Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why Hannah Knits (From Freelance Writer to Full-Time Fiber Addict)

Sorry it's been so long since my last post! Between my consulting work and chronic fatigue syndrome, I've been feeling pretty run down and uninspired. But even though I haven't been writing (my own stuff...I do plenty of writing for others), I've been knitting a lot! And when I'm not knitting, I can usually be found reading about knitting, talking about knitting, buying yarn/needles/books for knitting, designing ideas for future knitting projects, or (lately) learning to spin on a drop spindle.

It's a strange thing, having CFIDS/FM and longing to knit all of the time. For one thing, it's a lesson in patience and self-control, because when I knit too much my wrists and hands start to hurt quite a bit. People with CFIDS/FM are very prone to carpal tunnel syndrome (or repetitive stress syndrome). Nevertheless, I reach for my needles as often as I can, using any and all methods for preventing hand and wrist pain. What IS it about this particular fiber arts technique that so easily turns into an obsession?

Well, there's the shopping, of course, which appeals to material girls and capitalists. I guess I fall into those categories from time to time. I sure intend to fall into them during the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival this year! But there's more to knitting than hoarding yarn and pattern books/magazines.

For me, it started with the ugliest pink yarn and some Boye aluminum 14" U.S.10 needles. And a pretty good little "teach yourself how to knit" booklet--all of which I bought at Joann Fabrics by Coventry Mall near Pottstown, Pa. I had just left one of the best jobs I ever had, working as a reporter on the police beat.

I covered three counties with more than a dozen police departments. God, it was fun! Murders, drug raids, and the like. And running around with CMERT (Chester and Montgomery Emergency Response Team, the tri-county region's "SWAT" unit). The cops were so incredibly nice to me, and I enjoyed every minute I spent working with them, talking with them, and writing their amazing stories.

But nothing lasts forever. I fell in love and lost my "edge" and became less interested in running out into the darkness where who-knew-what might happen. Suddenly I really cared about being alive and well, much more than I had before I met my one -and-only. Also, my health started to suffer, probably from the continual adrenaline generated by my job and by some other icky stuff going on in my life at the time. I had surgery to remove my gall bladder, developed an ulcer, and just generally felt horrible all the time. Of course, no one in that area is likely to diagnose patients with CFIDS/FM--it's too out of the ordinary. I needed a fabulous D.C. physician (Dr. Alan Pocinki) to finally, and definitively, do that.

Another paper offered me a job, making about 30% more money, so I accepted it and left my beloved beat (which has suffered at the hands of questionable successors ever since, in my opinion). But I hated working at the new paper, with its silent newsroom and surly staff. And even more, I HATED working a municipal beat. It was awful and boring. Every time the scanner started to buzz, I'd long to run out and cover the police beat, but it wasn't mine to cover. After two weeks of long commutes and depressing workdays, I thankfully quit.

So here I was, a writer out of work. Chris, my husband, suggested I finally move into full-time freelancing, which we'd both talked about doing. At first it was hard, building structure into my days, trying to find work and develop stories. On one of my earliest assignments I managed to total my pickup truck while crossing an icy bridge, injuring my previously injured neck. This left me not only out of work, but without transportation, as well. Dark times.

One day, though, Chris told me to take his car. He never let anyone drive it--it was almost brand new at the time. But he urged me to take it and go out, to have some fun... So I did. And then I did it again, and again. Until, one day, I found myself in Joann Fabrics (I've always loved textiles) holding some pink yarn, cold needles, and a knitting book. I had about $10 that day--enough to cover my purchases.

I took them home and, about two days later, began teaching myself how to knit. At first it was hard... all of my fingers felt like left thumbs, the needles seemed to fight back, and the yarn wouldn't stay where I needed it to stay. But I managed to cast on and to knit a few rows of garter stitch. After that, the bag of knitting stuff sat untouched for about two months.

My freelancing started to pick up and I did a lot of reading in my spare time. This was fine for a while, but as the weeks wore on I started to realize that my whole life was about words. Reading words, writing words, talking words. It was depressing. I knew I needed to do something that was the polar opposite of writing (I already worked out for more than an hour every day, so I was looking for something less strenuous). After a few crying spells I found myself reaching for the knitting bag again, determined to give it another try.

With the book opened to the page where I'd left off, I picked up the needles and continued knitting my garter stitch strip. But something wasn't right... when I did what the book said, my stitches looked strange, not like before. I studied the stitches and the photos and suddenly it dawned on me--I had instinctively picked up the yarn in my left hand instead of my right. Since I've always been pretty ambidextrous, it wasn't a shock. Actually, it was more of a revelation: I was a Continental Knitter!

That was it. I was off and knitting and never really looked back. Of course there were times when I did more and times when I did less, but I was well and truly hooked, despite the fact that the only yarn available in the area came from WalMart and Joann's. But I made the best of it, and churned out "Lion Brand Homespun" scarves with the best of 'em. It wasn't until we moved to D.C. that I finally got to shop in a real live yarn store...

(Story to be continued another day.)

To get the image of that original skein of pink acrylic yarn out of my head, I'll post some pictures of two of my favorite, long-finished knitting projects. These are among the very few I've actually kept for myself and worn (and worn, and worn)...

This is Katja (and Maggie in the background), wearing a scarf I knit out of the most beautiful variegated shade of Bunny, from Tahki/Stacy Charles:

And here is my first pair of fingerless gloves (one of my favorite items to make). The pattern was in Vogue Knitting's K.1 magazine. They recommended Lion Brand Microspun, which actually IS nice and soft and drapey, but I made these in a really luscious eggplant color from Karabella 8:

So, there you have it. A new post. And another one due sooner than you might think... Thanks for reading, and for passing along word of this blog to other knitters and fiber lovers! And, hey, feel free to comment! It's pretty quiet, writing here all by myself...