October 10, 2012

A Course in Life Enrichment: Yarn


My yarn collection is hidden in my room. But it’s not in a secret place, or even in my closet. Just like an Easter basket hidden for a five year old, my yarn’s not hiding at all. You just dove in too fast.

Ever since you swung open the door and didn’t bother to close it, you won’t be finding it anytime soon. So do me a favor and slow down. Because you’re with me, we aren’t on a schedule. Chase the imaginary dog within yourself. Take some time to scrutinize everything instead of visually stuffing every sight into your memory like a starving man at a feast with five minutes to eat.

So stop it. Your restless eyes are scanning the craft projects and sewing machine on my craft table with one eye, and the sights of my messy slept-in bed under my hand-made quilt with the other. It’s impossible for you to see everything when in the same nanosecond, you’re also surveying the books in my bookshelf that I haven’t even read in the last five years. So please, just turn around. Your eyes are dancing too fast. Close the door, and find a plethora of unfinished dreams available for you to see and experience: life lessons and stories in the form of yarn. 

You might want to call it string, but don’t even consider it. The colorful stuff that resides in my stacked drawers was not snatched and purchased at a hardware store. Peruse the details of the yarn with patience and care, for you must get to know it if you two will ever share common ground.

The sun shines a natural spotlight on you as you pick up your first skein of yarn to examine. The light highlights the yarn’s coiled texture of several distinct fibers combined as one. Each separate fiber contributes to the yarn’s distinctive personality, exactly how the exclusive genetic makeup of every individual contributes to his guaranteed uniqueness.

Some yarns are bulky, some are thin. Some are multicolored and cheerful, some look old, frumpy, and untouched contents of the bottom of a grandmother’s yarn basket. Some came from the bottom of my grandmother’s yarn basket. Some are fancy, recycled, soft and fuzzy, others are ugly, rough, fragile, tangled, and reek of mothballs. Some were purchased with a specific product in mind; others were acquired so they wouldn’t be thrown out. But still, others were gifts: dreams of friends donated for me to translate them. Others will be gifts: July is the beginning of the Christmas season. I have the job of “Dreamweaver.”

Each skein, each ball, each hank, each spool, they all have stories. Some yarn came with their own stories already inscribed, but with others, I helped to contribute and define their characters. One instance was my purple skein of fuzziness, where I purred inside each time I stroked it. I felt sensations of purpose, happiness, and sheer content each time I thought of something new I could add to my two page list of what I could make with it. Bizarre ideas like curtains, beanbag chairs, and pants.

Some yarn will act as your third parent when you are forced to learn life lessons while interacting with this wooly friend. For example, the third skein of yarn I ever bought, eight years ago, taught me patience and persistence. Upon arriving home from my LYS (Local Yarn Shop), an impatient and eager third grade version of myself hastily attempted to turn the skein into a ball much too desperately. Without the needed patience, the originally innocent skein brought me into a sweated tizzy as it became more and more tangled with each additional pull. It stubbornly remained a tangled mess for the greater part of five years until I had given it the patience required to completely restore it back to normal.

Yet some of the yarn came with its story already written before I came in the picture. For example, consider my newest addition to my yarn family the last time I got to go on a SEX (Stash Enrichment Expedition; don’t be so naughty!). I purchased some hand-compiled recycled silk from Nepal, bursting with so much flavor and character that it broke repeatedly in my hands as I attempted to transform it from hank to ball.

Each project you embark on should be treated as an adventure. You never know what you’ll run into when only acting as the translator. Some projects take longer than originally guestimated. A scarf was going to be a scarf, but really wasn’t long enough so it was later sewn into a bag and felted. A blanket was going to be completed, but it never happened. Multiply this attempt by four other incomplete blankets in my UFO (Unfinished Object) box. Not to mention the pieces whose only home is in my “Thingymajiggers & Whachamacallits” box in my closet and have no use whatsoever.

