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  • Ninay Desai

My Tryst with Knitting

As a child, I wore a fair number of sweater sets knitted by my mother to match with most of my clothes. I loved watching her knit and the pattern books were enigmas with their codes like p2tog, k4 and yo. To my five-year-old self, it seemed like stuff I would never understand. On a winter day a few years later, when I was around 10 or 11, I asked my mother to lend me some of her leftover wool and a pair of needles. I was given a small ball of mousy brown thin yarn with size 12 needles and Mom taught me two stitches – knit and purl.

Star Stitch patterned scarf
A star stitch scarf from year two or three of Project Knit!

I like you and so, I’ll spare you the unabridged account of my miserable first attempt at knitting that winter, except to say that the stitches were usually being taken off the needle and unravelled into their original form more than anything else. I was a pathetic knitter. What’s worse, I was persistent. Over the next four or five years that small ball of yarn went from mousy brown and thin to mousier greyish-brown and thinner thanks to my repeated attempts at knitting something. I wasn’t ambitious enough to decide in advance what I was knitting. Instead, I intended to accept graciously whatever chose to reveal itself! By the end of it, that blighted ball of wool had seen more steam (to straighten out kinks) than most saunas!

Tweedy eyelet pattern

Then some ten or twelve years ago, I decided to try my hand at it again. With the non-judgmental support of YouTube. It was a crisp winter in Delhi and my mother was in town, on her annual visit. I’m sure she was less enthused than I was by my renewed interest in knitting. This time I was a lot more decisive in my plans. I would knit a scarf. After all, even I couldn’t mess that up. So, I thought. I picked a pattern, jotted it down on paper for reference, bought three skeins of midnight blue yarn, a few knitting needles and off I went. It wasn’t a smooth journey. I dislike making mistakes and had picked a pattern where a mistake would be visible even to an untrained eye. In what was not a surprise to anyone with a grasp of the inevitable, much ripping and restarting ensued. But eventually, I had a muffler to show for it. I promptly gifted it to a friend who appeared, by all accounts, to be pleased with it.

And so, almost every winter I pick out a new pattern and knit a scarf. I suppose you could say that knitting is on a seasonal repeat for me like the repeat rows in all knitting patterns. There are howls of frustration when I make a mistake, followed by attempts to rectify the error. If that fails, I head to my mother (if she’s in town), a much better knitter, to help rescue the situation. When all else fails, I always choose to rip the scarf than overlook a dropped stitch or a mismatched design.

Knitting, for me, is about focussing enough on something constructive so as to reach a mindful state. Like when you’re meditating, focusing on your breath or the sounds outside the window - be it the whistling wind, the patter of rain or even the dull buzz of traffic in the distance. Before you realise it, your mind rises above the thing you’re concentrating on, to a cloud of just being at peace with what you’re doing. That’s why I knit. I can't phrase it better than Elizabeth Zimmerman, the British-born knitting teacher and designer who revolutionized the modern practice of knitting through her books, when she said,

“Properly practised, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either.”

The repetitive actions that are part of any handicraft bring about an atmosphere of mindfulness and calm. Everything else is a happy by-product. Whether that be the fact that I can challenge myself, little by little, by trying a slightly more complex pattern each time or that I can gift friends and family a hand-made gift which makes up in charm and warmth what it may lack in finesse.

Diagonal lace stitch scarf
The diagonal lace stitch is not for the faint-hearted beginner!

It’s rewarding to create something that you can hold in your hands. We live in a world where many beautiful things have been subsumed into the ether as bits and bytes - letters written on airmail have become emails, books are on kindle and music that used to be on mixed tapes is now part of Spotify playlists. Knitting, pottery or embroidery feel almost anachronistic nowadays. Perhaps, that’s makes them so therapeutic.

It's a truism that there is no luxury greater than having something custom-made for you. I would add to that. Custom-made with love is the kind of luxury that isn’t available in stores, making it something to be cherished. And so, I knit.

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Jun 02, 2023

What a lovely read...filled my heart with warmth! keep knitting :)

Ninay Desai
Ninay Desai
Jun 02, 2023
Replying to

Thanks, Portia!

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