Knitting on Island Time


View of the Salish Sea

In British Columbia, the light lingers until late at this time of year. In fact, last night when I tucked into bed slightly after 11 pm, I could still see well enough to make out a small skiff sailing towards the harbor. It reminded me of a teenager sneaking in through his bedroom window – long after curfew.

I am on Pender Island at a knitting retreat. Yes – a knitting retreat. No – I do not knit.

The house I share with 15 others is perched high on a precarious-looking bluff. I tread carefully around the edges of the property – I am scared of plummeting down the craggy chasm – but photographing the view is worth some degree of risk. The Salish Sea swirling through evergreen Gulf islands – and on the eastern horizon, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington – must be one of the world’s most stunning panoramas.

Sailing the Salish Sea with Mount Baker in the background

My aunt is the coordinator of the “Knitting on Island Time Knitters’ Retreat”. That’s right – Auntie Alice who many of my Merida friends have gotten to know over the years

She founded the annual event 17 years ago, and now her daughter, Dani is her energetic accomplice.  Christian Bock is the chef whose delicious entrees and baking are probably putting a pound a day onto my hips. He is a family friend from Freiburg, Germany where my grandfather attended university at the turn of the 20th century.

The Knitters’ Circle

At the retreat, I knew I’d see my friend Marianne who lives around the corner from our college in Merida. But what a surprise to meet Leslie from Alberta – she and I have a mutual friend who also lives in Yucatan. Then there’s Cheryl, another of the participants – she lives in my old North Vancouver neighborhood – just five houses away from where I grew up. Talk about six degrees of separation.

Before I came to Pender Island, I wondered why on earth a group of women who knit would travel such a distance to spend a week with one another. Besides the ones from Mexico, Alberta and BC, there are women here from Oklahoma, Alaska, Washington, and California – they have knitting in common – how much can there be to talk about?

Well, after four days, I no longer ask that question. It turns out that knitting is much more complex than I imagined. There are special wools, yarns, fibers, needles, hooks, and spindles used for each type of knitting. The women discuss these topics for hours on end. Some of the participants even spin their own yarn. They happily spend all day discussing the merits, attributes, and foibles of their craft.

In an effort to help me understand the complexities of knitting, Cheryl lent me a book – “The Knitting Goddess” by Deborah Bergman – I was hooked when I read the first lines on the inside of the dust jacket:

Beautiful knitting begins with beautiful stories.

And at that moment, I understood. I realized that story telling is at the heart of knitting. As the women talk about their experiences with various materials and patterns – secrets unfurl and wisdom is shared. And they knit this into every one of the sweaters, scarves, socks, pot holders, baby blankets or whatever they create. Each piece is unique – it can be anything from warm and fuzzy to coarse and scratchy. Just like stories.

Knitting seems to promote gentleness and peace. It fosters communication and understanding. It appears that these knitters are onto something – maybe our world’s  “leaders” need to take up knitting?