In Knitting on
September 16, 2014

Meaning in raw materials

I find the most interesting part of starting a new project is selecting the materials. I have a vast stash of yarn and fiber, and a particular skein might grab my attention to get me started. Sometimes it’s because that skein is visible from the front of a shelf (maybe because I just used the yarn that was in front of it), sometimes I start hankering to use a specific type or color of yarn and dig through the stash until I find a suitable choice, and sometimes I see a finished object in a particular type of yarn and want to work with it.

I can remember where I acquired almost every skein I own, and this memory and connection to a place, person, or circumstance makes the materials more interesting and meaningful than they otherwise would be. For example, there’s the glitzy novelty yarn I was so excited to find in the sale bin of a yarn store near my house when I first (re)started knitting about eight years ago. There are the two shades of the richly colored yarn that my father, who paints in oils, helped me to pick out at one of my mother’s favorite destination yarn stores, matching the colors in a way I never would have thought to do. There’s the handspun from my own wheel, using soft and springy roving from a farm in Vermont, before I had great technique, but after I was competent enough to make usable yarn. There’s the classic natural white sock yarn that’s traditionally used in Latvia, brought back for me by a friend visiting home and her mother, the master knitter. And there’s the golden-colored, rough wool that my mother inherited from her mother-in-law, and gave to me because she didn’t like the color (but I do). When I use one of these yarns to make a particular project, it imbues it with new meaning, informed by the story of the raw materials in addition to the circumstances around the object’s creation.

With my grandmother’s yarn, I made a short-sleeve cardigan, with multi-trick waist shaping, improvised on the fly, and including cables “for good measure,” which my grandmother, a brave and improvisatory needleworker, would have appreciate, possibly with that exact phrase. With the Vermont-sourced handspun, I designed a cozy and flattering pullover that I wear throughout the winter. With the yarn my father matched, I knit an asymmetrical sweater pattern my mother encouraged me to do, even though at the time it felt a little too stylish for me to pull off. (For the record, it’s not too stylish – she was right again!)

I really enjoy having a special story for every skein, and carrying that meaning around with me, or giving it to someone else, in the finished product.

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