The assignment was just to write an information dump.
‘It’s beautiful,’ says the lady as she sits down next to me. ‘That texture, so nubbly and rich.’
I nod, unwilling to begin a conversation with a stranger on a bus.
‘Yet it’s precise and elegant at the same time. What are you knitting?’
A direct question. That demands a response.
‘A little pair of handwarmers,’ I reply. ‘Just something to keep my hands and wrists warm on the train.’
‘And what’s that at the edge?’ She’s staring intently at my work.
I keep the needles moving as I reply. ‘A little cable, something to keep me from getting bored of all this seed stitch.’
‘How do you remember what to do next?’ she asks. ‘I don’t think I could ever do all that without a pattern.’
I flip a brass marker from one needle to the other and begin the next cable row. ‘These little markers tell me when it’s time to start thinking about the next row of the cable.’
‘And you just cross some stitches over others to make the cable?’
‘That’s right.’ I am crossing one over as I talk. ‘I know I want this to look like a braid, a plait, so I make sure every cross goes in the opposite direction as the one before. See, this one,’ and I stop long enough to indicate the previous cross with my thumbnail, ‘the right went over the left, so the one I’m doing now, I cross left over right. It means the whole thing will look woven.’
‘Oh!’ she says. ‘And that’s why you don’t need a pattern.’
‘Partly, yes. I did at first, just to get the cable down.’
‘But you’ve memorised it by now.’
‘It’s repetitive.’ I slip the next marker and go back to seed stitch. ‘Seed stitch is repetitive too, but in a different way.’ Now that she’s got me started, I am giving more information than I should; I expect her to get bored after a few more seconds.
‘Like housework,’ she says.
I laugh. ‘Exactly like housework, except I like knitting and I don’t much like housework. Then again, some people hate seed stitch.’
‘Why?’ She watches as I alternate knit and purl stitches. ‘It’s lovely.’
‘Oh, sure, but it can be annoying if you don’t like changing from knit to purl every other stitch.’
‘But you do it fast.’
‘Sure. Like housework. You wash your own dishes at home?’ I suspect the answer is yes; she’s possibly fifty and is wearing a wedding band.
‘Right. Got kids?’ I reach the next marker and start the cable pattern.
‘Three. They’re all grown up now, though.’
‘How long did it take one of them to do a sinkful of dishes?’
She chuckles. ‘A long time, if they could be bothered at all.’
‘I don’t know. I just get it over with so I can get on to something else.’
I point down to the knitting, where I’m finishing the cable pattern and moving back to seed stitch. ‘I’ve been knitting for thirty-five years. I like the way seed stitch looks the same way I like the way a clean kitchen looks. It makes a tidy background and lets me get on to the fun part.’ I point back at the cable.
She gets off at the next stop, and an older lady takes her seat. I give her a nod as she sits down.
‘Goodness!’ she says. ‘All that seed stitch; I’d go mad!’