Alpaca and Angel Tears: In which I (reluctantly) learn to knit.

A woman looks down at the camera wearing a striped wool scarf

I would be the first to admit that I am not a natural knitter. The way that I learned to knit involves flapping both arms like wings and letting go of the needles every time I loop the thread. I jam, I drop, I snag, I lose count, and worst of all, I don’t have any fun while I’m doing it.  But thirteen and a half years ago, I walked into a yarn store in Vancouver, and, unfortunately, I fell in love.

The ripple effects of that unfortunate passion are still being felt today. The yarns in that shop were so soft – so colorful and so soft -With wool like this, I felt, I could definitely become a knitter. My arms full of fluffy, gently-rainbow-colored heaven, I told my husband I was ready to learn to knit – I was really, truly, definitely ready –

My husband petted the softness and loudly admired the colors and promised me that if I could finish ONE scarf, he’d bring me back to Vancouver and let me buy ALL the yarn they had.

Twelve years later,  I took my scarf to the house of a friend who knits and begged her to help me finish it. My husband is a pretty good judge of my knitting aptitude, I reckon.  

My twelve-year scarf is very beautiful.  It is striped in bright magenta-and-turquoise-emerald rainbow colors, and it is worked in wide ribs of knit-two, purl-two, and it has a sweet lettuce-like ruffle on both ends.  It is so beautiful that you would hardly notice where the knit-two purl-two becomes knit-two purl-one or purl-one knit-three, and I think that these little variations give it depth and character and stop it looking as if it were something off a knitting machine or bought in a shop.  A scarf should speak of life, and if this one is talking about twelve years spent mostly rolled up in the back of a cupboard and me trying to pretend it wasn’t there?  Let those stitches breathe a little, I say. Let that knit-two-whoops-where’d-the-purl-go lift up its head and sing.   

A woman drapes a rainbow striped wool scarf over her head

Valentina, my Santiago knitting friend, is at the other end of the knitting spectrum to myself.  Valentina can knit a hat in three hours and a cable-ribbed herringbone lace stitch sweater in a week. She can intuit a pattern from a twenty-second look at a photograph in a magazine, and knit it for herself without needing the intermediary steps of making a pattern – or even a diagram – first. She knits without looking. She knits in the dark. She truly believes that she operates at a normal, accessible level, and my fumblings with knit and purl have been, to her, genuinely unfathomable.

A pink knitted baby dress with complicated stitching that looks like leaves

(Just look at this sweater above, for example. It’s a little something Valentina whipped up over a weekend – because it felt good.)

After I’d cast off my last stitch on my rainbow- colored scarf, Valentina told me I would have to make another one.  And after one more afternoon of watching her fingers dancing, I said yes.

Beyond Valentina, support has been somewhat thin.  My husband, his voice oozing sympathy like thick, warm honey, told me that I ought to make a little visit to the super-high-end Peruvian alpaca store.  Alongside the indecently expensive alpaca sweaters, they apparently sell yarn as well. He said that if I’m going to spend another 12 years making a second scarf, it needs to be WORTH it.

It took a further 18 months, but when I was in Santiago last month, I called his bluff and went to the Peruvian alpaca shop, where those expensive sweaters feel like they’re knitted from the tears of baby angels, and the shawls might be the wings of the very angels themselves.  I played with skeins of powder-blue yarn that were so sweetly I cried tears of my own as I touched them, and to my shock, I found that while sweaters knit from angel tears may be priced higher than platinum, the value must all be in the knitting, because the yarn itself was no more expensive than the ordinary sheep stuff I’d bought in Vancouver 12 years ago.

I will NOT be the only crafter in this hemisphere who cannot do this simple thing, dammit! I bought 6 skeins. Valentina will look at me proudly, and when it is done, my husband will have to wear it, and every single alpaca angel tear around his neck will fall with a sound, and that sound will be “So THERE.”

Two knitting needles and four inches of plain knitted wool


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