Knitting, as an art or craft, has been around for a while. The earliest known knitted items were found in Egypt and are from about the eleventh century. But the origin of knitting as we know it is believed to be the Middle East, when Muslim knitters were hired by Spanish Christian royal families to knit clothing and other items for them. The pieces that have survived reflect a high level of skill. Some pieces have 20 – 23 stitches per inch! My eyes hurt just thinking about that!
Art projects have always been one of my favorite ways to spend time. I’m oblivious to what’s around me while I’m working on something, and the rest of my life takes a back seat. From ceramics to textiles, anything involving color captivates me.
I first taught myself to knit when I was ten years old. I found an instruction book in the library, used my allowance to buy a skein of yarn and a pair of size 8 needles, and sat down to learn. That was sixty years ago. There were many years when I didn’t knit, but I always came back to it.
About seven years ago, I started knitting bags and felting them. I used Brown Sheep wool yarns, the best I’ve found for that purpose, both for their eagerness to felt and for the amazing colors available. Moving along, I started learning about different fibers, and what they could do. I experimented not only with wool, but alpaca, llama, silk, and cotton. I discovered Malabrigo, Madeline Tosh, and other high end yarns of amazing colors and quality. I made shawls, sweaters, hats, and items inspired by Miss Fisher twenties style outerwear.
I even started using beads – what a joy!
While knitting doesn’t always satisfy the artist in me, it’s a great date with color and it’s a good way to mark time. This was how I spent the fourteen months between my time in Peace Corps in Mongolia and the start of my service in Macedonia.
I brought good yarn with me to Macedonia, along with all my needles and instruments. But somehow this yarn was never appropriate here. Even if I were to make something and figure out a way to block it, I couldn’t give it as a gift because no one here knows about this kind of care of knitted treasures, and most of them don’t knit at all, though their grandmothers did. Not to mention, these yarns aren’t available here. But shortly after I arrived at my site, I realized that I could make hats and mittens for refugee children.
A friend introduced me to a yarn store in Skopje near the old bazaar, where you can buy the highest quality of yarn available in Macedonia, that I know of. This yarn is similar to Encore in that it is an acrylic-wool blend, but it’s not as soft. I started buying this yarn, and knitting hats and mittens.
Other volunteers often talk about how Macedonians are usually late for agreed meetings, and that the unexpected keeps happening, leaving them waiting with nothing to do. I have rarely been inconvenienced by that because I take my knitting with me everywhere I go. During coffee breaks at school, I knit. While I’m waiting for people to show up, I knit. And all these knitted items are going to refugees and poor children. So it has become a secondary project. Win – win!
I also made hacky sack balls for teachers to use in the classrooms,
and a few pussy hats, when the need arose.
Soon after I arrived in Macedonia, I was told that if I sit and knit in a group, people will take offense, and think I am ignoring them. But I found that my teachers became accustomed to my constant knitting, and they really believed in my helping the refugees. Albanians have a history of taking in refugees, most notably during the Holocaust. True to that tradition, when I scheduled a trip to take the first batch of hats and mittens to the refugees in Gevgelija, the people here brought me boxes and boxes of winter clothes, coats, and blankets to take, too! There were 15 boxes in the end! And I have a dozen more awaiting the next trip.
During the fall, I had the idea to teach knitting to some students, not knowing if anyone would be interested, since it has been mostly abandoned. I invited the students in one of the 6th grade classes, students I had taught last year as 5th graders. To my surprise, eight students out of a class of ten signed up. Four boys and four girls have been working on their first projects since November. They are knitting scarves for themselves. They rarely miss a class. My idea was to teach them, so that they could take home their finished project so their grandmothers could see them. One student told me that she started a knitting project with her grandmother over the winter break. Success!
While I am knitting, I think a lot, and as time passes, and the project progresses, I emerge in a new place. Truly, knitting is a marker of time.
Meanwhile I’m packing up my best yarn to be used when I return to America.
If you want an interesting and entertaining short history of knitting, here’s your link: http://sheepandstitch.com/the-history-of-knitting-part-1-mysterious-origins/