Needleworkers are a tortured lot. Don’t be deceived when you come across one in the post office and s/he answers your question, “How’s it going?” with a sublime smile and glazed eyes. Do not be taken in when the worst of us clasp our hands to our breasts before launching into descriptions of our latest projects or newfangled yarns.
Each and every one of us is possessed of demons though our aspirations are pure. We begin with hope that our gifts will make the shadows recede just a tinge. We are Wiccans by nature no matter our denominations.
But never doubt that the Needleworker in the post office or on the church pew beside you is a Zombie; an innocent in the grips of an undeniable compulsion.
Like any Creator – Poet, Painter, Inventor, Metalworker or Potter — a Needleworker begins at the vortex of two competing and unforgiving forces: (1) materials that call like Sirens through all fogs and (2) an incessant, prickling Idea. Walk through a potter’s shed. Its shelves lined and splotched with jugs of slip and watery clay will leave you in a state of hunger. Hestia’s command to “make something of use” will thrum in your belly and a dream of beauty will whistle through your bones. There is no escape.
A yarn stash is no different. The play of colors and textures – fugues whispering in baskets in every room of the house. Left-behind yarns. Bits and pieces. Loose ends. Enough for a singleton sock or glove, a quarter-afghan or half a hat.
A few Needleworkers — inspired by the likes of Opie’s Aunt Bee or just loopy by nature – begin organizing for the next holiday season, birthday or Ground Hog Day months before time.
But most of us – those who also huddle miserably on April 14th with our taxes — surrender to the agony of making holiday presents when the clocks are turned back in November. “Holy shit,” we say, models of holiday joy staring into the early night, “it’s upon me.”
Thus begins the frantic search for yarns to satisfy a yammering Idea or, as the days expire, an Inspiration to match the stash. Throughout Thomas Kincaid’s Holidayland, the piping tunes of happy elves drift from lemony windows and over marshmallow snow:
“Oh why oh why didn’t I wind this mess into balls?”
“Where the hell is that three foot piece of lime green! I know I saved it for accent…”
“How could I have thought that ball was big enough for two freaking socks?”
“What if I made four two-foot scarves and sewed them together in a kind of mosaic…?”
“Can I really knit a patchwork blanket in 33 days…?”
And on it goes, the mad scrabbling through baskets, pulling at ends that have wound and bound themselves like nettles.
To drink coffee at this stage is to explode into a billion pieces.
If you’re lucky, when all the skeins, threads and scraps have been arranged by texture, color or gauge, Inspiration will begin to surface.
You will be impelled toward the brink of either Grace or Fire and the same inexorable Spring of Hope and Curiosity that doomed Pandora (and most domestic cats) will burn in you. It’s heady. It’s crack. It’s the call of Eos, the eternal dawn.
At this point, I usually switch gears. I go all Zen and surrender myself to the yarn. I will eschew preconceptions and expectations, I will let the yarn speak; feel it flow through me. I will let it become its true nature. I will be a conduit for the Cosmos. I will…
None of the effing gauges match. I don’t have five double-pointed size “1” needles. I do have 3 size “0s” and two size “1s” but I’ve tried that before and none of the fingers fit a human hand.
Ah hah! Circular needles! Two gloves at a time on circulars! I know I’ve got that pattern somewhere and circulars galore….
Had Dante known about circular needles, he would have created a separate hell for their inventor. A knitter can make anything on circular needles. Refrigerator covers, snowmobile boots, and probably trees if you can get the threads of DNA to work just right. The nightmare is in the limitless variety of circulars because each project requires just the right length and gauge: 42” for afghan panels and 6” for socks; and gauges from 14 mm for bulky sweaters to 0 mm for infant wear. Obviously, since this is the Dark Edge of Creation, we – the Children of Ancient Handmaidens, Nurses and Conjurers – will never have the elusive Ideal in stock. As Ahab or unsated Tantalus should have known, if we are to survive the Giving Season, we must accept the limitations of our Hell and adapt.
So this year, beloveds, you are getting ornaments for your trees and multi-colored mittens. Each will be a unique blend of textures and hues.
Whether or not they look or even fit right is hardly the point. Remember the year you got a dog sweater and the sleeves forced the poor animal’s legs up and out like the wings on a biplane? Remember the pooch’s worried frown and the hysterical laughter that sent tears flowing down our cheeks? Of course you do.