Thursday, February 7, 2013

Knitting: A Spouse's Handbook




See below for instructions to make this scarf.


Last night, I finished up knitting a whisper-soft lace scarf.  Handling this vibrant red mohair-and-silk yarn each day, coupled with an awareness that it will soon be Valentine’s Day, must have affected my brain, as, in a way that’s a bit out of character, I’m compelled here to discuss marriage, romance, and, of course, knitting. 

My knitting hobby has, of course, impacted my marriage.  Not only am I engaged in an activity that takes time, eats up resources, and lures me leave home for periodic overnight stints, knitting has also made me vocally question my future along with the previous choices in my past.  Why didn’t I study textiles in college?  Why didn’t I learn to knit sooner?  How much money does it take to open a yarn shop?  My husband endures listening to me muse about potential knitting-related writing or editing or design careers and possible yarn shops or sheep farms in our future.  He also patiently bears my waxing poetic about his accompanying me on knitting tours in Scotland or my warmly reminiscing about a trip to a yarn ship in Italy, pairing my reflections with assertions that I have to return there someday . . . soon. 

My spouse is no stranger to my wild flights of fancy, and I’m ashamed to say that in almost 20 years of marriage, I’ve heard one too many people refer to him as a “Saint,” a word that is carries with it the somewhat mortifying implication that he’s earned this status as a result of his marriage to me.  Of course, he is generally patient and kind and refrains from passing judgment, although occasional well-placed dry-witted retorts do bubble to the surface, such as his vehemently flung accusation during our first year of marriage that I was “Marie Antoinette.” This appellation was hurled when we were having a heated discussion related to renovating a dilapidated 150-year-old house we’d recently purchased, one, that came replete with a rotting foundation, views of sunlight through bedroom walls, and three crumbling chimneys.  I, of course, had been the one who’d been compelled to rescue this place, as I could see all of its creative potential. 

Marie Antoinette moments are few and far between, but my spouse stepped out of his ever-patient persona again the other morning, flinging another barb. This event occurred after I’d watched part of a talk show where the host voiced platitudes about goal-setting, referencing a popular book (The Secret) that asserts that all an individual has to do is optimistically ask the “universe” for something and he or she will receive it. I’ve never had a desire to read this book, but the few moments I heard about goal setting got me thinking: Knitwear designer? Social media specialist or salesperson for a yarn company? Novelist? Yarn shop owner? On my way out the door for school the next day I crankily asserted, “I really need to set a goal. I can’t ever succeed if I don’t work toward one focused aim.”


With a weary eye, my husband, who’d just roused a sullen teenager and an irate tween from sleep and had prepared breakfast (so that I could have my morning knitting time), shot me a pointed look and said, “Paying credit card debt sounds like a good goal to me.”   I felt a twinge of irritation that I vocalized and later wished I’d suppressed, as, with some reflection, I realized that spouses of obsessive knitters such as me are members of a class of people with a unique cross to bear, people who should be appreciated and thanked for their forbearance and generosity of spirit.    
 

My husband is a member of SOCK (Spouses of Obsessive-Compulsive Knitters).  A government publication from the National Institutes of Health defines obsessive-compulsive as a “disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).”  The article adds that “not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety.”  That ritual, in my case, and in that of so many women, is knitting.  Below are some guidelines which might make lives easier for spouses of those suffering from this disorder. 

  • Be aware that a knitting addiction is often a symptom of a finely tuned romantic or creative aesthetic (it should come as no surprise that your wife gets a little too wrapped up in period dramas or pours over dreamy images of models draped in lace who stand in the middle of cow pastures).  Appreciate the romantic nature that attracted you to her in the first place, and remember to eagerly beam when your wife comes down the stairs one morning and, out of the blue, announces, “I’ve booked us on a knit-the-fairies hiking trip in Iceland . . . in January."

  • Understand that the boundaries in your domicile are fluid and subject to change based upon new knitting-related purchases or expansions of the same craft; ie.  a large spinning wheel and antique yarn swift now reside comfortably in what used to be your favorite corner to sit—and your bookcase is now a repository for knitting magazines.  Remember, your children will go off to college one day, and then your wife can use their rooms for her supplies and you can get your corner back. 

  • Avoid dreaming of cracking open a mystery and relaxing on your upcoming vacation; understand that  your wife has carefully researched every knitting shop within a day’s drive of your destination and has already planned your packed daily itinerary. 

  • Be aware that while it is your duty as a husband to greet your wife with cheerful alacrity (and an engaging facial expression to match) when she speaks to you, even if you are busy preparing income taxes or phoning in a prescription refill, you must tread cautiously when approaching your knitting wife to inform her that the dinner you’ve prepared is ready.  She just might lose count and mess up her lace pattern.

