Recent photographs caught me in an unbelievable position, almost blackmailable considering my fierce reputation. I'm wearing a brown motorcycle jacket with a busted zipper, and in my arms is a tiny half-naked pink baby. I'm the one looking startled.
When I first met her she was sleeping through live music in a bar. The only babies I've ever been around were in Latin America, where they're unavoidable.
A hats-on-babies rule was always followed, and I must have absorbed it, because I spent the next week wrestling with a skein of hot-pink alpaca yarn and eight different needles attempting to craft a miniature toque, using a squash as a size guide.
"Are you quitting smoking?" asked Baby's mum, incredulous at my folksy industry. I reassured her with roll-your-own-stained fingers. Baby just happened to coincide with a knitting jag that started with a practical purpose and quickly got out of control. I thought I could fill the long nights housebound since the busting of my local dive by making my mother a pair of socks.
I made a sock that is perfect in every way knee-high, reinforced heel, beautiful lace pattern from turquoise wool I bought at a family-run mill in Prince Edward Island. Just the one sock, like a museum piece. The other was not lost, just never made. Moths got the wool. The recipe disappeared, along with the knowledge. Easier to chop off a leg than match that trophy.
Really, I'm a terrible knitter. I don't have the patience to test the gauge of stitches per inch. There's always a warning that the wrong gauge will ruin everything. There are many other ways to ruin things, and I'm always learning new ones.
Mostly I just experiment, sometimes with the small percentage of patterns I can translate from my well-worn book of 1,300 stitches. Innocent names like "cornflower" or "cockle shells" disguise devilishly difficult, technically advanced marvels of textile art.
I do a lot of improvising. "What are you knitting?" someone once asked me on a train. As is so often the case, the truth sounded snarky. "I don't know."
In the Top 10 Reasons To Knit flyer from Romni Wools, a glorious haystack of colours on Queen West, "knitting is obsessive" is not on the list.
A friend noted that the group of women working in the Knit Café, farther west on Queen, looked like an idealized scene of harmony from the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
For me, knitting is complicated enough without adding the minefield of social interaction with strangers. I like stitches that require concentration. Or so I think. One slip and it's all thrown off.
What am I making? Um, a baby bonnet, but big a baby bonnet for an adult. Eighteen hours go by. Its construction involves more and more engineering, including three alternative ways to fasten it. Can't sleep. Must knit. Finally finish. Get it out of the house to a hat collector. That'll cure her. But I'm on a bender.
On second look, Baby's head seems a lot smaller than that squash, and her toque's probably slipped off since our photo session.
I met two musicians in one day who'd lost their toques. There's quite a bit of Baby's alpaca left over. But manufacturing pink toques for musicians? Knitting leads to madness.