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Cool stuff! Techniques with Theresa Thinking beyond the pattern Travelling knitter
Patterns 102 Knitting is sexy Plant freak K vs B Sex & knitting

the newlywed knitters, Rachel and Kira
[photo courtesy Josh Klun]

It was a cool May night in northern California, and I was standing in front of an audience of about a hundred people, talking about knitting. It wasn't a craft fair and I wasn't teaching a class -- it was a wedding. A lesbian wedding, at that, and I suddenly found myself wondering if knitting was the topic I should be covering. Weren't there more sweet and sacramental angles to choose? I should discuss the meaning of the rings, or the trick to sticking together, through thick and thin. Of course, this advice would be coming from me, Professional Single Gal, so might not mean quite as much as it could.

But the two girls getting hitched were both knitters. And I had claimed them as friends through knitting; we had ribbed and cabled our way to loving each other. They were the people to whom I brought my dating sagas. We talked about sex and love and relationships over beers and various projects, and a thought struck me one night. Hey. Knitting is sexy.

Knitting is sexy. Well, admittedly, I don't consider the actual process of knitting a great turn-on. A person seated, holding two sticks and making the occasional monster face at a lump of yarn doesn't really make me hot and bothered. And the finished product, gorgeous as it may be, isn't all that steamy either. It's what the woman (or man) does with the finished product that's sexy. She holds it up against her. She shows her friends. She puts on a tee-shirt, if it's wool, and tries it on, or if it's something softer, it goes right against her skin. It fits her body. And if she's a new knitter, or if she likes a baggier style, it doesn't fit her body, but her shape is still suggested, just under the stitches that her fingers made. She's proud of it. She shows it off. She loves who she is inside it.

I think I first noticed the potential sexiness of knitting about a year ago. There was this girl. I saw her ad on PlanetOut, the gay and lesbian online personals, and she was cute. She was really cute, and I wanted to write to her. But I was still shy about the whole on-line dating thing, and I didn't think I could just respond blindly to a perfect stranger. Something about her ad stuck in my mind, though. (Well, the exact something was her crooked grin. I remember that.)

At that time, I was just starting to host a knitting group at the gay bar in Oakland near where I lived. While I walked to the bar that Sunday afternoon, my knitting bag under my arm, I kicked myself again for being too chicken to drop her a note.

At the bar, I set up. I brought my own lamps whenever we met, and I knew where the bar kept their extension cord. I also knew (but was sworn to secrecy) how to turn down the volume on the world's worst jukebox (stuffed with the heaviest of heavy metal; some jukebox vendor's idea of a gay bar joke). Sam, the bartender, had my beer on the counter before I asked.

I was always the first one to arrive. Women coming to a gay bar in the afternoon to knit tend to be very nervous the first time. I understood that. Heck, I was nervous the first time. There's nothing worse than sitting in dark bar alone, knitting, while a line of men on barstools cast interested looks over their shoulders. (It helps that they're interested in the knitting, not in you.)

That day, the people drifted in slowly, a couple at a time. The knitting talk started. Political positions were bandied. Then this gal walked in, threw a wad of red knitted fabric onto the high table, and said "Can someone please help me decrease the top of this stupid hat?"

It was crooked-grin girl. She was a knitter. She was at my knitting group. I was sunk. And it was what she had done with the knitting that got me. Oh, I wanted to help her decrease her top, all right....

I've been knitting for twenty-six years, since I was five, and it's never been cool before. I've had the nickname "Grandma" for as long as I can remember. Knitting has never felt sexy before this new era, and I'm nervous about its shelf-life. Fads come in and out, I know. I've seen it happen. I've been the victim of macrame plant-hangers and beaded bracelets and friendship bread.

But right now, knitting is all right. What's more, it's finally all right with the lesbian community. When I was in grad school at Mills College, a bastion of feminist forward-thinking, I would never have brought my needles onto campus. And that was only five years ago. At that point, knitting was still a patriarchal method of keeping the little woman in the house doing things for her man. Or so I was told on several occasions when I was uncouth enough to mention my craft in mixed company.

