Nothing could be simpler than knitting, unless it is breathing. One begins with two sticks and a string and after a varying investment of time, ends with a useful finished object. It is a skill that takes 5 minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. There are only two maneuvers, the knit and the purl. The left hand holds one stick and the yarn, and remains mostly stationary. The right hand executes small, precise twists, flitting the other stick into and out of the existing stitches to make new ones. To make a knit stitch, one enters from the front and to make a purl stitch, one enters from the back. From these two stitches every knitted thing you have ever seen is composed. I made my first knit stitch in 2002, and in the intervening decade, I have made hundreds of pieces. I have covered heads and I have covered feet and I have covered everything in between with wooly warmth. I have knit for money, I have knit for the joy of it, and I have knit because I had nothing else to do at the time. I have knit while laughing, while crying, while mourning, and while praying. When I don’t know what else to do, I knit.
The Clapotis is a fairly simple thing to make. One knits across, increasing on the ends, and purls back. Every few stitches, you twist a stitch. Every few rows, you drop a stitch. After about twenty hours, you have a parallelogram that you can wear around your head or around your shoulders, depending on size. I have made three of them in the past three years. Two I have given away, and one I kept for myself. This is the piece I make now when I am loving someone and mourning with them or praying for them. It is a healing piece. I’m fairly certain it is the hours of prayer and not the yarn that makes that happen.
Hats are even simpler—cast on, rib for 2 inches, knit for-what-seems-like-ever, decrease consistently and methodically, cover your head. I have made more hats than I can remember. About ten for my best friend who wears some sort of hat all the time, a few each for my children, a handful for family babies, and towering stacks for infants I will never know. I knit them when I want someone to know I love them just because they exist, with joy in my heart and laughter on my lips. I think it must be the happy and not the wool that makes them so warm.
Socks are not so easy to make. They require custom fitting. I’ve probably knit 18 pair of those—one pair each for my eight children, three pairs for my grandmother, one pair for a sock exchange and the rest for myself. Socks say, “I love you enough to spend twenty-five hours of my life making something for you to walk all over.” Socks say, “Here is my heart for you.” Socks are very talkative, even though they are highly functional and usually hidden. They are a huge investment because they are made from such thin yarn. You can knit an entire sweater out of bulky yarn in the amount of time it takes to knit a pair of footies in fingering weight. I once started a pair of over-the-calf socks for my ex-husband. I knit the leg, turned the heel, and knit most of the foot. I ripped it out after our divorce. He had been too uninvolved to try it on so I could close the toe. I will use that yarn to make a pair for myself instead.
My current project is one I have been working on, off and on, for six years. I have started and finished many other things while I work on this blanket I call “Hocks.” It is probably four feet by four feet square now, unstretched. Eventually, it will fit my double bed. It is composed of mitered squares, each one built on the two below and beside it. It’s plain garter stitch with centered decreases. I knit across the row, taking out two stitches in the middle, and then I knit back. The small squares are about two inches diagonally, require 12 yards of yarn, and take 45 minutes to knit. The larger squares yield four square inches and require 45 yards and 120 minutes.
The blanket is being knit with what basically amounts to scraps. Some are my own leftovers, some have come from friends, and I have even received some from strangers. I have many, many hours invested in this blanket. Knitting on it reminds me of how I live. One thing builds on the thing before. People, like the yarn scraps, come and go. Sometimes I get only one square from a scrap and sometimes several. Sometimes a set of squares clash as I am working up close and personal on a particular area, but when I spread it all out and step back, it is beautiful, all crazy colors and mixed up randomness. The only thing that stays consistent in this blanket is the stitcher. No one else has touched it.
The blanket is called “Hocks” because when I started it, my then-baby could not yet pronounce the letter “s”—she called socks, hocks. It stuck. The blanket is made of sock yarn. It is thin, warm, and nearly weightless given its size. It takes years to make a bed-sized blanket from sock yarn. It looks very messy while you are doing it. It requires persistence and determination. Sometimes, I have to grit my teeth and force myself to work on it. Maybe I should have just called it “Life.”