Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Knit none, purl two.

Daughter and I were reading in perfect contentment. Or rather, I thought Daughter was reading; I turned a page of my book and caught her eye as she stared thoughtfully at me. I enquired as to why I was more interesting than those Magic Treehouse kids.

“You read knitting books all the time and you’re always in a good mood after you read them,” she said in a pensive tone.

I acknowledged as this was so. But, it seems, I had interrupted her, and she continued.

“…But you never actually knit.”

Sharper than a serpent’s tongue is an observant child, for it forces you to confront (for me, confront in print) your psychological irregularities.

I love to read knitting books. The pictures in knitting books leave me with nothing but happy answers in my head:

…I could make Consort and Daughter these matching reindeer sweaters. They could wear them when they are playing in the snow. I could make a third matching sweater for the dog. Christmas picture, 2007!

…I could make this blanket and drape it over the spot on the couch just like this picture. It will be an elegant way to cover the juice stain which didn’t completely come out.

…Everyone needs more pot holders.

However, actually knitting fills my head with one horrible, demoralizing question:

…Why does this (infant cardigan, hat, sleeve) resemble a double helix?

Because nearly everything I knit quickly develops an uncanny resemblance to a double helix. The only things which don’t resemble a double helix are the potholders I knit. They resemble tumors.

The secret ingredient to my freakish skill is gauge; or lack thereof. For the non-knitter reading this, gauge is the amount of stitches per inch to be expected from the yarn and the knitting scheme. At the beginning of any pattern, you will find a gauge guide with how many stitches and rows it should take to create a sample size. This is supposed to keep you from creating a seventeen-foot long sleeve.

I see a phrase like “Gauge: 9 sts and 13 rows= 4” over Stockingette stitch” and I laugh mirthlessly. I’ll start there, sure. The first three rows will be a model of conformity and concord. But I had Carpal Tunnel Syndrome when I was pregnant with Daughter, and while it went slinking away within eighteen hours of my giving birth, it left me with some capricious nerve damage to my hands. I say capricious because I can type endlessly with no ill effect (and believe me, on the days when the muse refuses to visit me, I would love to blame my lack of writing on a medical condition); but if I bend my arm in the way a knitter is inclined to, within minutes the nerve inflammation comes rushing back all too eager to remind me how it’s the boss of me.

It’s not painful, it’s weirder than that.

[“Quinn, did you say something about you is medically weird? How can that be?” Oh, do shut up.]

What happens is that my thumb and first three fingers go completely numb. After a couple of minutes, I can look down and watch what feels like someone else’s hand knitting and purling away. If this other knitter were competent, it would actually be kind of fun. But since I have no feeling in the fingers creating the yarn tension, I start playing something like “Red light, green light” with the yarn. My fingers start slackening until I could conceivably use the yarn as a wee jump rope, then having seen that, I tighten. But I tighten too much, having no digital feedback, so within a row, I have something between my fingers which looks like a garrote for a guinea pig.

In theory, a gauge sample is nearly always a square or a rectangle. When I do it, it’s always Anything Can Happen day. Sometimes, the gauge sample has the curvy shape of a cotton/poly Jessica Rabbit. Other times, it produces a floppy triangle, An isosceles triangle, never an equilateral one. One thrilling night, when I was doing battle with mohair, I managed to create something not entirely unlike a geodesic dome. Its very existence mocked the idea of a gauge, but did somehow nod its head to Salvador Dali.

Once in a while, feeling bad and maverick-y, I have chosen to continue with a knitting pattern without actually confirming the gauge sample. Perhaps you already see the problem; if my hand goes numb after a few minutes and the quality of my knitting goes to hell, what happens after, say, a half-hour? The answer is terrible things. The width of the knitting drifts in, wanders out, has brief rows of consistency which only give the observer a heartbreaking glimpse of what might have been if only I knew what my fingers were doing. People looking at what I’m making tend to say the same things you say to small children who proudly present you with a picture of…something:

“Well, aren’t you working hard!”

“You must be very proud of that!”

“Wow, Quinn, that’s a great…that’s knitting, right?”

And how does it develop the iconic twisting shape of the double helix? How do I without fail create a shape which would be the envy of high-school biology teachers everywhere? I’m not entirely certain. Clearly, it has something to do with my numb, club-like fingers; apparently, if you are tightening and loosening the yarn at random intervals, the knitting starts to spiral, perhaps in an attempt to get away from you.

