It is September, the beginning of another school year, and I am nearing the end of my biggest knitting project yet.
Although I learned to knit at college some thirty-five years ago, I consider my life as a knitter to have begun in December of 2013 when I relearned how to cast on and make a simple dishcloth. Since then I’ve knit my way through a rib knit scarf, a bunch of hats, a pair of mittens, a sweater, several pairs of socks, a couple of shawls, some slippers, a neck tie, and more. With each project, I’ve entered new territory: color work, the heel turn, cables, short rows, grafting.
Until this past January, I knit one project at a time. I worked on something until it was done. As I was finishing, I dreamed about and planned what I would knit next. And then I realized that I wanted to knit something for the girls in my advisor group to give them at the holidays in December of this, their final year of high school.
At my school, each teacher works with a group of about ten girls, starting when they are in ninth grade and seeing them through all four years of high school. My current group makes me happy each time we come together. They are funny, imaginative, talkative, interesting souls. It will be hard to let them go when they graduate in June. I want to give them something made by me, something that they can take with them, something that will last and that will keep them warm. I decided to knit each of them Antonia Shankland’s Honey Cowl.
Ravelry lists 23,680 Honey Cowl projects. I would be joining a long line of knitters who have worked their way through its rhythmic slip stitch pattern. I learned about the Honey Cowl from Mason-Dixon Knitting where Kay Gardiner frequently raves about it. I was especially drawn to her observation that she has given honey cowls to women of all ages, and the recipients actually wear the cowls. I have not given very many knitted gifts, but I am aware that recipients of knitted gifts are not always grateful, do not always cherish items that were made with care for them. The Honey Cowl, knitted in soft Madelinetosh Tosh DK, seemed just right for my group of girls. It is elegant and simple, functional in a variety of climates. Since purple is the color of this graduating class, I chose Begonia Leaf, a lovely color somewhere between raspberry and lavender. I ordered fifteen skeins—one and a half skeins per cowl. And then I ordered another two skeins so that I could knit a cowl for myself.
A big pile of gorgeous yarn arrived. On the first of January, I wound three skeins and cast on 200 stitches for the first of the cowls. I quickly fell in love with the pattern and its alternating rounds of knit and purl-slip stitches. The bottom edge curled adorably. The slight variations of color lent texture and interest. Yarn and pattern suited each other perfectly.
I did not learn new stitch techniques with this project. Instead, I learned to knit on a schedule, to deadline. I had plenty of time: eleven months to make eleven cowls. Two rows take me half an hour. I knit two rows nineteen or twenty times for each cowl. All I have to do is knit half an hour to an hour every day on the cowl. After a while, the rhythm of the project, like the rhythm of the stitches, becomes second nature.
I have had moments of boredom, sure, but mostly I have loved this large project. I have knit Honey Cowls through faculty meetings, through Netflix binges, through warm evenings on the front porch. I can now knit a Honey Cowl without thinking twice. I just cast on, and off I go. It’s like memorizing a poem; the pattern and the rhythms of the stitches have become a part of me.
In March the knitting community gave me a gift. Jen Arnall-Culliford began her Year of Techniques with the helical stripe. Kay Gardiner figured that there had to be a way to use this technique to eliminate the visible “seam” line that is created on the Honey Cowl. And then Jen tried it out, laying out the details on her Ravelry page. I was delighted! I tried the helical technique, it worked perfectly, and starting with cowl #5, there are no longer any visible lines in my honey cowls.
I now have several projects going, and I enjoy moving from one project to the next. If all I’d knitted this year had been honey cowls, I think I would have gone batty. Instead, almost without realizing it, I’ve made a lot more things than ever before.
With each month that passes, the pile of honey cowls grows, and the pile of yarn shrinks. Two days ago, on September second, I cast on my ninth honey cowl. My seniors have begun their final year. All too soon it will be over.