When to Knit

by Jen Sullivan, Olive's Pearls

This is not the article that will teach you how to knit. There are any number of those to choose from, and I maintain that the best way to learn is from another person. This is the article about *when* to knit.

I was knitting long before I could sew, before I could ride a bike, before I was old enough to answer the phone, and long before celebrities decided knitting was fashionable. I learned during the height of the macramé craze, when crocheted bikinis were all the rage and Bill Cosby had not yet discovered self-_expression through interpretive sweatery.

And while knitting may invoke images of hilarious cartoons featuring naked sheep, erudite allusions to Charles Dickens and any number of Circuit City ads which portray handknit sweaters as the exact opposite of what one really wants to receive for Christmas-- electronics--knitting has a softer, sadder side. Elizabeth Zimmermann, knitting designer celebre, has always advised us to knit on, through all joys and crises. Most knitters have knit in joy: the baby booties, the tentative striped sweater for the new boyfriend. But it's the crises that remind us why we knit. We must create something. We must look at something pretty; we must touch something soft. And we desperately need something to do with our hands.

When my older brother Abel died--very suddenly--two years ago, there was no question of what the rest of my family was thinking. We were all, simultaneously and alarmingly, experiencing chest pains. And among my mom, my sister and me, there was the question of wool. It's a terrible thing when someone dies and you have no project.

My mother's best friend took her wool shopping the next morning, but unfortunately, the need for yarn does not necessarily mean you are ready to face the public. My mother called me from the back of the yarn shop on her cell phone, paralyzed. She did not know why she had come. She could not select, purchase, and make small talk with strangers. And the unspoken question was, what did this say about her and what would people think? Her son just died and she is shopping?

I told her to go to the front of the store and tell the yarn ladies everything, everything. By the time I arrived, she was embraced in a throng of knitters of all ages. They had chosen wool for her, a project, and new needles. There were soothing words about the sort of pattern instructions easy to follow in times of grief, the best and most reliable yarns to use when one simply did not feel up to splicing and split fibers. And there was no question but that she was in the right place, with the right people, and yes, doing the right thing.

Jen Sullivan and her husband LB live in Milwaukee, WI with their 6 children. She sells handmade boutique girls' clothing on ebay under the name Olive's Pearls, specializing in formalwear with an old-fashioned feel. Though her background and education is in fictionwriting, these days her creative pursuits center on sewing and knitting.

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| Wednesday, January 31, 2007 7:17 AM | flag
I just read this Jen. Remembering that time in pearl history and keeping you still in my thoughts. Sarah-jayne

Kathy | Saturday, October 7, 2006 6:34 PM | flag
What an insightful article. So true that you need some project to do with your hands during a crisis. Sometimes that's the only thing that feel normal. :)

Elena Geesey | Thursday, January 5, 2006 5:56 PM | flag
Jen, I have to agree--I wish you would write a book! Or even just start a blog...with lots of pictures! Of course, with 6 kids, I don't know how you do anything at all...my 2 snow me under.

Shari - vode clothier | Wednesday, January 4, 2006 10:05 AM | flag
Jen, You are amazing!! Please write a book!!! Pretty Please with sugar on top. Shari :0)

Rhonda | Tuesday, January 3, 2006 12:20 PM | flag
This is beautiful! Thank you for sharing!!

Beth - PSBB*Designs | Sunday, January 1, 2006 2:27 PM | flag
Jen - you hit the nail right on the head! Needle Arts aren't just for little old ladies in rocking chairs. ;-) My knitting/crochet bag goes everywhere with me....it's like a binky for grown-ups.

Rebekah (sunnybrook*farm*designs) | Sunday, January 1, 2006 2:18 PM | flag
Jen, that was a wonderful article! I will be sending this to my mom, who is an avid knitter herself, and will appreciate the meaning here as much as I did. -- Rebekah

Jessica--Chatterbug! | Sunday, January 1, 2006 5:51 AM | flag
Jen that was so touching! Your words paint such a picture--an art~ And knitting/crafting/sewing truly is so theraputic. THANKS!

Susan | Saturday, December 31, 2005 6:17 PM | flag
So very true--something to occupy the hands when the mind cannot bear to think. You are a master of the pen. ~Susan Easley/suvel

Jennifer~Jaybird Designs | Saturday, December 31, 2005 12:08 PM | flag
Wonderful and sooooo true!

Angie (a_different_corner) | Saturday, December 31, 2005 10:15 AM | flag
Oh Jen....Thank you for reminding me that there is nothing like crafting what you love in times of crisis. Although I am not a knitter, I feel your story speaks to each one of us who have some type of craft that they love to do, whether it be knitting, crocheting, painting, sewing, beading, or whatever. I have been struggling for a while now on some different issues, and this simple article that you wrote has helped me so much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I enjoyed reading it so much. You have a true talent for writing girl. Angie :-)

| Saturday, December 31, 2005 8:15 AM | flag
That was lovely Jen. TFS Eileen

Samantha (TwoLittleWitches) | Saturday, December 31, 2005 1:15 AM | flag
Thank you Jen... A beautiful story that left a lump in my throat and a wonderful tribute to the human spirit. You have a true knack for 'spinning' a tale - I hope to read more.

Amy (lovemyapril) | Friday, December 30, 2005 11:21 PM | flag
Jen, that brought a tear to my eyes. Thanks for sharing your story.

Lisa The Domestic Diva | Friday, December 30, 2005 10:47 PM | flag
oh Jen... I remember not too many years ago when my baby lie hooked up to dozens of life supporting tubes, I left the room and went shopping. I don't know what I was shopping for...everyone was amazed that I could find comfort in wandering through little shops in hopes of finding something to distract me from the pain in my heart. It was then that I came upon a silly blue elephant...and it sang the song I sung to my daughter before I let them take her to the operating room..."You are My Sunshine." It was then that I knew she would be okay.... and 12 years later...more than a dozen children undergoing liver transplants have clutched this silly blue elephant while they are giving a second chance at life. I had hoped you'd finally teach me how to knit...but I've learned so much more from you. With friendship, Lisa

Lynn (47cats) | Friday, December 30, 2005 10:32 PM | flag
I love the article...and it is very true. I crochet and in times of crisis I have taken up hook and yarn to "have something for my hands to do". I would love to read more of your writing. Thanks.

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