. I don’t think I got through a fourth of it. Sorry, Mom.) I knew the basics of knitting — taught, I imagine, by the same neighbor lady who must have shown me crochet — and I even had a pair of ugly green aluminum needles, but never took to it. I think it was too fussy for me, the needles versus the hook. I lost interest in crochet sometime around junior high.
For a decade or more, I’ve been saying I was going to learn to knit, for real, while resisting it at the same time — thinking i’d love it and it would be expensive and a time suck. Last year my husband and I moved to a place where, for the first time in several years, I would not have a garden to occupy me, and I told myself I would learn to knit. I did some research on Google and found a place in Berkeley that taught knitting but wasn’t a yarn store, which sounded great. But still I didn’t go, all my time and attention occupied by my high-tech job.
Then earlier this year we went to visit friends in Nashville, a family we’re very close to. The mother and daughter (Jo and Meg) are both avid, very skilled knitters. We arrived to find Jo on her deck, knitting as always. I picked up a book she had sitting around and began flipping through it, and it was a catalyst — there were at least a half dozen things in it I simply had to know how to make.
“Jo, I swear I’m going to find that place again and go learn how to knit this winter. And then you’re going to tell me which of these things I can make first.”
She looked at me and said flatly, “Little Meg can teach you knit in 20 minutes when she gets home.”
The book was Joelle Hoverson’s More Last-Minute Knitted Gifts and that night Meg cast on a first project for me — the Pointy Elf Hat on the cover, in red, which I finished the next day. Those two friends — and that book — may actually have changed my life.
Anyway, I promptly bought the book, read the author bio and learned that Hoverson is the owner of Purl Soho, a store I was in several years ago with friends who knit. I sat there patiently while they shopped, looking around at all the yarn, wishing I knew how to knit and being thankful I did not, given how broke I was at the time. And I found that Purl Soho, as you probably well know, has a fantastic blog called The Purl Bee, full of all kinds of lovely patterns and ideas.
Which brings me to the point of all of this: The Big Herringbone Cowl. Designed by Whitney Van Nes, pictured at left above. I don’t know what it is about this cowl but it instantly became a sort of holy knitting grail for me. After I’d finished just a couple of projects, I attempted this one and failed quickly. I’ve been a knitting machine in the meantime, even trying my hand at some lace stuff, and have since successfully done a large swatch of the herringbone stitch with a bulky yarn, just to get the hang of the stitch. But I still can’t do it with the big needles and the little alpaca without my nice cast-on edge turning to chaos once I start knitting. But eventually I’ll get it. Meanwhile, I’m fixated on what I imagine the density and texture of it to be, and want it around my neck, so I’ve settled on a stand-in: The Honey Cowl by Madeline Tosh. That’s my work in progress on the right above. It’s going well, far from finished and delayed by Christmas-gift knitting, so I’ll pick it up again in the new year. Maybe by the time I finish it, I’ll be ready to try the herringbone again.