Today I finished knitting a scarf.
It took around five months, and today I cast off the final stitch, and snipped off the last yarn end, while listening to thank u, next on repeat.
I've wanted to learn knitting for ages. I tried a few years ago and gave up: I lacked the patience or discipline or focus.
I'd never really tried again. Then Alanna Okun -- who is also a brilliant editor -- wrote this piece for NYT Smarter Living about how to start knitting. And something struck: I could start it. I could knit that very same day. I bought the book Alanna recommended on Kindle. I looked up how to say knitting in Arabic on Google Translate, then traipsed all over downtown Amman looking for a shop that sold wool, only to find a tiny store tucked inside a market. (I would only discover weeks later that there was a massive wool shop five minutes away, but well, anyway.) I got needles from a stationery shop (I actually went in to ask the manager where I could buy needles) and then I tried to start learning.
Which wasn't easy. At all. There were perhaps some dregs of muscle memory, but I could barely fathom anything. How exactly was a knit stitch supposed to work? Why were all my cast on stitches so wonky? Where was the wool going?! Could a needle even go there? Did I even know what knitting looked like?
I saw a lot of YouTube videos, and then I found Judy: I slowed down her hugely helpful videos, and for hours I followed her hand movements trying to match wool for wool. I’d read Stitch ‘n Bitch, then go online and look for Judy demonstrating what I’d just read.
But every time I’d knit I’d end up with a big holey piece that curled up. I unravelled and knitted and unravelled until I got sick of the sky blue coloured wool I’d bought. Midway through a garter stitch patch, I switched to rib knitting, and it.. (after one abandoned try) started working. I was a genius. I could knit! I switched colours! I was making a stripy scarf.
Enter, my grandmother.
My grandmother is a champion knitter, who I have now also learnt was markedly obsessive about knitting as a young woman. She knitted sweaters (and many other things) for her children and grandchildren, and they were works of art: thick cable-knit sweaters, a sleeveless blue sweater with silver beads, a multicolour jumper. If I had adult versions of those sweaters now I’d wear them in a flash.
Part of the reason I was attempting to learn on my own was that I wanted to present her with some basic skills when I went to Pakistan.
I presented my patch.
She promptly unravelled it, while I stared aghast at days of knitting just... gone.
Then we started again. And again. I tried to learn how to cast on stitches from her. She doesn’t knit anymore, but her skills are incredible. I bought a few more balls of wool and began to make a striped scarf again.
This time, though, she said it had to be at least two-and-a-half metres long. So since August, I have been knitting, carrying my knitting from my house to my grandmother’s, knitting through conversations and people making social calls [on her, not me]. I have carried my knitting everywhere. I took my knitting on board a Daewoo bus to Islamabad, and the woman next to me started asking about knitting and then we had a great conversation about education and crafts. I’ve knit this scarf on a train to DC, on a jetlagged morning at a Starbucks in New York, in a cab, while watching a movie, while singing along to old Kishore songs, while upset about work, while trying to find the will to do anything at all. All the while I’ve realised that of all the things I’ve done and worked on in my life, knitting has felt the closest to an achievement. I made something. Which is sad: I also wrote thousands of words and that should count for something. But this is the problem with writing: it seems, bizarrely, intangible, like the value of me -- the hours I spend thinking and typing and rewriting - mean nothing. Every time I have a piece published, I marvel at how I did this: it feels like an out-of-body experience: how did I put these words and thoughts and reporting together? Why does it have seemingly less value than a physical object? But then I think: women’s work -- knitting, cooking -- isn’t valued at all either. It’s never art, it’s never considered for the incessant self-praise that so many men indulge in, and it isn’t valued at all. And so the thing you have to do is to value your own work: to praise yourself, and promote yourself, and to never think it is cringeworthy. No one else is going to do it for you.
And now I can knit, and I will tell everyone who doesn’t even ask that I made this. Me. I knit a two-and-a-half metre long scarf.
*Thanks to the helpful women at a knitters’ group in Amman who helped me bind off my knitting today!