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By Vicki Sternfeld-Rossi
The Times 

Knit, purl, and rip


January 7, 2021

My grandmother taught me the basic knit and purl stitches when I was eight years old. However, she didn’t teach me how to start or end anything. I just made odd rectangles with no rhyme or reason. Eventually, I got bored and gave up knitting; we moved on to gin rummy instead.

Growing up in New York, girls were required to take Home Economics. I loved the cooking, hated the sewing. I am a terrible seamstress, as opposed to my sister, who is an amazing one. With her need for precision coupled with her quest for perfection, the clothes she made were magnificent. On the other hand, I was grateful if what I made didn’t fall apart or come undone while I was wearing it.

I rarely sewed unless I could not persuade someone to sew on a lost button or fix a falling hem for me. Then I discovered that a safety pin could work as a button, and scotch tape could hold up a hem. No talent, no problem. I considered myself a great innovator!

In my twenties, a work colleague taught me to crochet. Three afghans later, I was bored. I started cross-stitching to help me quit smoking; after two very large tablecloths, I quit smoking and cross-stitching. Next was needlepoint and after three projects, suffering from too many needle stabs in my fingers, I quit that as well.

The second Christmas Daniel and I were together, we went to to visit his family in Milan, Italy. His brother and sister-in-law have two children who were then about 2 and 4 years old, so of course, we loaded our bags with toys for them. We didn’t have much children’s toy buying experience, so consequently, everything we bought made noise and had the added joy of flashing lights.

After 30 minutes of chaos with screeching Teletubbies dolls, beeping cars, banging, ringing bells, flashing lights, I reached for the Advil. My sister-in-law moved into the kitchen, opened up a bag with needles and yarn, and with a zen-like look on her face, started to work on the sweater she was knitting. She is an expert knitter, and living in Milan (fashion capital of the world, as Daniel, continually reminds me), she has fabulous yarn. The sweaters she makes are exquisite, professional, and perfect. I was hooked.

When we returned to Los Angeles, I researched knitting stores near me and found Needleworld only five blocks from my house. The shop was located next door to the pizza shop I ate at, across from the Middle Eastern restaurant I loved, and around the corner from the Mexican, French and Chinese restaurants I frequented regularly. After 20 years in that neighborhood, it was obvious I needed to hone my observation skills beyond restaurants.

The arrangement with many knitting shops is “buy the yarn from us, we will teach you to knit.” And so, I did. They started with the basic stitches, knit and purl, learn patterns, then moved on to a scarf. I would work a few rows, make an error, and start the “rip it out and start over” routine. Eventually, I graduated to a simple scarf, then on to sweaters.

On our next trip to Italy, I spent the entire flight working on the sweater I was knitting for Daniel because I was anxious to show my sister-in-law what she had inspired. She looked at the sweater, looked at Daniel, shook her head, and ripped the entire thing out. She immediately knew it was much too small. She bought additional yarn and remade the sweater in three days. Fifteen years later, he still wears the sweater, stretched out arms and all! There is no chance I will rip and redo the arms. For sure, that is above my skill level.


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