About six months ago, I decided to take up knitting.

Heather's knitting

It was January, a time for new beginnings and all that. I had just gone through a breakup — number six of seven (or thereabouts) in an endlessly on-again-off-again relationship. South Africa was experiencing regular bouts of loadshedding (planned rolling power outages). I was desperate for a hobby that: 1) doesn’t require electricity or internet; 2) keeps me off my phone; and 3) allows me to shut off my noisy brain.

I asked my friend Fiver, who is basically a professional knitter, if she would teach me. “Yes!” Fiver cried, clapping her hands with joy. Fiver loves teaching people things.

A few days later the two of us went to Arther Bales, the famous haberdasher in Linden, on a rainy Saturday morning. Despite the terrible weather, the shop was packed — Arthur Bales was having a huge sale and everything was 30% off. Fiver helped me choose a pair of needles and two balls of elegant, multi-colored yarn in shades of green and blue.

I remember standing shoulder-to-shoulder in line at the checkout, clutching my purchases excitedly, when the cashier coughed. The guy in front of me chuckled and said under his breath, “I hope it’s not coronavirus.” I chuckled with him. If only we’d known.

Fiver showed me how to hold the needles and wrap the yarn around my first and fourth fingers, looping the needle awkwardly under and over the yarn. It was hard. I’m easily frustrated when learning new things, and the going was slow. I made a mistake every time I reached the end of a row. On more than one occasion I drove downtown to Fiver’s art studio in the middle of the day, just so she could bail me out of a knitting emergency.

After a week or two, I had the messy but solid foundation for either a short scarf or a loose cowl. I knitted at home by candlelight during loadshedding, just as I’d planned, and in the evenings during my weekend trips away. Knitting calmed my mind, as I was hoping it would.

Pandemic Knitting

In March, COVID-19 arrived in South Africa. That joke I’d chuckled at in Arthur Bales back in January suddenly seemed a lot less funny. President Ramaphosa announced an impending travel ban, and Fiver and her husband had to leave the country unexpectedly before their visas expired.

I rushed over to their flat the night before they left, so Fiver could help me “cast off” my first ball of yarn and “cast on” to the second one. I didn’t want to be stuck without my knitting during lockdown.

I figured knitting would become one of my go-to pandemic activities. What better time to knit than a lockdown? But while I did find time to knit occasionally during those early pandemic weeks, it didn’t happen as often as I expected. Somehow I was too busy blogging, cooking, scrolling through social media, and whatsapping to knit. I couldn’t slow my brain down enough.

And now here we are, three months into lockdown. I’m still at home. Breakup number seven of seven (the last one — I’m certain of it) is in the bag. I’m feeling a lot more sadness and panic, especially when I contemplate the future.

I found myself on the couch earlier today, in pyjamas at 11:00 a.m., listening to Fiona Apple for the 100th time this month and crying while reading an article about global trauma. I looked around, almost desperately, for something to distract myself. My eyes fell upon the knitting bag.

Yes, I thought. It’s finally time. I knitted for the rest of the day.

knitting on a Basotho blanket

I’m almost through with the second ball of yarn. When I get close to the end, I’ll have a video call with Fiver so she can help me work out how to finish it off.

It took six months and it’s certainly not perfect. But soon, for the first time ever, I’ll have an article of clothing that I made myself. I have another ball of yarn waiting for the next project.

I knew knitting would save me again, eventually. Thanks Fiver.

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