My First Scarf (and Other Love-Fueled Mistakes)

I know I alleged in my previous post that I would be keeping the “personal” writing and the “knitting” writing separate, but the more I thought about writing about my past knitting projects, the more I realized that these were going to be stories about me, not just stories about what yarn I chose and how difficult or easy the pattern was. Knitting has become for me — as I expect it has for a lot of you other knitters out there in cyberland — a way of framing time; I have certain vivid memories associated with the knitting of certain pieces, and that is what I’m going to try to describe in this series of posts.

I have no pictures of my first scarf, but you don’t really need to see it. It was a big old garter-stitch monstrosity, as all of them are, but mine was even wonkier than most. See, it took me a long time to figure out how to maintain a consistent stitch count. I kept mistaking the flipped-over stitch at the start of the row for two stitches, so the scarf had a big ugly bubble at one end, where the stitch count ballooned from 30 to something like 50 — and when I figured out what had happened, I was too afraid to rip back so I just looked up “decreasing” online and gradually brought the stitch count back to a respectable 35 or so.

The scarf was blue. Cookie-Monster blue, chosen on purpose for MJ, who I was dating at the time and who loved Cookie Monster and the Denver Broncos. I had wanted to learn how to knit since my college days in upstate New York, but I was always too shy to ask anyone to teach me. After college I moved to southern California for grad school, and early in my second quarter some of my friends started up a knitting circle and proclaimed themselves willing to teach all comers. So I went to Michael’s and selected the Cookie Monster yarn, priding myself on being clever enough to read the label and buy appropriately-sized needles. What I didn’t know, of course, was that Lion Brand Homespun is a boucle yarn and thus not a great choice for beginners. But my friends taught me patiently and I was off to the races.

You see, MJ lived in Pittsburgh, where it was cold. And Valentine’s Day was coming, and I couldn’t imagine a better thing to give him than my very first scarf, wonky bubble and all. I knit slowly and dutifully every night, often while drinking wine and listening to mix CDs I’d been given over the years by various friends. I didn’t hesitate to take my knitting to campus with me, knitting on park benches between classes while listening to Alison Krauss sing on my iPod:

And the people who love me still ask me
“When are you coming back to town?”
And I answer quite frankly,
“When they stop building roads
And all God needs is gravity to hold me down”

When my parents put me on the plane to California, only about four months before I started that scarf, I surprised myself by crying like a baby when I said goodbye to them and continuing to cry all the way through security and all the way onto the plane — people must have thought I was crazy. Sitting on those park benches in the beautiful 70-degree weather in January, spending my first warm winter someplace where the snow couldn’t get me and thinking about my family and friends and boyfriend back east, I felt very far from home. They were scraping ice off their cars and shoveling their driveways while I walked to class in flip-flops. I felt guilty — for being warm while they were cold, and also, I suppose, for leaving them. The next three things I knitted — which I also don’t have pictures of — were all for friends from college who were still stuck in upstate New York. They were:

“Hot Head” from Stitch and Bitch: Such a disaster that the intended recipient never, in fact, received it. I followed the instructions just fine, but let’s just say this was the project where I learned what a gauge swatch was and why you would want to bother making one. Also, why would any knitter in her right mind not knit a hat in the round? I was attracted to the pattern as a novice because I was afraid of DPNs and circulars, but I really wish that Debbie Stoller had just said, “Tough. You want to knit hats, you learn to knit in the round.”

“Basic Cable” from Stitch and Bitch Nation: This was for my best guy friend from college and no, I didn’t make the pom-pom. It was in black and red Brown Sheep Lamb’s Pride Worsted, and I did use circulars and DPNs, and it came out just fine. But a million silent thanks were sent to the lady at the yarn store who helped me understand why I needed a 16″ circular needle and not the 32″ one I’d brought up to the counter.

“Yo. Drop It!” also from SnBN: I made this for my best girlfriend from college; I chose a wonderfully non-girly ribbon yarn in camouflage colors and I was really happy with the result. In my next post, you can read more about her, about why non-girly yarn was important, and you can feast your eyes on the never-before-seen Worst Hat Ever Made that I never got the nerve to actually give her.

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