Yarn Empowerment & Plain Cowl Pattern

For anyone who has ever attended YAG (Young Adults Group at St. Timothy’s church), you know that somehow, over the course of the year since we formed, our time together centers around three things – nerdy discussion, tea, and yarn.

Out of the four to seven regular attendees, three of us knit and crochet. And I’m usually the only other female present. It’s awesome. We go back and forth about which would be worse: starting a knitting club for straight men only, or starting an outreach to gay men through knitting.

Poor Zerg (a.k.a. Bruce, though his actual name is Russell; don’t ask) was one of the non-knitters. He would trek faithfully to the group, participate in the nerdy discussion (which was often way over my head), except when we found ourselves talking about knitting vs. crocheting, where the best yarn stores are, or our plan to turn the church grounds into an alpaca farm. At first all this fiber kinda freaked him out, I think, and he vowed never to touch the stuff. We didn’t push the subject (I think), but somehow, over many months, he started wearing down. I don’t know how much rapturous gushing about alpacas one can listen to before your fingers start itching. Finally, one day, he said, with an air of resignation deeper than Charlie Pace‘s at the end of Lost season 3 – “It’s inevitable. I’m going to start knitting.”

I was a little taken aback, though not displeased. No one (I think) pushed the subject for a while, until I asked him whether he’d started yet. He replied in the negative, saying he would need supplies and lessons, but repeated his statement of resigned acceptance. I took this as a good sign, and offered my services when he was ready. It was a couple of weeks later that *he* was bugging *me* about my promise for aid. Pleased that the moment was right, I came to YAG armed with the four manliest colors I could find and a new pair of bamboo needles (the only good metal 7’s they had at the store were lavender. unnacceptable in this case). Before twenty minutes were up, Zerg was swatching in garter stitch with the best of ’em.


And quickly discovered that he has a pretty darn good natural sense of spacial reasoning, despite my totally sucky teaching skills.

One of my favorite things about knitting is that it’s so empowering. (Doesn’t that sound like such a feminist word? I don’t mean it that way.) I have had the privilege of teaching a few of my friends how to knit, and despite myself (my instructions mostly consist of “no, just put it kinda over there” and “I don’t know how else to phrase it, just do it right!”), many of them are still at it. But I didn’t realize the real reward of teaching knitting until one day, when, on a whim, Seretha and I visited a LYS up in Sykesville called the Knitters Nest when we were out that way. Seretha had knit one scarf, knew how to knit and purl, and we were browsing together for something nice for her next project. (Start with the best. It actually makes you better.) We looked over the stunning samples and some of the more glamorous stuff, some crazy sock yarn and awe-inspiring lace. We were playing with at a knitted sample of entomology (a lacy shawl with beads that makes me blink hard) when Seretha announced, “I think I’d like to make something like that.”

I blinked a couple of times. “Uh.. you mean like… next?” Seretha replied in the affirmative. I sputtered a bit, mumbling something about “lace is difficult” and not quite knowing what to do, when I slapped myself. By golly, if she wants to knit lace, she can darn well knit lace. There are lace patterns at all levels of difficulty; all you need to learn is how to YO and a couple of decreases; with some help reading the pattern and a healthy bit of swatching, there’s no reason on earth she shouldn’t do that. I was just so stunned by her audacity that I forgot that doing something challenging and beautiful with your hands is what knitting is all about.

So, to put it simply – don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Knitting is simpler than it looks – always. Every new technique you learn brings mountains of versatility to your arsenal, and learning only one technique at a time, you will impress yourself with how quickly you advance. Don’t get me wrong; a project will bite you in the hind parts sometimes, no matter the relative skill level, and there is such a thing as biting off more than you can chew. (Hint: a king-size coverlet on size 2 needles is almost never a good idea. Unless maybe you’re in solitary confinement and they let you pick one thing to do. I’d pick that.)

But, after my lesson with Seretha in the yarn shop, I love it when new knitters get audacious. When Rachel, after 1.5 scarves, announced that she wanted to make herself a sweater. That can take some guts, especially if you’re a perfectionistic type. (If you’re an impulsive person who doesn’t mind wearing a hat that looked like you stood for a while under a tree full of pigeons, you may be asking yourself what my problem is.) So go for it.

This is what I told myself a few nights ago, when I sat in bed, ready to start a new project. I had finished the lace shawl and wanted something quick, simple, and colorful on big needles so I can start seeing faraway objects again. So I sat there with a ball of handpainted skein of a suri alpaca blend from our last vacation, determined to make a cowl, holding no pattern in my hands.

Now, I have to tell you – normally, I don’t even like cowls. I flip through knitting magazines, catch a glimpse of a cowl, and say, “that’s dumb looking.” I didn’t really think about it much until, standing in the Ladybug Yarn Shop in Dennis, MA, I picked up this skein of yarn. It was so expensive I knew I could only get one skein, but – holding it to my face, feeling the incredible floofy softness of suri against my cheek – I almost heard it whisper… cowl. Make me into a cowl. It didn’t even occur to me to disobey.

I had glanced in a book so I at least had a vague idea of what a cowl was shaped like, but aside from that, I didn’t really have any clue. I wavered in indecision for a brief moment, but I fortified myself with the memory of Seretha in the yarn shop, and cast on. My swatch was a lying brat, so it took me a few tries to get it the right size, but soon it was humming along cheerfully.


I knit the last row in the car on the way to church, finished binding off standing outside chatting, and had woven in and snipped off the ends and stuck it on my neck before we sat down.


I love it dearly. I’ve barely taken it off. I may wear it to bed.


You will not take it from me.


Ahem. Yarn: Suri Dream “Fidelio” by handpaintedknittingyarns.com. According to the label, it’s “Individually handpainted by Rex for Ladybug Knitting Shop” and its fiber content is “50% Alpaca / 4% Nylon / 22% Merino Wool” (The fact that it’s missing 24% of its content somehow just makes it more charming). Pattern: On size 24″ (or smaller) size 10 circulars, cast on 75 stitches. Purl 3 rounds, then knit ’till you run out of yarn. Then rip out five rows, purl 3 rows, and bind off using purls instead of knits. (This knitting then ripping then purling assures that you get your border while being assured that you used as much of this precious yarn as possible. I worked it out – it’s worth 6.2 cents a yard.)

Moral of the day: You can do anything.

(Caveat: this is to be applied only to fiber projects. I do not take responsibility for applying this motto to anything else, like, say, canning tomato juice. If you do this, you may find yourself awake at 2:30 a.m., peeling tomatoes and watching your sixth episode of Firefly. This is entirely your own fault.)


(Does anyone know what to do with a gallon and a half of tomato juice?)

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