Wednesday, August 15, 2007

With My Grateful Thanks ..... to Ann Landau

Catching Ann knitting

One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art.
~ Oscar Wilde

The mogul of style, both literary and artistic, had it right. In a nutshell: If you are going to put all the time and effort into making something, it might as well look good. Something your kids will fight over after you are long gone. Something their kids will look at in awe. Something that, in the murky haze of the distant future, you will sigh and marvel over, given your former visual acuity and the amount of time needed to create such visual and tactile confections.

Welcome to the blog of an intrepid baby boomer who hasn't run of out creative gas just yet. No thanks to me, though: For decades, I was convinced that I couldn't knit, based on the flawed and weirdly misshapen scarf my cousin taught me to knit for my first boyfriend in the late 1960's: God only knows where those holes came from and how it grew to look more like a pyramid than a graceful, drapey rectangle. I was mystified, frustrated, miserable. Couldn't purl, either: Just knit, knit, knit, knit, knit. Boringly. Horribly.

I love to travel, especially by ship. In November 2006, I made a transatlantic crossing from Barcelona to Miami on Celebrity's CENTURY. Fourteen days in toto, with five days exploring wonderful French and Spanish ports. The remaining days were "at sea", a few interlaced between ports, with the rest devoted solely to relaxing and being spoiled while crossing the Atlantic to Miami. That was the plan.

Prior to the crossing, I chimed in on the online roll call board Cruise Critic for those interested in getting to know each other prior to sailing. One post in particular caught my eye: One of my fellow passengers was organizing a charity knitting group to make baby caps and blankets for Warm Up America, to meet on sea day afternoons for a couple of hours. "Even if you don't knit, donations of machine washable acrylic yarn and pairs of size 7 or 8 needles would be greatly appreciated" the post read. She even gave packing tips to make it painless: "Just stuff the skeins in your shoes and in the sleeves of your shirts". Linked to the post were pattern directions supplied by Warm Up America and a list of yarns that would do the trick. I already knew I couldn't knit a lick, but nothing prevented me from being a donor, did it? I dashed off a note with a heads-up to the organizer. She responded with gratitude, and I trundled off to Walmart to buy a dozen skeins of Caron Simply Soft in sweet pastel baby colors and two pairs each of size 7 & 8 needles to give to more industrious and gifted souls than I. She was right: it was easy to stuff the skeins into shoes and shirts.

On the second sea day, it was simple to track down the knitting group in a forward lounge on Deck 12. There were five women assembled, with a tiny, energetic whirlwind of a woman named Ann passing out information about the charity, and sets of directions to those who had forgotten to print and pack copies for themselves. She saw my loaded tote bag and smiled, "You're joining us to knit?" "Oh no, no, nooooooooooooooo. I'm the one who emailed you about donations" I said, cheerily waving the tote in front of her. "I can't knit AT ALL." She straightened, still smiling, eyebrows arching up, "Now what makes you think you can't knit?" I told her my horror story from the past, and she laughed, saying "I already know why you made the mistakes you did, and I haven't seen you knit a single stitch!" Flabbergasted, flustered, I stammered " No, you don't understand. I REALLY AM a knitting retard. I am not the least bit capable AT ALL", this time thrusting the bag toward her while edging away slightly. "I'm sure you ladies will turn this stuff into adorable little hats and stuff." She cocked her head a bit. "Did you ever wish you could knit?"
It was a trap!

"Yes, but ......" I trailed off weakly "I just can't knit." "If I showed you that you could knit, would you like to join us?" her eyes twinkled. I was sunk, certain of complete humiliation in front of these five other women. "I'd love to knit but I just CAN'T..." I mumbled again. She motioned for me to sit next to her, pulled a pair of the needles I had brought out of their packaging, and cast on a dozen or so stitches. "Show me how you learned to knit." I took the needles from her, settled into an awkward, uncomfortable position, and stuck the right handed needle into the first stitch. "OK,STOP!" she cried. "This is your ENTIRE problem: You are trying to knit into the loop of the stitch and not the first stitch itself."


