For as long as I can remember, my Irish Nanna knit. Perched atop four or five pillows on the living room couch, "So I can get a good look at you," she would work away. Every day, all day she would chat and knit black socks for the boys, with a thick seam down the middle of the sole, mittens, and "knee warmers for the old people in the nursing homes." The last comment amused me because she would say it even up into her 90s. And color was her thing. She created her knee warmers from whatever thrift store yarn Mom could find for her, thin stripes of brown, purple, turquoise, orange. Once Mom splurged and brought home brand-new bundles of chenille pink yarn for a baby blanket. Nanna would have none of it. "It needs some more colors," she said as she added chocolate brown. This image of Nanna knitting came to mind last week when gal pal Bernice popped over for a coffee klatch. She was stressed and worn from family issues. I thought of the relaxation that comes from creating. "Why don't you take a knitting class?" I suggested. A hopeful glimmer shot out from her blue eyes. I offered to find a beginners' class.
"We have a few different ways that we help people," said Nancy Nelson, who with her mother owns Common Threads in Encinitas (760-436-6119). "We have a drop-in service for people who buy their yarn from our store. They can come in any time, and we can help with their project specifically where they are. We even teach beginners that way. They just buy their yarn and sit down, and we show them how to cast on and so forth. We also have videos on our website that teach beginners for free. If they get home and forget one of the steps, the video repeats over and over the same movement so they get a little more security. And then we also teach classes. Our class schedule is fairly extensive, anywhere from a beginners' class to how to make a hat to how to make your first sweater, or how to correct your mistakes. Our website lists the classes, and times ( www.fiberartshop.com ). The beginner's class [ $25 a class] shows how to get them to cast on and to knit. The second and the third class teach how to purl and how to increase and decrease so they know their shaping. Then they are ready to knit a sweater."
Is knitting easier than crocheting?
"It's hard for me to give an answer to that," Nelson replied, "because I think they are as simple as each other or as difficult as each other. The movement is different. In crochet you have one hook that you are using; it is the repetition with one hand and one wrist in crochet. My personal feeling is that my hand gets tired faster in crochet than in knitting. In knitting the movement is more symmetrical, so it comes off a lot faster and a lot easier. I can have a conversation while knitting, whereas in crochet you really do need to look at what you are doing because it matters where you put the hook. You can put it in the wrong place. Knitting is movement and rhythm, and you can feel the movement in your hands. You don't really have to look at what you are doing."
Is the rhythm therapeutic?
"It's very therapeutic," she said. "Completely addicting. The first time you learn it, it feels like you are all thumbs. You're kind of awkward, and your brain is really thinking hard; you're barely breathing and your shoulders are tense and then all of a sudden it's like your brain turns off and your body goes, 'I get this now, the brain doesn't have to help me anymore.' And then you are in a new zone. Some people say it is like yoga, because you just get into a trance. Many studies on what knitting does to your system show that it lowers your blood pressure and helps your metabolism. Some private elementary schools teach knitting before they teach the kids how to read or write because it helps them to understand focus."
Nelson got into the nitty-gritty of the stitch. "Knitting is as simple as two stitches: a knit and a purl," she said. The knit is the opposite of the purl. What makes all the different stitches is what you do with those two stitches. You either skip one, or you drop it, or you twist it, or you knit them together. You do different things to them, and in the sequence of order that you chose to do those different things to the stitch, it creates a pattern.
"Blankets are an easy first project, though we recommend starting with a smaller project, so you can finish it and feel a sense of accomplishment. We suggest scarves, hats, mittens, or a sweater. There are many simple shapes that you can knit for a sweater, with a bigger needle and a bigger yarn, you can have it knitted in 10 to 12 hours."
For choosing yarns, Nelson said, "We recommend two criteria to beginners. One, they've got to love it, so it motivates them. The second more important criteria is that it can't be too textured. The more texture that is in the yarn, the more difficult it is to see what you are doing. So usually people pick a really soft yarn like an alpaca that is symmetrical. It doesn't have fluffiness or nubs."
Nelson added, "There are people that knit with other mediums like soft wire, leather, ribbon, and one lady I know knits with licorice. She says, 'If it comes in a string, give it to me and I'll do something with it.'"