Wham! Suddenly, it became retro and hip, although it was tongue-in-cheek at first. Girls weren't knitting scarves for first projects, but bikinis, just to make a point. But a couple of them figured out that this knitting thing is kind of cool. And they told a couple of friends, who told a couple more, and the tongues came out of cheeks and got stuck firmly between teeth as they swore and cursed over ribbing that flared or stitches that ran. Under discussions of political candidates and landmark legal decisions and Buffy, there was a murmur of "knit two, slip slip knit, yarn over, knit two, damn it."

Last month I went camping with fifteen friends. We were in the hills of Santa Cruz, just miles from the ocean, surrounded by redwoods. The women were all strong and loud, all gay, and all sprung from the womb with firm opinions regarding just about everything. I was expecting to be teased. I just knew someone would make fun of me when I pulled out my knitting while other pulled out their cigarettes. And actually, they did tease. I was dubbed Knitchel pretty early in the weekend, and there were various discussions on whether the name sounded more like a kind of pastry or a kind of sauerkraut.

But they also did a bunch of sidling. Walking behind me to grab another log of firewood (sidle), they'd lean over my shoulder on the way.

"How do you do that without looking?"

"I've done it a long time."

"Are all those loops as important as all the others? What if you lose one?"

"Then you find it."

"Whatcha making?"

"A tank top."

"Can you make underwear?" Hardy har har. Guffaws of laughter.

Then, twenty seconds later, "Isn't it hard?"

Every time that last question was asked, it sounded plaintive. A little wistful. Every time I answered, I looked directly into the questioner's eyes and said, "No. It's not hard. You could learn, too."

Out of the fifteen of us, four were already knitters, although only two of us had brought projects. That's four more than would have admitted as much five years ago. Three expressed interest in learning. And in ten years? Will we all be knitting? Will the cigarettes and whiskey be shelved and tofu and soy silk be the only way to camp? (God, I hope at least the whiskey sticks around.)

Earlier this year, as I mentioned, I was asked by two of my close girlfriends to be one of several officiants in their marriage celebration. I've known Kira and Rachel for years. They were originally friends of my little sister, but they latched on to me when they heard I was a knitter (I pictured my name being tossed around in the underground yarn tunnels: There's a lesbian in Oakland. We've heard she knits. We've heard she might cross the bridge. We'll keep you posted..")

Theirs was the first knitting group I ever attended. Their gathering always had a healthy blend of gay and straight men and women. And they made the best guacamole this side of El Paso.

As an officiant, I was only expected to speak for two or three minutes about their relationship and what I knew of it. The way my brain works, it all comes back to fiber. So that's what I talked about. I talked a little about who I was and then somehow segued into:

"Kira's a knitter like me," I said. "She loves the fancy things, the ribbon yarns and lots of lace and eyelets and fancy cables. But Rachel's style is much cleaner and simpler. She wouldn't wear a lace camisole if you held a gun to her head. So Kira makes the simpler patterns for Rachel, the miles and miles of boring stockinette that numbs the mind but make her girl's eyes shine. She knows what Rachel needs and wants, and provides it."

I could see Rachel squeeze Kira's hand.

"And Rachel's more like my little sister. They knit because they're along for the ride. They like to knit, sure. But they're not crazy for it. One night Rachel pulled something out of her bag that looked a little fancier than her normal things. It turned out that she had lost one of Kira's gloves, and because she loves her, was re-knitting her a pair, even though she would have rather been doing something simpler, something easier. She knows what Kira needs and wants, and provides it."

I'm not sure if the non-knitters in the audience got it, but the girls did. Their hugs told me they understood what I was trying to say. I'd been witnessing their love-in-action for years, with every knitted item they made each other. It was gorgeous. It was kind.

And more than that, it was love.

Now, that's sexy.



Rachael Herron is a freelance writer who supplements her yarn habit by working 911 dispatch.

She lives in Oakland with her two cats and can often be found running around Lake Merritt, wishing she were knitting instead. You can reach her at Yarn-A-Go-Go.