The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s Christmastime again. No? Christmas isn’t until December? Clearly, you are not a crafter. If I let myself believe that Christmas is not until December, no one would get anything but gift cards from me. This weekend I went out and bought my first round of project-specific gift yarn. Already, I have a growing stack of quick little projects knit from my stash.

I always feel a little guilty giving people projects knit from my stash, actually. Almost half of the yarn that’s in there has either been bought on super deep clearance of given to me by other crafters who no longer wanted it. Last year, for example, my mother gave me a huge pile of red and gold Lion Brand Homespun that was meant to be turned into a Gryffindor scarf for my sister Cho. Mom hated working with the stuff and couldn’t bring herself to make a full scarf out of it. I took the yarn and with it the task. In my arrogance, I thought my medium of knitting would be better suited to the task.

Did you just hear that boom? That wasn’t thunder. It was the gods of knitting shaking with laughter.

I didn’t really need to use a pattern for the scarf, but I looked around for ideas to keep the edge from curling. I decided that the best advice was to knit the scarf in a tube, which means casting on twice as many stitches as you normally would in order to get a fabric that is twice as thick. It also meant knitting in the round, which is fine, but I’m a bit cheap when it comes to acquiring new tools. The most suitable needle in my case was a circular two sizes smaller than the recommended gauge for the yarn. “No problem,” I thought. I often knit with smaller-than-recommended needles because I like to make toys and the tight fabric is good for keeping the stuffing in.

In my mind, as I cast on, this scarf was going to be the easiest project I was doing that year. I mentally started planning ahead for more difficult projects because this one just wasn’t going to fill up enough time. I also started thinking about what else I should give Cho. After all, I had gotten the yarn for free, and this scarf was going to be so simple that it hardly seemed like a gift fit for a beloved sister.

The knitting gods are laughing again.

First of all, let me tell you something: eighty stitches for a bulky-yarn scarf is just too darn many. Forty stitches is too many, but I didn’t want to skimp on the width. This scarf was for my sister, after all. Let me tell you something else: two sizes too small is a bad idea with LB Homespun, especially if you normally need a size up to meet gauge because you knit with high tension like me. And one more thing: remember that the wider you make a scarf, the longer you’ll want to make it to give it proper scarfly proportions.

Three rows measured about half an inch and it took me 45 minutes to knit that far. (I measure my progress by how much  I get done during a typical t.v. show). I was working stockinette stitch, which means that my slowness was not a matter of getting used to the stitch. There was no getting used to that darn yarn. It split at every opportunity. It clung to other stitches. Stitches slipped off the needles every time I turned my back and hid stealthily amidst the curly refuge of the fabric. I am not a swearing person most of the time, but I believe a sailor could learn a lesson or two from what I had to say to that scarf. And did I mention I was working in stockinette stitch? In the round? Stitches, stitches everywhere, and not a single purl. Or increase. Or decrease. Or yarn over. Not only was it difficult…it was BORING.

John and I took to calling it the “Hateful Scarf.” I pulled out my ruler every few rows and wanted to cry every time I had to keep working in the same color. I began to worry about giving the scarf to my sister. How could something knit with so much venom towards the yarn ever be trusted to lie docile around my dear sister’s neck? Would the ill-will I bore Lion Brand at that moment rise up to strangle my sister on some evil skating trip? I tried saying nice things to the scarf as I knit, bottling up the vengeful wrath to be released out-of-range of the scarf’s hearing.

The only thing that kept me from frogging the project was thinking of the person I was making it for. This row is for the time we performed the execution scene from A Tale of Two Cities on the landing at school when we thought no one was around and earned ourselves a funny look from a history teacher. This row is for the time we sang “The Boxer” at the top of our lungs in the hall behind the P.A.C. This row is for being the first person to bring a Harry Potter book into our home. This is for the scratch we put in the basement ceiling while fencing with and umbrella and a music stand. This is for the story she wrote about alien banana invaders. This row is for the light bulb she gave me for graduating high school. And finally…these tassels are for the spiders I woke her up in the middle of the night to kill and the hundred times I went into her room to borrow the dictionary and stayed three hours, distracting her from your schoolwork.

When I tied off the last tassel and lifted the scarf from my blocking mat, all I could think was, “It’s huge.” I didn’t make a scarf to fit Harry Potter. I made a scarf to fit Hagrid…or possibly his giantess mother. This soft monster could bring mere mortals to their knees with nothing but it’s cozy hug. My sister is no fainting flower, but she wouldn’t exactly meet the height standards of the NBA either. At that point, as close to Christmas as we were, I just shook my head and sighed. It might strangle her or break her back, but I knit the serpentine beast and darn it, she was going to wear it and like it. (Though I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out it was teaching her Parseltongue.)

Thankfully, Cho is either a really good actor (um, yeah, no) or she loved the scarf in spite of its enormity. Possibly because of it. Possibly because she has an instinctive understanding of what went into the blasted thing.

Creating such monuments to my familial devotion, you now see, would be entirely impossible if Christmastime started after Thanksgiving. If I give you nothing but socks for Christmas, know that each sock represents 6-8 hours of contemplating everything I love about you, all of which compelled me to turn a heel and graft a toe. Twice. (If you only get one sock, of course, you might want to sit and think about what you’ve done.) In a way, I think homemade presents are a blessing to the maker as well, because they put us in the holiday spirit of love and kindness several months earlier. There’s a New Year’s resolution for you–want to keep Christmas all the year? Pick up knitting.

Now if you’ll pardon me, I need to see some yarn about an elephant.


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