Other endeavors simply don’t work out as expected or are too stubborn to submit, desperately wanting nothing to do with my controlling knitting needles. Dropped stitches, broken tails, and miscounted stitch totals are signs that neither the yarn nor I is enjoying the experience. When the muttered cursing is more abundant than the knitting, abandon the project and find another that matches your style better. There is a reason why only three pairs of mittens, all of them barely worn, have been whipped up in eight whole years of knitting. All hole-y and filled up with the frustration I had in making them consumed and turned them sour. The only I time I wore them, I was full of hot chocolate, energy from ice skating, love, and warmth. That night, I breathed into them with negative flashbacks in my head about my lifelong struggle with cabbage. Cabbage. The images I had in my head even smelled bad.

But when you are successful and find yarn with a fuzzy, soft, and sweet aura about it, you can make the same things out of it over and over again. For two years, my knitting focused on hats. Here come more than 120 hats of the baby variety. The NICU at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital thanks me. But I thank the baby yarn I used, for it helped me find what I loved. Their role in my life became important to me, and I wanted other people to help and continue my practices. I started a club at a senior home for bored grandmothers to bring out their needles again and feel useful in the community by knitting hats.

The yarn will drive you one direction and will eventually rear up and steer you into unexplored territory to begin a new chapter of repertoire. It is thus that I can let my own knitting history be unintentionally organized into the eras of: coasters, flowers, cat toys, hats, scarves, blanket attempts, cables, spool knitting, pillows, intarsia, and a sweater that will have to be ripped out if it is ever going to fit me.

My actions are always the same: knit one, purl two, yarn over, cable three. The yarn, however, can stimulate a different response regardless of what I am doing. Different yarns act as psychics with unique powers that trigger different reactions when I knit publicly. 

Some yarn hogs all the attention at school, either in its raw form, as the article of clothing that I failed to make a fashion statement, or as the half-completed concoction, just a work-in-progress. Comments like “I would buy that,” “You did all this today?” and “Where did you buy that?” change my expectations of a piece’s popularity, where I then expect a plethora of positive reactions in its next public appearance. These reactions create a perfect equation for being disappointed the next time I take the piece “out”.

And contrastingly, some yarns are antisocial and are still awaiting their transformations from tacky grossness to an attractive sweater, meanwhile stimulating comments that question my grandmother-wannabe-ness. “Oh hey! I know what knitting is. My grandmother knits all the time in her rocking chair when we visit. Why would you ever spend all your free time doing something so unproductive?” people say. I hate to break it to you, but when I’ve knit myself a hat to keep me warm on a chilly Palo Alto evening in the time that you beat all the levels in your oh-so-cool video game, who’s the productive one now? Sometimes the most glamorous results come from the least glamorous of processes. Deal with it.

When your yarn tangles, breaks, or ends unexpectedly, you can learn how to live life on the edge and react well to unpredictable occurrences. A normal person living life in the fast lane wouldn’t bother to make even a dismal acquaintance with yarn and would refer to with a condescending term like “string.” A word of wisdom: next time you go to fly a kite, please don’t use my hand-made recycled silk from Nepal as string. Not only will you deeply offend its utility and beauty, but its delicateness will cause the yarn to break and carry your kite far, far away. So next time, please go to the hardware store and buy some twine to fulfill the task. No knot-ty person could ever fix a disaster this hopeless with any procedure less complex. You should have turned my Nepali yarn into a washcloth, anyway.

So take some time to get to know the yarn, learn its story, and start to slow down. Listen to the morning alarm clock from the birds, take deep breaths, and sense the warmth your own sweater is providing for your heat-hungry skin. Become more aware of the little details in life that make every day worth living. A knitter undoubtedly produced that sweater you’re wearing, a successful dream woven in yarn. The diverse presence that yarn has to serve in our daily lives is an existence of which many are clueless. So join me, as we finally start to uncover this ancient fuzziness together, slowly but in earnest, one knot at a time.


Because I'm sure y'all are dyeing all that yarn to know where this came from (no I did not just write all this), this was my first creative writing piece of the semester. This would be draft #5. If you like it, that's great, and if you didn't, start a blog about why. If you're that opinionated I'm sure you have something to say. 
And most importantly, happy almost-end-of-the-first-quarter! If you got this far without cheating and skipping everything but the first ten words, I commend you. You have great endurance. 

See ya next time!