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Knitting Fiction

First, Backup

Published on: December 11, 2022

She turns her head so violently to the left that you’d think her eye ball had been snagged by a size G crochet hook. She stops in her tracks. Around her the early morning coffee shop is humming. Conversationalists are leaning toward each other across tables. Students, writers, and dawdlers, each seated alone, are geared up with laptops, headsets, iPhones and five dollar coffees. To her left, a fieldstone fireplace, from floor to ceiling, takes up a quarter of the wall. Deeply cushioned chairs, with pedestaled side tables and reading lamps are arranged in a semicircle around the fireplace. Seated there are three newspaper readers, two book readers and one other. It is The One Other who has caught her eye. 

     A man, in his 30s, clean shaven, dressed in a suit and tie, with newly polished brown leather shoes stands apart from his more causally groomed and dressed neighbors. He is neither focused on reading nor his computer; instead he leans into his knitting. His pattern lays on a side table which is pulled up close. She turns toward him, bends slightly and aims her caught eye, first toward the blue highlight tape marking his progress on the graph of his knitting pattern, and then toward the brown, gold, cream and cornflower blue colorwork of the hat he is knitting. She stands quietly and waits while he knits. When he comes to his gold marker he stops, places his right index finger on the marker, rests his work on his lap and turns in his seat to look up at her. 

     “That’s a Margaret D Walker, right?” she asks. She is looking at the fair isle colorwork in his hands. “What perfect colors you have chosen for this pattern,” she says. 

     “Thank you. But see,” and he holds up the piece for her to take. “But see—is it supposed to rumple this much? I mean, I know it will be smoother after I block it, but is it right that it rumples this much?” 

     Being careful to place her right index finger on his marker, she takes his work. He stands up and steps beside her. He is much taller and can look down at his work, now in her hands. She flips the work so that she can see the wrong side. Keeping her eyes on the work she speaks to him, “You have done a good job tacking your floats every three stitches, so that is not the cause of the rumpling,” she says.  She flips the piece back around. “The problem is you are not pulling back before you knit foreword.” 

     “Pulling back?”

     “Yes, do you mind if I knit a bit of this to show you?”

     “Please do.”

     The skin of her hands is too thin to fully contain blood vessels and the carpometacarpal joints at the base of her thumbs are flat where they should bulge, and bulged where they should be flat. She glances once more at his graph. Her fingers move octopus-style, each being controlled by its own brain. In her right hand, her throwing hand, she holds two strands of live yarn simultaneously. One is between her thumb and forefinger, and the other between her forefinger and middle finer.  After knitting about three inches she pauses. 

     “Okay it is now time to slide the knitted stitches down the needle. Mostly we take this hand movement for granted, because mostly our only goal is to make room for the next batch of stitches. Ah but that is not the case with fair isle. For colorwork that carries horizontally across the back, the goal is to stretch the carried yarn. The cause of your rumpling is that your carried yarn is too tight. Watch this.”

     Her right hand lifts off the needle for a moment in a needless flourish, then slowly she slides the stitches back. She speaks as her hands knit the next grouping of stitches. “Sometimes in life one must back up before going forward. This is one of those times. Think of if as pulling back on a bow before loosing the arrow. Or rocking a stuck vehicle backwards before driving foreword. Or apologizing before attempting to resume a relationship. Undoubtedly you can think of other examples.”

"I can actually," he says.

     Again her hands stop, and her right hand lifts off the needle, “Okay now watch." She rests her hands back down on the needle, "First back up, then go forward,” she says as she slowly slides the stitches back.

     After showing once more, she says “Now how about you try it,” and hands the work back to him. She picks the graph up from the table and points out, “This is where you are.” 

     “Perfect,” she says as he demonstrates the technique. "Just remember you must back up before you go forward.” 

     He thanks her. As she turns to leave, the hand knit shawl she is wearing is clearly visible—with its distinctive color blocks of gold and red. He rests his work on his lap and takes up his phone. He taps the Ravelry URL at the top of his address bar, and in a moment is studying Carissa Browning’s Wonder Woman Shawl. 

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