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Shout out to the sweater curse

Celebrating one year of knitting at Fiddlesticks.
An illustration shows seven people sitting around a colorful table while knitting, with a clothesline of mittens, socks and shirts in the background.
Illustration by Sam Harrington.

Celebrating one year of knitting at Fiddlesticks.

This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.

There’s this thing in knitting called the sweater curse. You knit your partner a sweater and, the legend goes, before you can give it to them the relationship combusts. Last summer, I laughed off the curse and knit a sweater for a relationship that was (admittedly) too early for such tests. I always joke that I have trouble making friends with small children and cats because I come on a little too strong. I guess that also applies to sweaters and love.

I took the breakup really hard. It was the only really meaningful one I’ve had. I tend to be too distracted and in love with friends and plants and projects to really date. But I wanted us to work, and I was devastated when we didn’t.

I was sobbing constantly (my eyes were so swollen, I couldn’t put my contacts in for days, it was really cute) and desperately making my friends across the country talk to me on the phone and watch me cry on Facetime and tell me I was going to be fine.

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I was maybe a couple days into the breakup when I saw that a brand-new knitting store in town, called Fiddlesticks, was going to start hosting knitting socials. I don’t know what guardian knitting angel was pitying me, but thank god for them. 

I showed up, walked past walls covered in colorful yarn, and sat down in the community room. There were a good number of people sitting around the paint speckled table already. I wondered if they could tell that I’d cried the whole drive there. 

We introduced ourselves and our projects. I told a joke about the cursed sweater and didn’t cry. I left that first meeting feeling like maybe there was something here. I had no idea.

After one year of Fiddlesticks the yarn store and its cheery presence on Atwood Avenue, I’ve found a community in Madison that I never dreamed I would when I moved back home after college. It’s hard to make friends as an adult, the common wisdom goes. And it is, but not if you’re a knitter.

People drift in and out of my knitting group, but the core is a small and wonderful and diverse group of friends. We range in age from early 20s to late 50s. We are queer and trans and straight and Black and white and transplants and long-time Madisonians. We have spent hours picnicking, shared plants and yarn, taken beach trips, gone kayaking by moonlight, dipped sweet potato fries in blackberry jam, and taught each other every day.

One of my friends taught me to fix mistakes in a knitting technique called brioche. She also taught me that if I decided in my 40s I wanted to be a parent, that I could be a single, adopted mother. Because she is. It’s lucky that the things we learn don’t take up physical storage space. Because I’d have a bigger stash of lessons in my closet than I do of yarn and I have A LOT of yarn.

In the few times we have talked about what our knitting group means to us, it’s been emotional. I am not the only one who feels a little bit saved by the experience. For nearly a year we have had a place to go every week that feels safe (the store requires patrons wear KN95 or N95 masks) and build meaningful relationships in a time that has fractured at all the seams.

I’d make a joke about knitting it back together but I don’t think we are, really. That’s another thing I’ve learned from knitting and my friends. Things happen. The fiber has its plan. You can make it do what you want, to an extent, but it’ll save you a lot of heartache to work with it, rather than against it. We don’t ever pretend that things are easy. But we also never doubt that they can be beautiful. 

I don’t know how I possibly got so lucky that in a time that I was treading water, I got not only a life-raft but also a solid place to land and feel at home. Bring on year two.

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