Monday, January 16, 2006

Inside the Mothership

My knitting has been steadily regressing in a disturbing Flowers for Algernon-like fashion. (I’m even screwing up garter-stitch scarves now!) I’ve always wanted to knit a sweater, but, frankly, I’ve been too spooked by the whole prospect of it and the tremendous opportunity for error, frustration, and mental breakdown every step of the way. When I saw that a class was being offered on knitting a super easy top-down sweater, I signed up. Unfortunately, the class is being held at a local yarn shop that bills itself as “the Mothership” of all yarn shops—a yarn shop that I try to avoid at all costs.

The Mothership is not in my good books, because of their niggardly return policy* as well as the fact that it is understaffed and is always jammed full of ultra high-maintenance customers. These unfortunate circumstances mean that I might spend 20 minutes just trying to hunt down a staffperson. If I do find a Mothership employee, he or she will inevitably be in the clutches of a customer who is describing her knitting project in excruciating and unnecessary detail, while the staffperson nods helplessly. I suppose, really, the only thing I can legitimately hold against the Mothership is the return policy, but even so, the night before the class I had an anxiety dream (how pathetic to get so worked up over a stupid class!). In my dream the class was being held in this claustrophobic room where they also keep their entire stock of needles and knitting books. The class was overbooked and I had to sit on the floor, constantly being trod on and jostled by customers traipsing in and out of the room.

The class was yesterday, and—my own fault—I arrived right when the class was starting instead of a few minutes early. Miraculously, I found a staffperson immediately and told her I was there for the class. She asked me if I was waiting for the top-down or the baby-sweater class. I told her the top-down class and she waved vaguely toward a huddle of people and told me to wait with them. After about 10 minutes, during which all I heard were snatches of conversation about baby sweaters, I asked one of the huddlers what the haybells we were waiting for. Turns out they were all waiting for the baby-sweater instructor to show up, but the top-down class had gone off somewhere right on schedule. Fuck! My opinion of the Mothership plummeted to an all-time low.

I stomped over to the register and shanghaied an employee right out from under another customer and asked him where the class was. To my surprise he abandoned the other customer and led me out of the shop, through an alley, and into an adjoining apartment building. All the while I groused in an exceedingly petty and sniveling manner about how I had been TOLD THE WRONG THING by another Mothership employee and now had missed precious class time. To his credit, he didn't let it faze him, and assured me that I hadn’t missed much. I lightened up a bit realizing I was being unfair, and that I had no right to take out my annoyance on him—since he had basically left someone else in the lurch to make sure I got to the class. I can be unreasonable at times.

I am happy to report that the room did not in any way resemble my anxiety dream. It was far from the madding crowd and there were chairs for everyone. The instructor welcomed me and told me they were just getting started. She was wearing the sweater we are all making, and I have to say it is not exactly the prettiest thing I have ever seen, but since I’m looking on this as the project that will determine whether I have any sort of future in knitting, I think it’s important not too attempt anything too tricky.

Everyone was in the process of knitting up a gauge swatch, so I tried to catch up. Still flustered, I ended up casting on incorrectly (just call me Charlie), and had to start over. My only solace was that the entire class consists of Nervous Nellies (and one Nervous Ned). None of us seems to have any confidence that in three weeks we will have a finished sweater--let alone something that we’d actually be able to wear in public. The instructor, though, is excellent. An encouraging, cheerful woman with infinite patience and a pleasant southern accent, she never tired of showing the same step over and over again to anyone who hadn’t gotten it the first time, which is to say, every single one of us.

At one point Nervous Ned announced that he would be bringing vodka to the next class and asked who wanted to bring cranberry juice. We all thought that sounded like a great idea. Of course, he was joking, but clearly we are all kind of wigging out about this. I mean, it’s not the end of the world if you bozo up your knitting, but knitting (and sewing) can be painfully frustrating, because if you do make an error it can usually be fixed, but only by ripping out the work you did (it could be hours of work), which, for me has a very negative effect on my psyche. It’s visual, tactile proof that you’ve just wasted a poopload of time.

When I got home from the class last night, after having completed the neck for the sweater, I had dinner and then I sat down to do a bit more work on the sweater. I promptly overturned a 16-oz glass of water. Most of the water went into my lap and onto the floor, but some of it splashed onto the WIP (work-in-progress). That certainly did not bode well. B gallantly leapt into action and mopped up the floor while I changed out of my wet clothes. I blotted the WIP dry, took a long hard look at it, and ripped the whole thing out. I was back to exactly where I was when I burst tardily into the classroom. I guess it was the right thing to do. The neckline had been knitted in some kind of stitch never before seen in any knitting circle known to man, and it looked like crap. I redid the neckline last night in a knit-1, purl-1 rib stitch rather than a broken rib stitch (which is what I had been attempting and failing at) and it turned out OK. I feel better about the project.

I admit that shortly after ripping out all my afternoon’s work, I seriously considered packing in knitting for good. I know that all knitters make mistakes and that there’s a learning curve, but some people definitely have more of an aptitude for knitting than I do. For example, there are people who knit amazingly beautiful and complex garments in no time at all--while watching TV! I think it helps if you’re good with numbers and with conceptualizing spatial relationships. Every single aptitude test I’ve ever taken has shown that these are the feeblest areas of my intellect. And, of course, I have poor manual dexterity, which is surely another major hindrance. So it may be that I am only setting myself up for generous helpings of frustration by trying to knit a sweater or, in fact, knit anything. And if I get beyond some critical mass of vexation, I am going to hang up the whole thing and figure it’s not meant to be. Seriously, I’ve learned to play three different musical instruments, and it was a lot easier than learning to knit.

Still, I’m not quitting yet. I had intended to tackle the yoke of the sweater tonight, but it’s now after 9:30 PM, and I’m tired. I feel quite certain I’d be reduced to tears within the hour if I started a new (and terrifying) phase of the sweater right now. Instead, I think I’ll suggest to B that we watch an episode or two from the Mr. Bean DVD he got from the library. Broad, slapstick humor is exactly what is needed right now. Thought: What would something that had been knitted by Mr. Bean look like? Possible answer: Exactly like something that I had knitted! OK. I’m kidding. By the way, here’s some trivia if any of you are Mr. Bean fans. If you’ll recall, the show’s theme is a churchy medieval-sounding thing sung in Latin by a boys’ choir. The lyrics are:

Ecce homo qui est faba, which translates to “Behold the man who is a bean.” Isn't that the most hilarious thing ever?

*They do not allow you to return unused, still-in-its-sleeve yarn that you purchased more than three months ago. This policy has left me stuck with well over $50 of perfectly good yarn—yarn that, maddeningly, I happen to know is in high demand. They won’t even exchange it for store credit!


Post a Comment

<< Home