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A woman sitting in a chair at Hawa Mahal (Palace of Wind) in Jaipur, India. Photo by Eliana Rothwell (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist).

Knitting

The first step of knitting is casting on. My hands fumble over the the needles and the thread tangles over the twists and turns that magically form the first loops. Every few seconds, my eyebrows furrow in confusion as I forget the next step in the process. At this point, it is unclear what the finished product will look like and the large balls of wool beside me indicate that there is a long way to go until I reach the end.

On the day we learn to knit, the group and I still have seven more days left to spend in Sarmoli; seven more days to explore the meandering roads between my homestay and the other multicolored homes, seven more days to discuss issues in India and the world, seven more days to learn how to knit. Rekha, a woman from Sarmoli whom I just met, looks over my shoulder. Although we had never talked to each other before, the act of knitting forms an instant connection between us. Knitting gives her and many other women in the village greater independence and power because it allows them to sell products and contribute to the local economy and their families’ livelihoods. Rekha was taking time out of her day to teach this clumsy, uncoordinated girl how to knit.

Every time I make a mistake, Rekha takes the needles and shows me the series of steps again. I feel apologetic because I am bad, as in the “I accidentally double-knotted the string around my index finger and I have no idea how but it’s stuck” type of bad, but she continues to patiently undo the knots and show me the correct method. Her hands adeptly move the needles back and forth and I try my best to mimic her movements. It is difficult, but she assures me that the beginning is always the hardest part.

The next step is forming all of what comes in between the beginning and the end strands. This is the longest step, the step where the scarf slowly starts to take shape. It takes me a day to get to this step, and by now I feel more comfortable talking to Rekha and the feel of the needles in my hands and my fingers against the wool begin to feel familiar.

While knitting the first few rows, I turn to Rekha for help but after awhile I get into a rhythm and my knitting feels almost routine. Instead of hunching down and focusing solely on my knitting as I needed to at first, my body begins to open up and my knitting becomes an outlet for conversation and community. When Jane, Jacquelyn, and I return to our room, instead of listening to music or going on our phones, we knit together, talking about the day or whatever else is on our minds and laugh until our stomachs ache. These conversations tie us together and bring us closer, and by the end of only a few days I feel as if now we really are friends.

When one of us needs help with our knitting, we go to Kamla, our homestay mom for the week we are spending in Sarmoli. On the first day I stayed at Kamla’s house, I struggled to talk to her in times aside from meals because the girls and I were in a more separated part of the house, and I was not sure how to approach her. Knitting offers a natural excuse for me to talk to her and in the same way that knitting formed an instant connection between me and Rekha, Kamla and I suddenly have a stronger bond to each other.

The final step is casting off. I haven’t gotten to that step yet, and I actually don’t even know how to do it. I am still on the second step — still intertwining the threads, forming new knots, and making mistakes. Someday I will need to complete that final step and put down my needles, but right now that step seems so far into the future.

The start of learning how to knit, building a relationship with Rekha, Kamla, and the other participants on my trip, even moving to a new country was the most difficult and nerve-racking part. But once I got past that step, the threads began to intertwine and take shape. Each individual strand is visible and each row is distinct, but they also all weave together to form a new tapestry altogether.

I’m not done yet though. Some of the threads are unfinished and some I have not even begun to entwine yet. In eight months, maybe I’ll finally get to the final step, knit the final row, tie the closing knot. But until then, I still have a long, long way to go. And that’s okay, I’m not in a rush anyway.