Knitting Changed My Life, Part 1: The Creative
Boomer Connections Friend and Photographer Loralee Swab, makes the most fabulous knitted masterpieces you can imagine. I am fortunate enough to often be the recipient of her talents. I loved her story about how she came to find this gift within herself and how it changed her life. As we continue the series about Boomers that have discovered meaningful pursuits and “second acts,” I wanted to share her story with you.
It all started in her mid 40s, during a difficult time when she was spending hours keeping her mother company during a long hospitalization and convalescence. Loralee needed something to do during this vigil. She initially attempted to crochet, but found it awkward because she is left-handed. She asked her mom to show her how to knit, and it turned out to be a godsend for both of them. Her mom got a welcome distraction from her health issues and was able to feel useful, and the new skill propelled Loralee in a new, life-altering direction.
There were other forces nudging Loralee down this path. Among her acquaintances at the time was a woman who made and wore lovely knit pieces, which Loralee admired. This expert knitter introduced Loralee to a specialty yarn shop. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” she says. “The yarns were so incredibly beautiful.” She started by knitting simple items using these fancy yarns. She produced scarf after beautiful scarf, but really longed to make the artistic and complex pieces she had seen.
“I am that kind of person, I don’t want to make beginner projects, and I want to make the amazing stuff right away,” she explains. Loralee assumed such artistry required hours of instruction, but came to find that she had a true gift and ability to catch on quickly—and by her own study. She challenged herself, by poring over books and patterns until she figured it out. “I have infinite patience, I just want it to be good.”
Loralee explained to me that all her life she had this deep well of creativity that she needed and longed to express. Other artistic pursuits didn’t do it for her. Painting and drawing became frustrating; the end result was not satisfying or representative of her vision. She also was interested in something that was practical as well as beautiful. When she discovered knitting it was “just right.” It was through this amazing craft that she was able to express both her distinct sense of fashion and aesthetic beauty. All her creations are supremely wearable. They bring joy to Loralee…and to those of us lucky enough to be gifted with these pieces.
Loralee describes knitting as both academic and mentally challenging. It requires skills beyond the artistic. Talented knitters need a sharp analytical mind to figure out the patterns and numbering of intricate stitches. They also must have the patience and skill to do the extensive planning needed to take advantage of the distinctive properties of each yarn and to map out the precise finishing of each unique piece. Sweaters, gloves, stockings, elaborate shrugs, and capes…they each present a different set of problems and opportunities to express both artistic flair and aptitude for design and organization.
Although I am not a knitter, I find the yarns amazing. I had no idea how much variety and beauty there was in yarn until I saw Loralee’s “personal stash” and accompanied her to several yarn stores. Now, every time we get together or travel, we seek out local yarn shops. “Everything about yarn is intriguing to me, the colors and textures, how it is spun, where it comes from,” Loralee says. The colors are gorgeous almost beyond belief—hand-dyed silks, wools, and other more exotic fibers.
The story behind the yarns is often just as intriguing. Nowadays many of the specialty yarns in the United States come from small producers who spin it by hand at farms raising interesting animals like alpacas, angora rabbits and pygmy goats. Loralee seeks out these high-quality products and finds a sense of satisfaction in knowing the origin of the yarns…especially when they are spun from small producers lovingly by hand, which the knitter then uses to create something truly unique with her own hands…a full circle process. “Think about it, all you have to work with is sticks and string, yet you create this beauty,” she notes. “It is fascinating.”
To be continued in Part 2: The Community….