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Crafters Corner - Janice

Janice Whittaker KoehlerMy mother bought me my first ball of yarn from the drug store when I was 7 years old. It was a bright tangerine-coloured synthetic thing, which I suppose was very appealing to a child. I don’t recall exactly why I had any interest in having this yarn, but I have a feeling that it had to do with the fascination that I had with watching my maternal Grandmother knit.

As my grandmother lived hours away, it wasn’t practical to take up knitting since she wouldn’t be around to help. So given that it was the 70s and crocheting is easy to learn, it only made sense that my first project was a crocheted granny square. Granny squares are very versatile and can be made into coasters, vests and afghans; all of which were popular at that time. It was exciting to see the projects progress so quickly and the positive reactions that I got from everyone when they were complete!

My love of working with yarn grew into macramé and knitting in the years to come, but I didn’t truly commit to knitting until I was about 16. It didn’t take me long to progress into more complex projects such as an Aran knitted sweater. It was incredible that knitting was so simple that only two stitches were involved!

I know that for many, knitting and crocheting is essentially a love affair with the yarn itself. To them, it’s an artistic outlet with an infinite number of potential projects, media and colours. For me, the relationship is quite different. I am probably one of the least artistic people that I know. Throughout my life I’ve always been interested in the technical side of how things are put together, which has ultimately resulted in my becoming an engineer. I see knitting and crocheting as both a challenging technical activity and a way to relax.

Knitting and crocheting started out as a challenge that I needed to conquer. It was my grandmother’s pastime that resulted in her amazingly creating something out of seemingly nothing. What an amazing thing! If she could do it, why couldn’t I? I can recall that my first experiences with learning to crochet and knit were quite a challenge, but with perseverance,projects proceeded quickly anyway. I had immediate gratification!

Now that I’ve been knitting and crocheting for years, there really isn’t a project that I can’t handle if I put my mind to it. The great thing is that I really don’t have to exert much of my mind if I chose not to. If I just want to enjoy the relaxing meditation of doing something with my hands, I can knit a dish cloth or a pair of socks. If I really feel like a challenge, I’ll start a project that requires me to learn a new technique. Yestoe-up socks, I will conquer you yet!

Working with yarn has become a significant part of my life. I’m a much happier person when I’m working with a ball of yarn. Knitting and crocheting is extremely relaxing to me and yet, at the same time, it can be a challenge when that is what I need. What a perfect balance of everything that someone needs in a pastime!

Terry (Janice's patient husband)

When I first met my wife Janice, I had had very little positive experience with yarn. Both my grandmothers knit, but their repertoire was limited to mitts on strings and very ugly afghans. The former had led to merciless teasing at school and the latter assailed my senses as a bench cover during the countless hours of practice for piano recitals and exams. Personally my only experience was rug hooking. Mom took me out of school for a week when she had over-committed to her first and only yarn project, a very large rug project for a baby shower gift. It turned out that 9 years of piano lessons had given me the finger dexterity that she lacked.

When I first spied the knitting on the coffee table at Janice’s grandparent’s place, where she was living during a work term in Deep River, I naturally assumed that the project belonged to her grandmother. I couldn’t help but notice the copious quantity of graph paper, taped together carefully with pencil crayon coloured squares. It was only later that I realized the considerable mathematical skill that can come into play while working out the patterns which transform a single strand of material into both beautiful and utilitarian objects.

I came to realize when we got back to school the very therapeutic nature of knitting for Janice. Knitting project acceleration was always observed during exams, as a means of stress relief, and came with the benefit of producing parental Christmas gifts. After leaving her job following the birth of our second child, a knitting circle (referred to colloquially as a “Stitch-and-Bitch”) provided a social outlet that allowed her to connect with a new social group. Knitting was a common interest that allowed her something to bond with a very diverse group of individuals for whom her engineering career might have seemed intimidating.

Her love affair with yarn is nearly 40 years old and material that comes out of the trans-dimensional space, known as the craft-closet, all has stories of the initial project it was bought for. Many an enjoyable conversation (and bottles of wine) has been spent discussing the stories associated with this or that yarn. Stories of friends, lost to time, for whom projects were completed or the long train of owners of a given sweater are all tales that contain a vivid portrait of memories. Time may move inexorably forward, but yarn seems to have the ability to provide a window to the past.

Helpful hints for living with a yarner (those who knit, crochet, and generally transform yarn into some creation or another):

 Unless the project is very complicated, they can still carry on a conversation whilst working on the project. Ignore them at your peril.

 There is no maximum number of projects that can be on the go at one time, especially socks. The answer is always “Yes”, when the question is does “so-and-so” need a new pair of socks. Sock projects take up less space around the house, have a high ratio of time spent to material used (read less loss of living room real estate) and are universally appreciated by the recipients.

For the sake of a very full craft-closet in the spare bedroom and a few projects scattered around the house, yarn has provided a past time which has never failed to provide a sense of history and peace to both Janice and those closest to her.

Tags: yarn, knitting, wool, crochet, crafters corner