Writing a column every week for nearly a decade has given me plenty of options in considering ways and means to come up with writing topics. When I worked in full-time journalism, I had one of those PMS color swatch books that includes thousands of shades of the rainbow. For some reason, when I struggled to come up with a column topic, I would fan out that inch thick stack of swatches. Somehow one of those colors, or a combination thereof, would make me think of something to write about.
But the best thing ever that I can use to come up with a writing topic is a bucket of hodgepodge buttons. I can’t fully explain why, but I love picking up buttons of various sizes, colors and shapes and watching them fall. Maybe I love them so because when I was a kid, I spent so much time with my grandmother who was a seamstress. For several years, she believed buttons were the only thing I could readily play with and not hurt myself. I would sit and play with them for hours. Even still, I love to imagine where a button has been or what it could be.
Hold that thought.
Last week my daughter, Greer, and I visited Massachusetts. While there, one day we were able to spend time with one of my favorite folks in the world, former Daily Advertiser Accent editor, Doug Gruse.
Doug, Greer and I stopped by an antique shop of sorts. Greer didn’t fully appreciate the place. She says calling it a shop is a generous. It was basically a shed behind a guy’s house, filled from floor to ceiling with all manner of objects from full estates purchased over the years. The building was chaotic, but the rows and shelves were organized. Every single item was meticulously hand-labeled and priced. Like items were generally together. The prices were more than fair.
Amidst packs of cards, costume jewelry, old signs and chairs, I went through at least nine little old lady’s sewing baskets. My head was swimming at the possibilities of the stories those baskets could tell. Each item in the baskets was methodically priced, but otherwise they seemed to be just as the owners had left them in a drawer for years. The tape measure rolled up tight. Perfect little scissors. A few spools of black and white thread. A piece of elastic. Maybe a little lace.
The shop owner had removed specific items from the sewing baskets. There was a shoe box top full of thimbles and a shoebox full of pincushions. But the thing I loved most, I found on a dark shelf right around the corner from the thimbles and pincushions. There was one small bucket, three jars and one clear plastic tennis ball can full of old buttons. Even the buttons were organized to a certain extent. Silver buttons were in one jar. White buttons in another.
I wasn’t surprised that Doug was as drawn to the random containers of buttons as I was. For $18, he and I bought all the buttons in the place (except for the expensive silver ones). Doug is a talented seamstress and crafter extraordinaire. Everything he makes looks like something Martha Stewart may feature in an upcoming catalog. I do not have that gift. Doug ended up keeping all the button jars but one. I have no doubt that he’ll put the buttons to good use.
I, on the other hand, left with a half-pint Kerr canning jar labeled “Container of large buttons. 804314707 $3.”
Maybe I’ll surprise myself and make something too with my tiny jar of 25 large buttons or maybe I’ll just keep them hanging around for those days I’m in need of inspiration. For now, most of them go beyond the dusty state and fall into the downright dirty category. I’m uncertain how buttons could have gotten this dirty. Maybe I don’t want to know. That thought alone makes my imagination run wild.
Upon closer inspection, I see the little jar has two sets of three matching buttons. One set is white, pearlized 3„4 inch flowers. I suspect that someone once thought these buttons the height of style and felt quite beautiful wearing them. The other matching ones are hardy black/blue buttons with a green streak running through. They look like they may have been on a pea coat long ago.
A couple of the buttons still have tiny bits of thread lodged in the buttonholes. The buttons seem sturdier and heavier than buttons of today. They were likely used for many years, and then someone somewhere saved them to be used again. And here they sit on my desk — being used in a way that that whoever placed them in this tiny jar never expected.
Sometimes we have to look for inspiration in surprising places.
I have an edge.
And, I’m not talking about a competitive advantage edge.
Instead, it’s one of those not-so-pleasant edges — certainly not strength of character. All in all, that little line of vice and has gotten me into untold trouble through the years.
Finally, at age 46, I have found the cure for the less charitable side of my nature.
I’m not saying that I’ve discovered a remedy for all that ails me, but I will say that knitting takes the edge off. All that extra energy usually bumbling around my head? The general culprit of that has stirred up trouble in my world for years? With knitting, it dissipates. It’s been the genesis of the strife in my life for years. Now, I have a place for it.
I don’t mind long meetings anymore. I simply view them as a chance to do more rows. My husband prefers driving when we go on long trips? It’s no problem now. Telephone calls that take me away from what the task at hand? Not a difficulty these days.
How much edge I need to take off depends on whom you ask. My youngest daughter probably believes it’s a potholder’s worth, but there are days when I’m certain my husband thinks it’s a good idea if I get cranking on a cover for his old pick-up truck.
To be clear, I am not an expert knitter. Basically, I’m a newbie. I learned long, long ago and haven’t done it in nearly 15 years. Maybe I wasn’t ready or didn’t need the relief knitting now provides me back then. I haven’t been back at it for long, but what it’s done for my head (and subsequently for my heart) has made me a believer. It’s been a boon to my spirits — and likely to those around me too.
Knitting makes me a better and more focused listener. After all, in reality, knitting is just tying one simple knot after another. Its simplicity is its brilliance. For me, the repetitive motion is conducive to thinking and stirs the creativity in my bones.
To take its zen-ness a step further (and this may seem strange in concept), but there’s something about knitting that reminds me of yoga. It’s very focusing, but allows just enough room for the mind to wander and promotes good conversation with those around you.
One of the people who re-taught me how to knit explained to me that the Red Cross taught her to knit when she was in high school during World War II. She said students would get out of class to learn knitting and have time in school to knit create helmet liners and fingerless gloves for soldiers serving in the European and Pacific campaigns. Her story made me wonder why our country abandoned habits like that. What a good means of reminding the rest of us of the service of so many. What a good way for high school students to spend time. What a gift for students in that moment and in their futures — on so many levels.
For example, knitting has helped me to recognize and consider some patterns in my life. I get in over my head because I don’t do sitting around well. Having a fun, productive outlet to use up that excess energy cures that sitting around feeling that leads to over-committing. As much as I’d like to plant my feet firmly in the opposite camp, perhaps the Puritan work ethic has influenced me than I sometimes admit.
All in all, I find it good for the soul. Plus, there’s some magic in turning a piece of string into something wearable, warm and wonderful.