Growing up, my mother knit. It started with matching Irish sweaters for me and Leslie, ivory cabled cardigans with dark wooden buttons. There’s a photo of us wearing them on the ferry over to Block Island. I don’t recall the sweater or the trip but that picture permanently acts of evidence that both existed.
In fourth grade, my mom taught me to knit. With leftover yarn from her completed projects, I put together a vest. It was hideous. None of the yarn matched and because of my novice status, meaning my inability to taper, the shape was two squares sewn together.
“This neck is uncomfortable,” I noted as I tugged at it.
“It’s a boat-neck,” my mom explained. “It’s supposed to be flat across your neck.”
“Is it supposed to choke me in the process?” I asked as I made hacking noises.
I never wore it again. And shortly thereafter, my mom stopped knitting too. In a tattered Neiman Marcus tote, she dropped all of her gear. She buried the bag in the dark corner of a storage closet only a midget could comfortably stand in. It stayed there, out of sight, until my nephew was born.
“What are you looking for?” I asked when I passed through my parent’s bedroom and saw my mom’s ass sticking out of the storage closet.
“I’m going to knit Anders a sweater.”
She studied patterns, bought yarn and got down to business. And when she needed to stop by the yarn store to grab another skein, I went with. She checked labels to confirm the color was the same batch. I, meanwhile, wandered off and explored the bins.
“I think I want to knit a scarf,” I announced as I walked toward the counter with three skeins of nubby wool, deep black twisted with flame-orange and chestnut brown.
When I got home, I cast on forty stitches and began working the needles – knit four, purl four, repeat to end of row. A week later, I had all of ten inches knit and I was bored. So I went back to the yarn store in search of inspiration. My fingers burrowed into cotton candy tufts of maroon mohair. I pressed balls of coral cashmere to my cheek. An hour later I left, a shopping bag swinging by my side. It wasn’t that I had any plans. But the colors of the yarn, the texture of the wool, I just couldn’t leave it behind.
It’s been six years since Anders was born. I’ve finished exactly four scarves and one unwearable hat, though I currently own enough yarn to knit a blanket the size of Rhode Island. In square straw baskets dotting my bookshelf, I store unused skeins along with a collection of unfinished projects. There’s the lace-knit scarf made with mohair, mossy green melting to soft gray bleeding to rich plum. Then there’s the blue-green vest, the ribbed body dangling off size 9 circular needles. And on my coffee table sits the project I’m pushing myself to finish. It’s a racer-back tank made with sueded ribbon. The other night, with a glass of wine nearby, I worked the yarn. Before moving onto the last section, I stopped to count my stitches. The pattern calls for 140; I counted 158.
I held the unfinished work up, eying the shape and studying the contours. Light from the television passed through the holes of the pattern. I knew I’d never be able to figure out where I went wrong. I’m too impatient to bother with determining where I stopped following the instructions for a medium and started following the instructions for a large. Plus, the idea of pulling the stitches out makes my stomach churn. I placed the needles and yarn on the table and picked up the wine goblet. The project has remained untouched, though another bottle of Vouvray has been opened.
Eventually I’ll still finish the top, a tank perfectly proportioned for a human pumpkin. And like my childhood vest, I’ll probably wear it once before burying it in the back of a dresser drawer. Then I’ll tuck my knitting away and pick up a book, or go for a walk, or finalize my plans for London. Come the fall, I'll wander into a yarn shop, buy more wool and stow it in my baskets. Maybe I’ll make something, maybe I won’t. Either way, I like knowing it’s there.