Knitting as an endurance sport

With this week’s Boston Marathon (and congratulations to all the runners who braved the record-breaking heat!), I’ve been thinking more than usual about what it takes to complete a long project, how to get from the very beginning where the excitement of starting alone is carrying you through, through those last miles, er, inches of knitting.

My very first knitting project was a scarf. Or it was supposed to be. I was 6 years old when my grandmother patiently sat me down with some thin yellow acrylic yarn and a pair of long aluminum needles, and taught me how to cast on and knit. Getting that far probably took the better part of a half hour, and after I finished my first row of knitting, I was confused, because those loops on the needle sure didn’t look anything like a scarf to me. “Turn it around,” I’m sure my grandmother said, “to knit another row. And then another row, and so on, and it’ll get longer each row.” I turned it around, knitted another row, and then the lightbulb went off in my head. “Ohhhhh,” I thought, “you mean, I have to knit about a million more rows before this turns into a scarf? No thank you.” I told my grandmother that I didn’t think I wanted to learn how to knit any more, and she smilingly cast off and handed me my very first finished object – a handknit Barbie scarf.

When I picked knitting up again in high school, I had (thankfully) a bit more patience working in my favor, so I did start and complete a scarf:

It was made out of some scratchy rustic wool that I’d bought on a farm, was knit with a twisted 1×1 rib (the twisting wasn’t entirely intentional; my mom had re-taught me how to knit and wrapped the purls the wrong way) and the resulting scarf was unbearably uncomfortable to wear. Beautiful, substantial, but thick, harsh, and oppressive. It’s still in a drawer somewhere. And it felt like it took me forever and a day to get through.

After the hours upon hours spent knitting that scarf, I vowed to make only small projects. This was the beginning of my love affair with sock knitting, but a number of mittens, hats, gloves and belts also came out of those early years. Since then, I’ve become a fast knitter, and I’ve gone back to bigger projects; shawls, sweaters, afghans, jackets. But even now, the last 10% of any project feels like an eternity. My current marathon is my Curve of Pursuit blanket, originally started as a baby blanket for my son, but quickly growing to be bedspread-sized. It’s almost done. But I’ve hit the wall, so to speak.

But, whenever big projects seem daunting, I take a cue from my husband, Jonathan, who is the most steadfast knitter I know. He also may be theslowest knitter I know, but that’s okay by him. Jonathan is working on his second-ever project – a pair of socks for me to wear, knitted in Wollmeise Sockenwolle (a German yarn with a cult following). And, he’s been working on these socks since December. Of 2010.

Jonathan and sock #1, summer 2011.

Jonathan is unfazed by the passage of time, when it comes to knitting. He knits a little each week, slowly, steadily, making sure each step in the process is executed to perfection. Needle goes in, yarn wraps around, pull through, slip off. And repeat. The socks he’s making are beautiful, and will be a treat to wear, whenever they eventually get done.

And I think to myself, that’s a pretty nice way to knit, too. Deadlines are dandy, and races are exciting (says the girl who made this same long-armed husband a birthday sweater in 30 days in secret last fall), but knitting doesn’t always have to be a sprint to the finish. Sometimes it’s a long, leisurely process, done in bits and pieces, and in the end, regardless of whether you value the product or the process more, the bottom line should still be pleasure. Knitting is awesome. Now to get back to that blanket…

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