[Welcome to our first “Shattering Conventions” column, in which journalist Bob Calhoun crashes a new tradeshow, convention or conference every month looking for a way to fit in—even where he doesn’t always belong. –Ed.]
Knit one, purl two.
What does that even mean?
I look down at my fingers and they are tangled in yarn like a litter of clumsy kittens. I’m struggling through the “Knitting for Beginners” class at Stitches West at California’s Santa Clara Convention Center. Levi’s Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers and Super Bowl 50, is across the street.
Stitches West is the “yarn-con.” Don’t dare call it the knitting-con, because there are also a fair amount of crocheters among the 10,000-plus attendees here. The divisions between knitters and crocheters appear to run deep, and they have needles and hooks. The only thing that unites these crafty factions is their love of yarn.
Back in the knitting class, I glance down at the step-by-step guide to knitting that our instructor, Beth Whiteside, is kind enough to hand out at the beginning of the workshop. This is a big mistake. You take your eyes off the yarn and you are done. I think I have a slipknot, but then I push the needle through, and it all just unravels and frays. I have nothing.
Beth notices that I am flailing and failing. She rushes over to the back of the conference room like she is saving a drowning man.
She shows me the most basic knitting techniques, and punctuates them with an ancient rhyme: “In through the front door/Around the back/Out through the window/And off jumps Jack.”
The rhyme is an effective method of teaching a 4-year old, but it doesn’t penetrate my thick skull. Beth then gives me the oversized knitting needles and rope-like yarn she uses for demonstrations. I start to get it, but she still has to grab my hands and force them to move correctly. I finally make a loop and then a stitch, and then another.
“Yes!” she exclaims, and then leaves to attend to her other students. I try to knit on my own, and my hands get caught in the yarn again. Saying I’m back to square one would be generous. When Beth hands me the “I learned how to knit at Stitches West” sticker at the end of the class, I know I have not earned it.
My last chance to learn how to knit comes at the rockin’ pajama party that closes out a Saturday night at Stitches West. A mob of women and a smattering of men crowd into a conference room in the Hyatt Regency that adjoins the convention center and everyone are in their PJs. I wear a kimono and Dearfoam slippers in an effort to fit in. Red wine and rice crispy treats are served. The red wine helps.
Somehow through the group-karaoke renditions of Bon Jovi’s "Livin’ on a Prayer," Maureen Hefti of Sacramento, Calif., teaches me how to knit one, purl two. I don’t take my eyes off the yarn this time. I am locked in and a patch of fabric starts to emerge from my needles.
“One more stitch,” Maureen says.
“One more stitch,” I mutter under my breath as the row of fabric that I’ve created grows longer.
This is how addiction starts.