I Love a Good Yarn

Yarns, stories, and sometimes stories about yarn

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Knitting Etymology

The good folks at Merriam Webster are featuring an article on the origin of knitting terms. It’s a really fascinating read. I admit to being just as much of a language geek as I am a yarn geek, so this plays to two big areas of interest. You may know what each of the terms means in knitting, but do you know how long it’s been used in the knitting context? Or what its original meaning was? Take for example:

  • The earliest written use of the term garter stitch comes from the 1840 Scottish book entitled The Lady’s Assistant for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crochet work
  • The word lace has a Latin origin meaning snare. It was in Henry VIII’s time that it came to be known at the ornamental cording and braids on men’s coats. Back then, this ornamentation was made by a technique called cutwork embroidery, where holes were cut into fabric and then embroidered to keep them from fraying or ripping
  • Angora rabbits = angora wool. Angora goats = mohair. The word angora is derived from the place where the angora rabbit breed was thought to have originated – Ankara, Turkey

There’s lots of other fun stuff in the article, and this is Merriam Webster’s second installment of knitting terms. Its first installment, A Ravel of Knitting Words: The whimsical and historical world of knitting termsoffers similar gems.

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Why don’t you go do something constructive?

I remember hearing that a lot as a kid – “Why don’t you go do something constructive?” It was at the same time a reprimand to get out from underfoot or stop watching so many cartoons as it was an effort on mom and dad’s part to mold me into a productive individual. It’s great advice, and I wish I had heeded it even earlier in life.

My early crafty experience was not that satisfying. My grandmother taught me some simple crochet stitches when I was quite young, but I don’t believe I ever finished that scarf I started. In home economics class in junior high school I learned basic sewing skills. Again, I think I completed a pillow case and then had my grandmother take over when the skirt and shirt I attempted had frustrated me and I lost interest.

About 17 years ago I learned how to knit. I was living in Stuttgart, Germany, at the time. I had made the move for a job that sounded more interesting than what I had been doing in New York City, and I welcomed both the adventure of moving overseas and the opportunity to use some of what I’d picked up when studying German through college and grad school. And it was a fun adventure at times. But it was also a bit lonely, as I moved there only knowing a handful of executives from my office – not really the kind of folks who were going to call me up on a weeknight and ask if I’d care to go out for a beer.

A colleague I became friendly with brought her knitting to the office to work on at lunchtime. At first I’d thought it oddly quaint – someone around my age doing something so matronly as knitting. But then I’d see her wearing these gorgeous garments, which only weeks earlier had seemed, at least to me, a perplexing jumble of yarn and needles in her hands. She agreed to teach me, gifted me some leftover yarn from various projects and a pair of extra needles, and off I went, filling the boring nights in front of the TV with something productive.

I still have that first, misshapen, too-colorful scarf I made out of my colleague’s remnants. I wear it with great joy. Even get some compliments on it. Though she and I are no longer in touch, I’ll be forever grateful that she introduced me to what’s become a major passion in my life.

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Getting started

Today’s a good day to start a new blog. I’ve abandoned two others. I never knew exactly what my niche should be. All the blog experts say you’ve got to have a niche, be an expert in some area, provide some expertise no one else can, develop your brand, etc. None of that ever worked for me. I love to travel, but I didn’t want to write a travel blog. Music, writing, knitting, exploring all that my home state has to offer, cats, good food, photography … I have hundreds of interests, but wouldn’t claim to be an expert at any. I’m not a brand. I’m not trying to sell anything. But I do like writing about what makes me happy. What keeps me from whiling away too many hours in front of the TV or scrolling the endless news feeds. Despite what you may have heard of late, there are positive things going on in the world, and that should be our focus. Keep the less-than-positive influences in check, to be sure, but don’t let them become a too-constant presence.

I do love a good yarn. I love knitting with it as a way to create something tangible and beautiful. I love reading it as a way to relax and stimulate at the same time. I love that yarns can be both creative inspiration and medium. When you spin them, they can be captivating and meditative, tangled and knotted. I’m excited to have another try at spinning mine.