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The Mast-Head: Tangled Up in Yarn

Wed, 01/06/2021 - 16:46

There probably were better moments than this for me to take up knitting. Yet here I am.

It takes 10,000 hours to reach mastery of a complex skill, the author Malcolm Gladwell observed in his best-selling book “Outliers.” Though that view has been debunked, to a degree, there is no question that practice is critical. I am here to tell you that 10,000 hours does not seem nearly enough.

It was with my daughter Evvy’s encouragement that I started. She made it look easy. Christine Clark at Black Sheep Knitworks had shown her how to make good stitches, and off she went, watching TV on her phone while sitting on her bed and knitting. She went further, teaching herself how to crochet and making a life-size yarn banana with a removable peel for a friend who likes bananas. Meanwhile, I struggled and struggled and struggled some more.

I say that there might have been better times to start a new craft because on top of the pandemic and the newspaper, I bought a 40-year-old sailboat in need of some love last year. And, having realized a to-do list was too ambitious, instead wrote a new list: “Things Half-Done.” Such is the D.I.Y. curse.

A low point in my nascent knitting career came just after Christmas, when, taking my usual spot on the couch with the dogs, I noticed that someone, Evvy, had taken my practice ball of light-green acrylic yarn and begun knitting a neat square. And by neat, I mean neat; each stitch was as long as its neighbor, the sides were parallel. To me, it looked like it had been made by a machine. I picked it up where she left off.

Not long after, I dropped it in frustration. Where her work had been orderly, to be honest mine did not even look like knitting. Stitches could be discerned here and there, but it appeared more of an abstract mass — picture a smooth vase with a spray of brambles and wildflowers coming out of it, or maybe, if I turned it over, a jellyfish with my work the indefinable form of its tentacles.

My tangle was so complete that I could not unravel it and cut the sad thing free. But I started again. And again. I have two rows now that look okay. I’ll just need 9,999 hours more with my hands free.


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