By Sandi Rosner
I am a constant knitter. On any given evening, it’s a safe bet that I can be found sitting in my living room with yarn and needles in hand. I wouldn’t think of getting on an airplane or going to a medical appointment without a portable project tucked into my bag. If you invite me to a summer concert in the park, my knitting will be right next to the bottle of wine in the picnic basket.
I am a fidgety person. I cannot sit quietly without something to occupy my hands. On those rare occasions when I don’t have knitting nearby, my fingers make mischief. I shred wet cocktail napkins, pick my cuticles, pull at loose threads in my clothing until my hems come loose. The proverb tells us “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” and in my case, it’s true.
Knitting occupies me, soothes me, comforts me. The rhythmic repetitive motion, the texture of wool and wood, the sense of competence as I create something useful and beautiful—this is my happy place.
My sister is a casual knitter. She knits because she wants a particular scarf, or because a friend is having a baby. Between these occasions, months may pass without her ever feeling the urge to knit. Knitting is only one of several hobbies she pursues.
Knitting occupies different places in the lives of different knitters. It’s wonderful that this simple craft can take so many forms, and fulfill so many purposes. From practical knitters who make hearty hats and mittens to keep their family warm to fanciful knitters with drawers full of delicate lace shawls, the community of knitting welcomes them all.
I have met people for whom knitting is an intellectual exploration. They love taking the deep dive into a specific technique or historic tradition. Nancy Marchant has pushed the boundaries of brioche knitting. Alasdair Post-Quinn has taken reversible colorwork to the extreme with double-knitting. Galina Khmeleva has spent a lifetime studying Orenburg lace knitting. These experts find pleasure in research, discovery, and following the trail of “what if?” as far as it can take them.
Sometimes knitting is simply the medium for an exploration of color and pattern. Kaffe Fassett has inspired thousands by treating yarn and needles as if they were paints and brushes.
For some, knitting is about making clothes. Catherine Lowe obsesses over couture construction and finishing details. Amy Herzog has built a career on flattering fit. These knitters are fashion designers who have chosen to specialize in knitwear.
For some of us, knitting is work. All the beautiful hand knits you see in magazines, catalogs, and advertisements must be made by someone. And there is no reason those knitters should work for free. Don’t get me wrong—I’d much rather knit than scrub toilets for a living. This is not a tough gig. But when deadlines loom, there is no getting around the fact that knitting is work.
In contrast, social knitters are in it for the fun. I’ve known some whose main reason for knitting was because they loved the people in their knitting group. Whether they gather at a local brewery for weekly stitch-and-sip sessions, or save their vacation days for an annual road trip to Rhinebeck or Stitches, knitting is their passport to good company, conversation, and camaraderie.
Knitting can also be an expression of generosity and hope. Hats for premature babies, blankets for the homeless, chemo caps, even sweaters for penguins soiled with oil—give us a cause, and knitters rise to the occasion. When we’re touched by distant troubles, when we feel helpless, we knit. It’s what we can do. It’s what we have to give.
What role does knitting play in your life? Whatever you knit, and for whatever reason, you’re one of us. We’re bound together by knits and purls. You don’t need to learn anything new or get outside your comfort zone, unless you want to. I won’t pass judgement or give you advice unless you ask (or unless I’m paying you). If you’re happy with the results you’re getting, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.
Knitting is a big tent. If it pleases you to make nothing but garter stitch dishcloths, come on in. If you want to undertake a scholarly study of Andean knitting traditions, we’ve saved a place for you. If you can’t wait to swatch your way through every stitch pattern in the Barbara Walker oeuvre, come sit by me. I’ll be the one knitting.
Sandi Rosner lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her latest book is 21 Crocheted Tanks & Tunics: Stylish Designs for Every Occasion (Stackpole, 2016).