Halfway through the project, I bow to the inevitable and acknowledge that this twisted bit of increasingly arbitrary width is not going to magically transform itself into a set-in sleeve, and I unravel the yarn. I unravel the yarn sullenly. I unravel the yarn ungraciously. I unravel the yarn while picking fights with people. But I unravel the yarn. Then I commence the re-knitting of the sleeve; it goes no better the second time around, or the third. After the fourth time, when the yarn is now grubby and irredeemably stretched-out, I jam the entire thing in the bottom of the closet, along with the crafting dead ends Everyone Loves to Felt and Delightful Decoupage. By the time the third half-finished double helix bounced off the closet floor, I was prepared to admit that knitting affords me no pleasure and generates no attractive accessories. In fact, knitting irritates the hell out of me.

about being a knitter, though, is wonderful. In my mind, I’m one of those women who knit in movie theaters. I decide on Tuesday to whip myself up a stylish halter top, and wear it on Saturday night. Daughter and I pore through my most recent knitting magazine, and she points to a Fair Isle sweater and shyly asks me to make it for her. I fondly pat her head and say “Of course, sweetheart”. People stop using rulers in this house, preferring to use my gauge samples, because they are just that even.

And every time I start to think dangerous things like “Maybe it will be different this time” or “…it’s a pattern designed for children to do; how much less fine motor control can I have than a five year-old?...”, I go to the closet and gaze down at my stalled inventory of yarn helixes, silently gathering dust, but never coming uncoiled.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off, if you haven't seen this site (, go there now. Second, you might want to consider needlepoint instead, if you'd really like a crafty thing to do. Or you can just keep reading knitting books.

4:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Quinn,

The first step into doing anything is always the hardest. Take a deep breath and just do it. =)

5:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang! I was going to send you the link to Threadbared but Narya beat me to it. Sometimes the only thing worse than not being able to knit, is being able to knit. - Mindy

6:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

always wanted to learn to knit, or even crochet, but don't believe i have the brain cells to remember how. this is why i stick to things like paper much damage can you do with a glue stick?

you might want to think about cross-stitching...i enjoy that as well, and it totally relaxes me, too!

6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read the blog "Stitches of Violet" all the time, and have never knitted a thing. EVER. This woman, from my state of Michigan - where we actually need warm clothing, is AMAZING!

I have the numb thumb and fingers issue. It makes piano playing a real joy.

Judy -Anybody Home

8:06 AM  
Blogger Jan said...

"Once in a while, feeling bad and maverick-y, I have chosen to continue with a knitting pattern without actually confirming the gauge sample."

HaHaHa! This has to go in a description of you somewhere. Maybe on the back cover of your autobiography - or even on the sidebar of your blog. Too funny!

Also, about that double helix thing, if scientists can have their toys ( perhaps you could sell your wares to the budding mathematicians?

5:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As you like to read about knitting without doing the deed, I like to read about food and cooking without ever setting foot in the kitchen (except to refill the Diet Coke). I have visions of cooking elaborate meals, then realize that everything I ever cook ends up like lumps of something unidentifiable. Sigh.

Great blog, BTW.


7:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the knitter of many scarves throughout the years (i.e. anything more contour-y scares me), I could relate to this post!

12:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How did your photos turn out in LA Magazine?

8:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:32 AM  
Blogger Juno said...

I had to have a consultation with a surgeon last year, and as I sat there in my paper gown knitting a pink sock, the nurse came in - the surgical nurse - and said, haha I could never do that. It is much too complicated for me.

I sat there thinking - OK, my pants are over there, can I get out alive?

The surgeon saw the look on my face - the one where I'm thinking "but you went to NURSING school. You know how to do things with blood and human bodies that I can't even conceptualize" and said "If it makes you feel any better, I know how to knit"

And it did.

But I think that sensation in the fingers is essential for both surgery AND knitting. Gauge is a bitch any way you slice it though.

5:19 AM  
Blogger Melissa C Morris said...

Definitely give the needlepoint a go, it's much easier -- I liken it to knitting for blondes. Plus me and my multi-surgery shoulders have nary an issue with the canvas and yarn.

5:52 AM  
Blogger Maya said...

Try massage. Yes, I know every professional thinks their profession is the cure everyone's been waiting for. But seriously, I've done a lot work with carpal tunnel problems, and sometimes it's just a constricted muscle pressing against a nerve, which can be cleared up in a few weeks, and then maintained monthly. Sometimes it isn't, but it's always worth a try.

Now, this type of massage isn't what anyone might call fun. The low lights and music are really just to blind and/or distract you from planning an escape. But it works. Well enough that you find yourself fantasizing about your next appointment, tears and obscenities and all.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

QC a great pleasure to stumble upon your blog [as I also stumbled upon that GOODBYE GIRL movie on New Orleans public TV station]. I believe I survived Katrina just to say hello to you, and yes, I have my own website ... about horsies and what not. Please say hello by visiting my site and emailing me. That would indeed be a thrill []

9:28 PM  

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