Needling Me

Kage Baker … tolerated … my fondness for knitting.

She gamely listened to me describe delightful new yarns and stitches; she wore the socks I made her. She even bought me a Swift, so I could turn skeins of hand-spun into balls of same without accidentally knotting myself to a wooden chair. Mostly, though, she refrained from suddenly stabbing me with a knitting needle just to make me shut up and stop.

You might ask, Dear Readers, why a mild domestic activity like knitting should require tolerance, or my gratitude for same? If you do ask that, it’s clear you’ve never lived with a knitter. You know why there are knitting circles? Why people gather together to play with sticks and string? Because non-knitters soon begin to twitch at having to be around these textile monomaniacs.

Knitting is a form of OCD. It is not a single hobby, but an entire group of them; one that requires insane devotion to special tools and supplies, a discipline usually devoted to weapons practice or religion, a focus so intense it renders its practitioner deaf and blind to all else. Not mute, though. A knitter learning a new lace stitch, for example, will talk to herself at a level that approaches speaking in tongues.

Furthermore, it’s a hobby that grows. Supplies multiply magically, like the brooms in Fantasia – to which Kage occasionally compared my stash. There is always an exquisite skein of exotic yarn, or needles in some unusual substance, that the knitter must possess. Then you’ll search through all your books of patterns to find the one pattern worthy to use with the wonderful new toys. And if you don’t have a yarn or needles or a pattern that measure up, why – you’ll go hunt some new ones down and buy them too!

It’s one of the few activities I know where the finished product ends up larger than the supplies that went into it. Babies and buildings, maybe, compare: but neither one irritates your housemate as much, or lies around in drifts and dunes and ecosystems of extras until you get around to building or birthing …

Most knitter have to find projects to absorb their finished product. I mean, you start out with a Trader Joe’s bag full of balls of yarn, and you end up with something that will cover a car. Odds are, you didn’t knit it because you needed it – you knitted it because you wanted to see what the process was like.  And that’s only one product out of your stash of yarn! Which is in plastic Tuppers and bags and spare suitcases all over the house.

Then there are the tools, which are multitudinous and cunning and adorable. Knitting needles! Conversion charts! Winding machines, blocking frames, stitch markers and row counters and tape measures shaped like wooly lambs! You never carry a purse less than 2 feet to a side, because your current project has to fit in it; in fact, most of the time you have two purses, one dedicated to knitting. And you are much more likely to forget the purse with your car keys and wallet in it when you leave a movie theatre.

Because, oh yeah – you take your knitting everywhere. Kage learned that whenever we were standing or sitting still for a minimum of 5 minutes, I’d be knitting. Restaurants, lines, churches – though she objected when I tried knitting at red lights.  She grew used to my snarky sotto voce comments when someone mistook my knitting for crochet, or misidentified the textile I was using (Can you believe that she couldn’t tell this is banana fibre, not bamboo? Sheesh!).

And my frantic cold turkey fits when I went somewhere without my knitting amused her. She even helped me hunt for yarn shops when we were travelling, so I’d have needles and something to use them on when we stopped for lunch or the night. Although she did wax wroth the time TSA wouldn’t let me bring my needles on board a plane, and I smuggled  a circular set on board in my underwire bra …

See how knitting is insidious? See how I go on and on about it? Kage lived with that for years, listening with glazed eyes as I rhapsodized over silk or linen yarn, or described an especially clever new cable design. But actually, my obsessions went hand-in-hand with hers. In fact, I learned how to knit cables in the first place during a weekend in a motel room on the Northern Coast, on a writing retreat while she blazed through Hellfire At Twilight.

I’ve neglected my knitting since she died; one of the many things whose savour has had to come back on its own as my life puts on new flesh. But I do like to knit of an evening, while watching telly. Last night, though, the non-human members of our household were determined that I would not succeed – or if I did, there’d be one of them incorporated into the knitting.

Harry, of course, has launched an attack on my needles. You see, I prefer wooden ones. So does he. he’s already munched up one of my #6 double pointed needles. Well, he went through an incredible stealthy sneak attack last night and managed to steal all my surviving #6 needles.  All. Of. Them.  He dug them out from under the pillows where I had hidden them so I could go to the bathroom, and reduced them all to splinters. He was put to bed, unabashed and crowing victoriously.

Then the elder cat decided to lie in my lap and chase the passing yarn (once I started the cap over on new needles) so I had to repeatedly untangle her feet – she is no longer in complete control of her claws, and kept getting thoroughly wrapped up in a nice grey wool that complimented her silver tabby-stripes. Of course!

And in the middle of the night, I awoke to realize that the small black cat was on my desk. Playing in the dark. With knitting needles. Hand-carved walnut knitting needles she had somehow snaked out of a project bag …

I can just hear Kage laughing her ass off, telling the beasties, “Well done, Harry! Well done, cats! Keep her busy, you little buggers!”

Smarty pants. Sheesh, indeed.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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6 Responses to Needling Me

  1. I recently bought a bunch of ‘space saver’ bags to ship a bunch of my stash to the granddaughters on the East coast. Then I had to buy new Alpaca yarn to knit one of the DGDs a sweater. The younger granddaughter has decided she wants to knit socks but needed some DPs (that’s double pointed needles, for the uninitiated) So we got her several sets of Harmony DP needles for her birthday. and so it goes.


  2. Kate says:

    Knitting is better than drugs for your health, but that’s about the only advantage sometimes … on the other hand, look what people spend on skiing! And skis are much bigger than even my entire needles collection put together! Good luck wishes to your grandaughter; socks are as addictive as cookies.


  3. Medrith says:

    Last fall, just as I was knitting short-sleeved cardigans in a beautiful variegated bulky yarn for my two daughters for Christmas and one for myself, I insanely adopted a one-year-old rescued feral cat. Part Manx. I got the sweaters done and Vincent lived, but at times I thought none of the above were going to happen.


  4. Kate says:

    It amazes me – every time I unwind a cat or a parrot from yards of yarn – what kind of instinct leads an otherwise mature animal into this kind of demented behaviour. What do they do in the wild? Tangle themselves in creepers or boa constrictors? And I can kind of see why the parrot plays with my needles and the cats with the yarn – but what’s going on in their heads when they reverse it? WHY would a parrot twine yarn all around himself, or a cat run through the house with a knitting needle in her mouth?

    Oh well, if they were boring, we probably wouldn’t live with them.


  5. Elaine says:

    Knitter here. And you’re spot on about everything but one…sort of. Knitting has actually helped me overcome a huge amount of my OCD tics, which have mostly grouped around going back and doing things over until they feel right. Can’t do that with knitting, not if you want what you knit to look good. And so just powering on stitch after stitch after stitch without going back for do-overs if a stitch didn’t feel right has helped me be able to resist repeated do-overs of other things to an amazing extent. I’m not cured, of course, but I’m much, much better.


  6. Kate says:

    How splendid, Elaine! I congratulate you. I sort of make things worse, personally, by being unable to resist starting over 4 or 5 times on every piece until I relax to the inevitable. Of course, it may just be that I am very bad at casting on. I learned from my left-handed grandmother; and a knitting friend, watching me, once said she cannot imagine how my method works … but as it does, not to mess with it.


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