I back my car out of the garage and before I get farther, I realize I have forgotten something. I throw the car in park, look at my teenage daughter and mumble, “Be right back.” I dash inside quickly and grab a small bag.
Back in the car, Kate asks, “What did you forget?”
“My knitting,” I reply. She nods, knowingly. We drive on.
After we have arrived at the doctor’s office and have checked in at the counter, I unzip my bag and pull out a sock I am working. We sit down to wait our turn and she recounts her day to me. I knit around and around on tiny needles as she talks. I ask what she had for lunch (Caesar salad) and if she has homework (not too much). Soon her name is called and she stands up. I finish my round, grab my purse, and follow her. I keep the knitting out, knowing full well that this doctor often runs late and we will likely wait some more.
The first time I picked up needles and yarn was right before my twenty-first birthday. I spent the semester studying in England and was making my way through Europe, staying in hostels and traveling on a Euro-rail pass. One of my stops was in the south of France where my best friend from high school was living. When I arrived at her apartment, one of her roommates was knitting. I watched as she made rapid movements with her hands and mysteriously transformed the yarn into fabric. Seeing my interest, she stopped and looked up at me. “I can teach you,” she said.
When my visit ended a few days later, I shoved a pair of metal knitting needles and ball of navy blue wool into the side pocket of my already-stuffed backpack. During the remainder of my travels, I would pull out my knitting in the quiet, in between moments on the train and practice what I had learned. Every single stitch required my complete concentration and I gripped the needles tightly, determined to get it right.
That project was never completed. I made so many mistakes and dropped stitches without realizing it – it wasn’t salvageable. Still, I kept at it. Determined to learn to knit, I bought a new ball of yarn and a book that covered the basics. From the small black and white photos, I taught myself how to cast on and then how to knit and purl.
It’s been twenty-five years since I learned to knit. At the beginning, I knitted at home while watching TV or in the quiet of a weekend morning. I made sweaters and hats; some for myself, but most for gifts. When I became a mother, and my crafting time was limited to naps and evenings, I dropped the yarn and needles and pulled out the sewing machine more often than not.
I am a maker and have been for my entire life. I sew, I paint, I embroider, I bake, I cook and, of course, I knit. Keeping my hands busy creating is a daily affair. Taking raw materials and manipulating them into something entirely different and new, grounds me in a way that nothing else does. It’s my joy and my meditation, my unique brand of prayer.
When my oldest daughter, Jane, started first grade, Kate and I spent 20 minutes every afternoon in the carpool line. I tried to read as we sat parked in the school parking lot, but Kate was often too chatty for me to keep up with my book. How I wish I could say that I was content to sit there and just be, but I wasn’t. My crafting time was limited and precious and I did not want to waste an opportunity to do something. I started carrying yarn and needles with me, building hats from the bottom up as Kate regaled me with stories of her day. I knitted row after row ten minutes at a time, engaging with my child all the while.
These days, I have more time of my own to spend creating. When the house is empty, I can be found in my third floor studio, making quilts and other sewn items. As the mother of a teenage driver, I rarely spend time in the carpool line. Those pockets of down time that I filled with my needles clicking are fewer and farther between. Still, I find myself gravitating towards knitting more and more.
Earlier this year, I realized that I only have three more years with my girls at home. How can that be? Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were tiny people who needed so much of me? It seems inconceivable that I have a child entering college next fall. I do not want to miss a moment that remains. I want to be present, when they need me and even when they don’t. I’ve stopped squirreling myself away upstairs sewing. Instead, I sit at the kitchen table and I knit.
Friday afternoon, I hear the garage door go up. The girls come in, drop their book bags and purses, and get a snack. They pile onto the couch and I sit in my favorite chair, my knitting on my lap. I pick up the needles and get myself situated while Kate queues up the previous night’s Project Runway. We talk about the designers, the craziness of some of the fabrics, the dresses we like and those we don’t.
I feel the wool as it slips through my fingers and loops on and off the needles. My muscle memory is strong. My hands know just what to do. I no longer have to concentrate on each and every stitch. I don’t even have to look to know what I am doing. My sweater sleeve starts to take shape as the models walk the runway. The girls and I chat as we fast forward through the commercials. This is just where I want to be: in the thick of it, making all the while.
Words and photos by Erin Burke Harris.