  • Know that knitting is like culture, and comes with its own set of unwritten rules.  Work to learn them, so that you don’t experience culture shock or misunderstanding.  Expecting to wait in the car for a few minutes while your wife “runs into” the local yarn shop is akin to the naive bravado of the southerners in Gone with the Wind who assert, “We’ll finish them [the Yankees] in one battle” or their calm belief that “Gentlemen can always fight better than rabble.”   Bring a newspaper, or maybe a Dickens’ novel and enjoy a moment of well-earned peace and quiet. 


  • Finally, in times when your patience is worn to its thinnest, remember that while living with a knitter does present its challenges, at least you are not married to Marie Antoinette.  Of course, Antoinette was a knitter herself, one so obsessed with her craft that when in prison and denied her knitting needles, she fashioned her own needles from toothpicks and pulled yarn from a tapestry to knit a garter (Bishop).  Imagine, too, how your daily existence would, perhaps, be even more difficult to weather if your wife were deprived of her hobby.  Her behavior might be a lot worse (as would have Marie Antoinette’s) if denied this creative outlet and source of stress relief.




You will need a copy of Vogue Knitting Stitchionary Vol. 5 To make the scarf shown above.  (The lace pattern is copyrighted, but the overall scarf design is my own.)

Materials:  2 balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze in Rosso

                Size 7 needles
                Size 5 needles

Instructions: 

With larger needles cast on 55 stitches.

Knit Wildflower Meadow lace pattern on page 23.

Repeat until scarf is 54 inches long.

Bind off.

Using small needles, with right side facing, pick up 64 stitches at one short end.

Row 1:  Knit into the front and back of each stitch. (128)
Row 2:  Knit
Row 3:  Knit into the front and back of each stitch.  (256)
Row 4:  Cast off.

Repeat for second short end. 

Weave in loose ends, wash, and block.







3 comments:

  1. Dear Liz this did make me smile! You write very perceptively about what is going on in the heart and head of a keen knitter! (or crocheter for that matter!) and that of their spouses! If it's any consolation I too am married to a "saint" who patiently puts up with my excesses and eccentricities. Occasionally I feel a bit bad about this but when I express that to him the answer I get is he'd be bored with someone more 'user friendly"! Being around creativity is definitely not boring but can be energising and invigorating even if the particular form of creativity isn't a shared one. And the shadow side is that if a creative person has their creativity stifled or repressed, a lot of unhappiness and stress can build up with quite negative impact on relationships in the vicinity. So I would add to your handbook for spouses the recommendation that "it may drive you up the wall occasionally but do not under any circumstances try to curtail what may be keeping your knitting / crocheting spouse "alive" in every sense and "well" in senses that you may not immediately be aware of." Of course the credit card thing is a point to consider - still can't believe how much this yarn stuff costs! Especially for lovers of Noro, like you and me! So my other addition would be to say to spouses worrying about yarn expenditure is "set a monthly yarn budget (on no account forbid purchases as this makes the addict go underground!) and do not even consider buying anything other than yarn store vouchers for birthdays, anniversaries or Christmas! Which will save you a lot of hassle and effort that the spouses of non-knitters or crocheters rack their brains with several times a year." Marie Antoinette? I am afraid I might take that as a compliment! Didn't know she was a prolific knitter - how fascinating! Are you sure your husband can't accompany you in the summer? I think he might find a kindred spirit here! E xx

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  2. Of course, what Mrs Tittlemouse hasn't told you is the reciprocal collateral damage of having a husband who has similar creative impulses, but with less user-friendly materials. She has to tolerate brass shavings, plastic shims, nickel silver shards and the all-consuming aroma of cellulose car body-filler delicately scenting the house. On balance, I think she is the more tolerant and accepting! Looking forward very much to meeting you in the Summer - already pumping up the car tires to cope with the additional yarn loadings that she tells me are on the way!

    David (Mr TT)

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  3. Absolutely hillarious (and I'm enjoying the ongoing domestic 'love-in' from the Tittlemouses too!) I'd also like to add my tuppence worth - although it may seem that it's an expensive hobby - particularly if you are a knitter who is irredeemably in love with Rowan yarns - in the long run it's quite economical. Knitted jumpers, especially for growing boys and grown-up men, will last much longer and be much warmer than anything shop - bought and they can be handed down the line (see my post 'A personal history of knitting Part 1'). Most knitters are not the type to spend oodles of money on clothes, make-up and hair salons which I'm sure cost a lot more than a few balls of yarn. Knitting is one of those skills which is so much more useful and long-lasting than so many other ephemeral talents we promote these days - knitting will clothe you just as cooking will feed you. And in this country, I firmly believe that we have to continue to support the wool trade as that's what's kept us going throughout history - sheep are environmentally friendly and entirely renewable - a much better source of renewable material than anything man-made or petro-chemical related. My secret dream is not to have a yarn shop (although that's a close second) but to have a herd of merinos and alpacas! Great post. love Judy.

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