Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Stash Skirt

My knitting skills develop in fits and starts. Sometimes I only want to make easy and mindless scarves, then I’ll wake up one day and select the most complicated pattern and the most finicky yarn. The stars must have aligned on the day that little voice inside demanded that I learn to knit on circular needles. It wasn’t difficult, although I still don’t believe you can just knit and get stockinette. I mean, I see it happening, but I don’t understand it exactly: it’s like Leap Year—I don’t get it, but I go along with the experts and it seems to work out ok.

Part of the little-voice demand came from the kind of infatuation for a glossy photo that I have not experienced since propping up a Shaun Cassidy album cover on my nightstand so I could look at it while I fell asleep. Our crushes are a little different as grown women...I was obsessing over the skirt in Greetings From Knit CafĂ©. It is scarcely a pattern, more like an equation: you figure it out based on who it is meant to fit. The seamlessness also appealed to me because I’m not great at “finishing” or sewing pieces together. And it is the easy mindless scarf of circular needles—you just knit around and around and around, which I did mostly during my younger daughter’s ballet class. I even used the aloe-coated yarn from Brooks pharmacy, which I bought just so I could say, “I bought yarn at Brooks.” (If it has aloe, it must be medicinal.)

Things I loved about the skirt in the photo, the inspiration I wanted to emulate:

  • kooky and colorful—it is one of a kind, no color combination is wrong, novelty yarns appear, some of them fuzzy

  • you get to “design” it yourself—patterns are only a suggestion for me anyway, and I love something that is constantly changing throughout the process, so the designing choices continue all the way through

  • stripes—I love stripes! Random stripes! Unexpected combinations!

  • use what you have knitting—STASH REDUCTION! very important: it frees up storage space including the kind in your soul, where guilt used to hang out

  • free—since I didn’t buy any yarn and I used up my stash, and we all know Nature Abhors a Vaccuum (only slightly more than I abhor a vaccuum)...I can buy more yarn!

In that spirit, I went and knit a tube of amazing color collusion the likes of which the world has never seen. It didn’t fit either daughter, but it looked great. Except for know what’s coming next...hundreds HUNDREDS! of ends!

That is the price you pay for all those random stripes.

The poor forsaken thing sat like a dirty dishrag on a bookshelf, smooshed in with the Stash—almost like the Stash wouldn’t let go of its own. Sometimes the skirt would try to make a break for it and leap off the shelf, and I would, no lie, kick it back into the recesses of the bookcase. So ashamed. Later I’d try to make up with it and tell it I loved it. “C’mon let’s go buy you something pretty.”

Then one day, just as mysteriously as the urge to start the project appeared, the little voice demanded that I sew in the ends right now. It was a long snowy afternoon by the fire, the kids were laughing at the TV...there are worse ways to spend the day. And all the ends were in. It didn’t kill me. I repeat, it did not kill me.

It just proves to me, again, that no amount of guilt or “shoulding” can make me do something one second before I’m darn good and ready. And I know two little leaves who are not falling far from the tree (the second little leaf grew just enough while the skirt was “resting” and now it has a proper owner).

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Gerry Ruddy

---by Pat Richards

In my world, rural New York, in the sixties…knitting yarns---a limited color range of worsted-weight Red Heart yarn---nestled among the sewing notions and camphor balls in Newberry’s basement could be matched to the pattern you had selected in Workbasket.

Lacking a knitting store or knitting circle, I would lug my project to Lorrayne’s beauty parlor located further down Main Street.

Lorrayne and I would swap patterns and unsnarl the mysteries of those confusing directions to the sound of the whirring dryers.

When all else failed, Lorrayne would say, “I’ll ask Gerry Ruddy; she will be in on Thursday.”

Gerry Ruddy was the fount of all wisdom. She owned needles in every size…knitted and crocheted complicated patterns in all weights of yarn. She owned a Mary Maxim catalog.

Strangely enough…we seldom asked Gerry. Most of the time the relinquishment of the problem allowed one or the other of us to find the answer.

For close to forty years, I’ve purchased patterns and problematic instructions and tagged them…Ask Gerry Ruddy!

Sometimes I’ve failed to make the project. Other times, I’ve figured out the next step as I knitted along.

About a year ago, I was thinking about trying a new pattern but the cost of the yarn and the complexity of the repeat gave me pause.

So, I asked Lorrayne, “Do you think Gerry Ruddy could teach me this sequence?”

Lorrayne shook her head. “Gerry is in the nursing home. Doesn’t come in anymore. She gave me her knitting needles.”

I tried to remember Gerry. I know I met her once.

A sturdy middle-aged woman…She had smiled, nodded her expertly pin-curled head in my direction and blushed as Lorrayne praised her skills.

Truly, I hadn’t paid close attention to the real woman. I hadn’t made the construct between the pleasant woman in the chair and the knitting guru in my fantasy.

Just recently, Lorrayne said, “Gerry Ruddy died.”

How could that be? Knitting goddesses don’t die.

Alas, it is not true. They disappear into another realm and take all that knitting knowledge with them.

Newberry’s is gone. The beauty parlor closed this week. An era has ended.

Innumerable fine knitters share their expertise on the web. Yarn shops dot the landscape. Patterns and yarn options abound.

But for me, Gerry Ruddy remains “the knitting goddess.”