Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chicks with Sticks

Read Charlotte Canelli's column in the November 16, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

My mother began to teach me to sew about the same time I learned to type – at age eight. I learned on a Singer Featherweight 221with its wonderful gold on black paint and fold-up extension platform. I still own that machine, made sometime in the early 1950s, and cherish to this day. It weighs a mere 11 pounds and fits into a wonderfully compact case with compartments for all the necessities.

I began my lesson in sewing on tiny clothes for my cherished Barbie doll. For Christmas and birthdays my mother would create the more elaborate wardrobe items like wedding dresses and swimsuits. I made simple sheaths and capes that closed with tiny snaps and buttons. In junior high and high school I sewed my complete wardrobe each year on that Singer Featherweight.

I was also lucky enough to have a family and neighborhood full of women who had the loving patience to teach me to use knitting needles and crochet hooks. My mother’s friends taught me my first knitting stitches and my grandmother helped me with simple crochet patterns. As a young mother, I tackled cables for my daughters’ Irish sweaters. I still have afghans and crib blankets I made during those years, each knitted with care.

In recent years, I lost my connection to the creativity of fabric, yarn and needles as I focused on my library career and a new husband and grandson. However, after recently being inspired by the results of some of co-workers’ knitting projects, I realized how much I missed working with my hands. I took the plunge and now find myself relaxing in front of the television or next to my husband, in the passenger seat of the car, with needles and yarn in hand. Or sometimes I just sit in solitary silence listening to the rhythmic click of the needles.

Knitting has many benefits beyond the finished project. Besides being a creative outlet, knitting has a calming effect and occupies a stressful mind. I do some of my best rational thinking, actually, with needles in hand. In addition, the rhythm of knitting is what someone might consider therapeutic concentration.

The library is a terrific resource for knitting books. (And quilting, sewing and crochet, too.) One of the favorite books I’ve checked-out recently is “The Prayer Shawl Companion: 38 Knitted Designs to Embrace, Inspire and Celebrate Life” by Janet Bristow and Victoria A. Cole Galo. There is even a newer book, the “New Prayer Shawl Companion” (2012) with 35 new patterns. (The Crocheted Prayer Shawl Companion was published in 2010.) The best part about these books is the personal and inspirational story behind each project.

“Chicks with Sticks Guide to Knitting: Learn to Knit with More than 30 Cool, Easy Patterns” and “The Chicks with Sticks Guide to Crochet: Learn to Crochet with More than 30 Cool, Easy Patterns” by Nancy Queen and Mary Ellen O’Connell (2008) are two great books if you need to learn to use knitting needles or crochet hooks.

Or perhaps you need a refresher. Some of the great books available in the Minuteman collection are “The Essential Stitch Collection: A Creative Guide to the 300 Stitches Every Knitting Really Needs to Know” by Lesley Stanfield and Melody Griffiths (2010), “Principles of Knitting: Methods and Techniques of Hand Knitting” by June Hemmons Hiatt (2012) and “Knitting 101: A Workshop in a Book, Look, Learn and Create” by Carri Hammett (2012) which includes a DVD.

Not ready to commit to a huge project? Try knitting bags, cushions, flowers or socks. “25 Bags to Knit: Beautiful Bags in Stylish Colours:” by Emma King, 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders” by Judith Durant, and “Around the World in Knitting Sock” 26 Inspired Designs” by Stephanie van der Linden will get you back on the knitting track. I relied just recently on “The Knitting Encyclopedia: A Comprehensive Guide for All Knitters” by Claire Montgomerie (2012) when I needed a new cast-on method.

If you are already a knitter, our library has nearly two-hundred knitting pattern books. If you’ve never worked with circular needles, try “Circular Knitting Workshop” by Margaret Radcliff is a new addition to our collection (2012). If you have been waiting to try an Irish cable-knit project, this winter might be the time to check out “Contemporary Irish Knits” by Carol Feller (2011) or a smaller project in “Cables: Mittens, Hat and Scarves” by Vogue (2008).

Recently, a group of four of my long-time quilting friends joined me on our twice-yearly weekend of quilting. This year was our twenty-fourth year even though I gave up quilting a half decade ago. My hands don’t seem to enjoy the work and my eyes and mind haven’t been cooperating either. I usually bring along a book and a puzzle and enjoyed the camaraderie and gourmet cooking and simply admire the exploits of my more productive friends. This year, I brought along my knitting project and found that each of my friends had, as well.

In “At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much” by Stephanie Pearl McPhee, I found this quote: “We live in a world of machines. Our world moves faster, bigger, and better with every moment. Machines replace humans and often do our jobs better. When you are knitting socks and sweaters and scarves, you aren’t just knitting. You are assigning a value to human effort. You are holding back time. You are preserving the simple unchanging act of handwork.”

I’m glad that I’ve returned to the first stitches of my handwork, those lessons taught to me over a half-century ago by women who knew that I would fall back on the wisdom I learned working with my hands. If you’d like to take up knitting or find a new projects, our library has hundreds of books to discover. The Minuteman Library Network has over one thousand. If you would like to reserve any of the titles above please call the Reference or Information desks of the library, 781-769-0200, or visit the Minuteman Library Network catalog online to reserve them.