We’re thrilled to welcome Alanna Okun for a signing of her new book, ‘The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater’. Join us on Thursday, March 29th at 6:30! Alanna will be signing her book of essays about life & crafting. Make sure to purchase your copy with us, if you’d like to have it signed by the author. We also have a copy to give away to a lucky winner! We’ll choose someone from our RSVP list, and you’ll receive the book on the evening.
And for a special treat, we’ve received an excerpt from Alanna’s book! Enjoy.
An Excerpt: ‘Frogging, or How to Start Over’
The hardest part of crafting isn’t threading an impossibly tiny needle. It’s not a complicated lace-knitting technique, nor is it working on a loom that is taller than you will ever be. It’s not carpal tunnel nor a hunched back nor eyes squinting to see your work when you should have gone to bed two hours ago. Not paint fumes, not paper cuts, not even the mile-long checkout line that exists at every Michaels in North America. No: the hardest part of making anything is knowing when to start over.
Here is how it goes with knitting.
You come across a pattern that grabs you, or an especially alluring ball of yarn. (Some people let the materials lead the way while others begin with the idea. I’ve always been pretty haphazard in my approach, which is why I own dozens of unknitted patterns and thousands of yards of unknitted yarn with no plans to ever wed the two.) You sit down in front of the TV or with a podcast in order to get through the tedious, unsatisfying beginning of any project: casting on. Getting that first row of stitches onto the needles takes the sort of counting and concentration that you are expressly trying to avoid by knitting, but until you can enlist a casting-on intern, it’s a step you have to take.
The first row you knit after the cast-on is always difficult.
Maybe you started too tightly and have to force your needles through the stubborn stitches, or maybe too loose and now you have to tug each strand of yarn so you don’t leave any holes. The beginning is a slog. But then, ten minutes or twenty or sometimes a week later, you look down and realize that what you have is a thing. Nothing yet identifiable as a hat or scarf, but no longer just the anemic start. You can tug it and pat it and stretch it out, and best of all, you can start to picture what it will look like when it’s finally really in the world. This fixed image is enough to drive you forward long after the show you’d settled in to watch has rolled its credits. Which is why there’s a tiny apocalypse when you realize your mistake. You cast on 84 stitches when you were supposed to have only 48; you mixed up the right side and the left because who ever thinks to do that “L” hand trick after the age of, like, six? You frantically try to do some mental arithmetic that might fix it, and then when that proves too hard you rejigger your vision altogether—doesn’t your sister’s boyfriend have an unusually large head? They’ve only been dating for three weeks, but hey, everyone needs a winter hat, right? Right????
Then comes anger.
“Hey, [your name]!” they should have written at the top of the page. “We know you tend to zone out somewhere around the tenth row, so just a reminder that you should definitely start the ribbing by then so the whole thing doesn’t look lopsided! You’re great and we love you!!!”
Because just about then your anger shifts to a more immediate target: you, the hasty, clumsy moron who didn’t bother to count, who somehow didn’t notice when a crucial stitch was dropped two inches back. Why did you think you could do this? Why couldn’t you stick to an activity you know, like biting your nails or standing in front of the open fridge for so long the lightbulb burns out? Why did you ever try to make something new?
The project, meanwhile, keeps staring at you like a puppy in a kill shelter. You can stuff it deep in your bag or hide it under your bed but you’ll feel it anyway, waiting for its fate. Maybe you’ll even take it out once or twice and knit a few more rows before cramming it back out of sight. Melodramatic, perhaps, but there are moments when it feels like indelible proof of your failings: you’re too impatient, you tug too tightly, your execution can never live up to your ideas. In fact, the relative insignificance of a piece of knitting is proof in itself—you couldn’t control something as inconsequential as this? How are you supposed to be in charge of the rest of your life?
This phase can last for minutes or months.
You start other projects in the meantime; you move on to something else entirely, like softball or smoking. You forget what it was like, exactly, to stare at those particular stitches, to picture what the finished product would eventually look like. And then one day things are different. Like after a breakup, that first morning when you wake up and realize you’ve forgotten to miss the person. Maybe you want the yarn for some new endeavor. Maybe you’ve decided that having nothing is better than having something that just isn’t working.
And so you do the one thing knitters are taught never to do: you slide the stitches off the needle. It feels like a skipped heartbeat or a caught breath.
Maybe there is a flash of regret—What are you doing, you could still save this—but it’s such a quick gesture that there’s no going back. For a moment the stitches look naked and silly, those little loops with nothing to give them structure. And then you take the end of the yarn and you pull. Knitters call this “frogging” because of the sound it supposedly makes: rip-it, rip-it, rip-it. “Rip it” sounds to me more like a command, a testament to how good it feels when you finally decide to just do it.
You pull and you wind and you watch your work unknit itself in one one-thousandth of the time it took you to create it. Then you reach the end. Where once you had the thing, now you only have its materials and its memory.
The yarn will not be perfect.
It will be kinked and ragged, marked with the shape it used to assume. Usually it will bounce back, though, when given enough time and maybe a little steam. It’ll become something different: a pair of mittens next winter, a basket to hold more projects in the spring. A series of squares, a single strand running through a tapestry, a gift for someone you haven’t met yet.
Or maybe the yarn will become exactly what you’d hoped, exactly the project you’d started in the first place. Maybe one day—right away or in a year—you’ll pick up your needles and make it through the cast-on. You’ll count and you’ll recount, you’ll hold the yarn so it doesn’t choke and it doesn’t flop, you’ll catch the stitch you drop right away and put it back where it belongs. You’ll make a few mistakes but they won’t be worth ripping out.
And sooner than you expected you’ll be back at the point where you abandoned the old version, and then you’ll get past it, and then you’ll bind off the stitches and be done. The stopping will be part of it; the restarting will be too. This time, you’ll get it right.
Excerpted from THE CURSE OF THE BOYFRIEND SWEATER by Alanna Okun. Copyright © 2018 by Alanna Okun. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved.