I always wanted to be one of those people who creates beautiful objets d’art. I have tried painting, quilting, photography, knitting, and most recently collage. I can see the end products so clearly in my mind, but something always goes awry in the execution. It is probably because I do everything the same way — a quick first draft and then edit,edit, edit. That works OK with writing and even oil painting, but not much else. My watercolors are often disastrous. My oils are better, but I know I will never be a great painter. I thought I stood a chance with knitting. All you have to do is follow a pattern. So, I bought a book and taught myself to knit. That first year I went crazy and made sweaters for everyone. This was about 25 years ago. I was young and naive and knew nothing about the world of fiber. I knit most everything out of synthetic yarn.
In my 20′s I stayed up late one Christmas Eve finishing an ambitious cabled number for my dad.
In hindsight, I’m pretty impressed with the fit and I may have actually used cotton here. In my next knitting phase I fixated on cats (this theme was also quite prevalent in my early decorating attempts). This sweater was for my little cousin. She agreed to wear it at least this once.
Kind of cute, for a five year old. You can see the sleeves are a bit baggy. I was encouraged and set out to create my masterpiece – a giant cat faced sweater that I made for myself. I splurged on some tweed (but still synthetic) yarn. I have one major problem with knitting – everything I make comes out too short and too wide. I am what they call a loose knitter. This particular cat sweater turned out so wide that it was a perfect maternity sweater. Years later, my teenaged son discovered it in my closet and thought it was so hilarious he wore it for ugly sweater day. Here he is wearing it as a joke to a recent family party.
After making everyone a Christmas gift, I didn’t pick up a knitting needle for over a decade (I think my brother was relieved that I quit before I got to him). Suddenly, a few years ago, everyone around me spontaneously started knitting. They were mostly making scarves – but the yarns were beautiful. I was inspired and ready to start up again.
Out of the blue we were then transferred to London. Desperate to make friends, I joined an international women’s group and their Stitch and Bitch knitting group. I had skills, I reasoned. They would never suspect I hadn’t knit in ages. I emailed the leader and took a bus to her large home in Maida Vale. The group turned out to be mostly American moms of senior girls at the American High School.
For my first project I brought a solid scarf that I was knitting in what I assumed to be a complex stitch (it was a simple seed stitch, they told me). I quickly realized that I was out of my league. They were all piecing together mohair cardigans or 12 row lace pattern pashminas.
I also soon learned that I had stumbled into an enclave of the super wealthy. A friend told us before we moved that we, the corporate expats, would be the poor people at the American School. I couldn’t believe it, but we were. These knitters were all married to hedge fund types. These were mostly east coast prep school grads. Their husbands were Ivy Leaguers. The host was a lovely woman, named Gillian. Gillian owned an old home in Maida Vale just a few doors down from Jude Law. (Try as I did, I never got a glimpse of Jude. I did see a sports car occasionally parked behind the iron gate.)
Gillian was always very nice to me. The other ladies said hello but no one had much interest in me. I must have been giving off middle class vibes or something. I tried to toss in a few relevant tidbits into their conversation, but eventually just stuck to listening. My knitting was subpar and I was never accepted as an equal in this group, but I could not tear myself away from their conversations. These conversations were limited to three topics – college selection, school fundraising and travel.
College selection conversations usually took up an hour of every meeting. As I only had a freshman, I was interested but not obsessed. Laura was a blonde woman from the Boston area. Her husband did something in banking (of course). She went to Harvard, a fact she managed to squeeze into every conversation. Currently she was busy traveling the world and getting her academically mediocre son into a top college. They were exploring these small east coast liberal arts schools that I never heard of. Tragically, she was not able to get him into an Ivy or little Ivy in spite of his promise in crew. As we Midwesterners tend to go Big 10, I foolishly asked why they never looked at state schools.
“Our kids don’t go to public school.”
I didn’t know quite how to react to that. Laura and I actually both had engineering degrees. Laura saw the look of horror on my face at her public school comment and was compelled to explain that, as they were expats, they did not qualify for in-state tuition, so really what was the point of a state school?
As the American School had roughly one counselor per two students, these kids all got into amazing east coast schools that midwestern kids can only dream of.
Another endless topic was fundraising for the High School. As we all paid a fortune for tuition I could not quite understand why they needed more money, but I had learned not to ask stupid questions. There was an annual auction to raise funds. This year the elementary school kids made a quilt and one of the parents bought it, for $50,000.
“$50,000?” I choked on my Earl Grey.
Laura looked at me in disgust. “It was exquisite.“
I’m sure it was. I learned it was bought by a parent who also made annual donations in excess of $1 million.
The third topic of conversation was travel. These women had seen it all. Western Europe had been exhausted ages ago. Eastern Europe was old news. They had moved on to Africa, India and the Middle East. They flew to Dubai to buy jewelry. They did the type of safaris you imagine Prince William and Kate doing. Most of them had been expats for over a decade and had no intention of going back to America. They were so frustrated by their stateside relatives. They hated even going home for the holidays. These relatives just didn’t want to hear any more about all the good lives they were leading, and (as I knew) it was very hard for them to find anything else to talk about. As I was still excited by taking the train to Paris, I didn’t not share my adventures with them.
I moved back to the States after a year and found a lovely new knitting group – one with people who had normal incomes and kids who went to public school. One thing hasn’t changed — I am still the worst knitter in the group. Here is what the rest of the group produced:
Here is an ensemble I created for me and my dog. I don’t think Chelsea loves hers.
I am actually happy with these. Most of my items, however, look more Ray Rayner than Martha Stewart. I once splurged on about 30 skeins of blue yarn with the intention of making an afghan (why are they called that?). I hated the afghan and ripped it out. I have tried to rework the yarn into many things. I finally decided to make a simple shawl with the last bits. Sadly, I ran out of the blue yarn before I hit the ruffle. I decided to just tack on some black. Bad idea:
I don’t have the energy to rip this out again. This yarn is cursed. On to my next project – a striped sweater. Perhaps in the next year or two I will actually finish and post the results.