"That is what you did when you made that first scarf. Do this instead", she said, proceeding to place the needle correctly. "OK, NOW knit." And I finished the first row. Correctly! Without any holes! Without going into pyramid mode! Encouraged, I started the second row, when she immediately stopped me again. "You're doing it again!" she said laughing, replacing the needle in the correct position, showing me, then pulling it out.
"Try it on your own." This time, I placed the needle correctly and knitted the entire row without a hitch. "This is GREAT!" she said, " Of course you can knit! Why, even your tension is wonderful, natural. And this is what made you think you couldn't knit?" she asked incredulously. "Uhmmmm, yeah, it was. I could still screw up, you know." "You will, honey. But at least you will know WHY you are screwing up, and HOW to fix it."

If only it were that easy.

And that was that. No longer simply a benefactor, I was knitting. She assigned me squares at first, but in the middle of the second session, Ann thrust a sheet o paper with some heiroglyphs on it before me. "You'regoing to knit the squares in a stitch pattern" she saidbrightly, full of confidence. "But I can't purl!" I whined. "I'm going to show you how" she said smilingly, proceeding to sit beside me for the next half hour while I struggled with the stitch, back and forth, row after row, until she pronounced,

Ann on the left, yours truly on the right

"You're ready to do patterns" nodding toward the sheet she had given me earlier. She picked it up, pointing to each weird notation, decoding it for me while I read along and listened. AHA! K5, P5 = knit five stitches then purl the next five. I was amazed. So this was knitting. For real. The square I made that day was frogged a half dozen times before I got the hang of it, but I was knitting. In pattern. (For the truly curious, it was the basketweave pattern) For the next two sessions, I made basketweave squares with a religious fervor, knitting deep into the night in my cabin instead of reading before lights out. I hadn't learned to cast on yet, so every time I needed to start a new square, I called one of the women in the group, and we would meet someplace between our two cabins, where she would cast the requisite number of stitches onto a needle for me and then we'd go our separate ways until the next knitting session. (More about my cast-on-aphobia in another post.)

Meanwhile, the group grew from the original five to thirty-three! Ann cajoled the ship's Cruise Director into placing an announcement of the knitting circle and its meeting place in the ship's daily newsletter. We grew and grew, with women from Spain, Mexico, France, Ireland, Canada, England, Scotland, Finland, Russia, Romania, Africa, Sweden, Australia, as well as from the states of FL, TX, MS, MO, VA, NC, GA, MD, PA, MI, LA, CA, WA, and OR! Many brought their own projects to work on as well, which sealed

Group member Wanda transforms squares into baby blankets

my fate completely: the array of gorgeous socks, Aran sweaters, lacy baby blankets, shawls, booties, tops, and fair isle mittens took my breath away. These gals were making works of art!

Charity items we made ... in progress

We quickly gained celebrity status on the ship, with folks stopping by to see the knitting phenomenom for themselves. The donated yarns and needles vanished quickly, transforming the mountain of frothy pastel skeins into adorable little hats and blanket squares. All told, the group produced 86 baby hats and enough squares for 9 complete blankets during seven sea days. Three of the women pulled an all-nighter assembling the squares into finished blankets before the last session. The CENTURY photographer took a picture of the group with the completed items on the last day of our get-togethers, and Ann sent the whole shooting match off to Warm Up America when she returned home to Miami.

Thanks to Ann, I am learning the process and zen of knitting late in my baby-boomerism, but still have a lot of catching up to do. The picture to your left is a scarf I made for a friend of my daughter's (who is modeling it here) as a Christmas gift. I came home and dove into the first place I could find that sold yarn and wasn't a Walmart. The scarf is about nine feet in length, and was made out of different colors of Lion Wool, on size 7 needles. I also made seven other scarves, all different (and never photographed ... it just never occured to me at the time!) as Christmas gifts for each of my kids, several friends (including a dog owner and her dog ... 'twas a cute matching set!) and an afghan for my mother-in-law.

Buckle your seat belt, and stay tuned.

NOTE: Photos on the ship were provided by Ann and her more-than-significant other, Ira. Thanks, guys, for making my text come to life.

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