Monday, 10 December 2012

Elegy to a Piano Scarf

Lo these many years ago, or in the fall of 1993 and of my second year in college to be exact, I had a boyfriend who was a composer and a piano player. He asked me to knit him a piano scarf. I thought piano scarves were terribly tacky, but I dutifully drafted a pattern and began knitting the scarf with the idea that it would be his Christmas present. Then we broke up in early December.

I finished the piano scarf shortly after the break up (it looked almost exactly like the one depicted above, though the one I made didn't have the colour reversal on the second side), and then had to decide what to do with the scarf. I sure as hell didn't want to wear it. Normally I'd have ravelled it out, but as a poor student, I'd used some cheap acrylic sport weight, and it just didn't seem worthwhile to spend a couple of hours ripping the whole thing out in order to salvage that yarn. I knew none of my friends would want it, even if I could bring myself to give it to them. I contemplated just giving it to my ex, but he hadn't behaved that well and we weren't really on speaking terms. I finally offered it to my sister, who plays the piano. She took it, but unenthusiastically. I think the scarf wound up in the dress-up box my parents kept at their place for when my nieces and nephews came over. It may still be there, though it would be much the worse for the wear by now.

After the piano scarf fiasco I resolved that I would never again make anything that I really didn't like myself, no matter how much someone else wanted it, that instead I would aim to make items that both the recipient and I would be happy with. I've not only kept that resolution, but enhanced it. I don't think I ever again knitted something with such poor quality yarn, and over the years the patterns I choose have gotten more complex and better designed. Somewhere along the way I arrived at the conviction that I'd rather make a handful of things that I can really be proud to wear or give away than dozens of items that are nothing special.

In late 2006, many years after that piano scarf project ended on such a sour note, my ex and I reconnected via the internet, and after a profuse apology from him, we soon got to be on the friendly terms we still enjoy six years later. In the spring of 2007, when I was shopping for a used piano on Craig's List, I asked him if he'd help me with my purchase by vetting pianos for me. He did, even spending one of his Saturday afternoons to go to South Etobicoke with me and assess the piano I eventually bought.

I promised him something knitted for a thank you present. My ex again asked for a piano scarf. I started laughing and told him about the piano scarf he'd never gotten or even known about, and he was disappointed, saying he wished I'd given it to him. However, he was very pleased with the scarf I did make: a reversible cabled design in a silvery gray yarn that went very well with the black wool pea coat he wore in winter, and that set off his prematurely silver hair.

Over the years there have been a few other occasions when I tried to knit something for a man for Christmas and the project had some farcical outcome. In the fall of 2004, I began to knit a intricately cabled scarf out of a beautiful gray blue wool for a man I was dating, but he called me one night in early December to tell me he didn't want to see me anymore. As soon as we hung up, I sat down on my kitchen bench and grimly ripped out what I'd got done of the scarf, and not long after used the yarn for something else.

In the fall of 2008 I knitted a pair of cashmere socks for a man I cared a lot about (we weren't going out, but had grown close and had what I believe are euphemistically called some "moments"), and sent them to him, along with some other things, as a surprise gift for Christmas. He wouldn't even open the box, and offered to return it, saying he felt it had "strings attached". He did later apologize for his reaction, and added belated, cursory thanks for the gift, but never told me whether he'd opened the box or what he thought of the contents. For all I know he is still staring at it in paranoid suspicion, or just threw it in the dumpster.

Knitters joke about the "sweater curse", which dictates that if a knitter begins a sweater for a partner, the relationship is doomed to end before the sweater is finished. This curse is not supposed to apply to scarves or socks, but then I seem to be especially luckless. Heaven knows what would have happened if I'd ever gotten so far ahead of myself as to knit a sweater for a man I was dating. However, at least I can say that over the years the lesson of the piano scarf has proved a good one, with far-reaching applications.

Knitting for others, like being in a relationship, requires an awareness of and a sensitivity to what the other person wants, but it's never a good idea to lose sight of what you want, to just do what the other person wants, or to put in too much effort and give too much of yourself to someone who won't even give you respect in return. Keeping these principles in mind won't guarantee that all my projects will turn out well or that I'll never get hurt, but it does mean I can count on feeling some pride and satisfaction in what I've done, and that I'll be able to salvage something from the situation. While I might very well get left alone and with an unfinished project anyway, at least I'll know I've done right and can put the experience and yarn gained to good use. And I won't be left holding a piano scarf.


  1. Yup. I try not to have an emotional attachment to what happens to the things I knit after they're given away. I made my husband a lovely scarf out of fingering-weight grey wool/silk yarn. On size 2 needles. An entire full-size scarf. That was two years ago and I think he's worn it twice. I don't mind; he didn't ask for it -- I just wanted to make it.

    The double-layer Shetland wool hat I made for him, though, gets worn all the time. :D

  2. Some people who pass through my life are special to me--they inspire me--and I swear every time I make something for them, they leave me soon after.

    When I was younger it really broke my heart, but now I say to myself "you have to keep creating, and if they inspire you to create, then go with YOUR flow." Sweaters are difficult, they often turn out ugly, and using that inspiration to learn about making sweaters and improving for the future is fine by me.

    I've pulled out HOURS worth of cables and intarsia. Giving away an unappreciated sweater is the same as pulling out stitches to me. It's part of the process of creativity, it's something I got used to become good at my craft. Now there are no strings attached--just let me be me, let me love others, let me love my craft. I don't want to close my heart to the world, I just want to keep doing what I'm doing.