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The Comfort of Making Things

By Valerie Van Galder

A few weeks before 9/11, a movie producer taught me to knit at a press junket. I was a marketing executive at Sony and spent my days with people who made things—movies, trailers, posters, websites.  I helped shape their work, but really I was just a bystander to their creativity. The knowledge that I was hanging around on the planet and creating nothing eventually became intolerable, and re-visiting needlework, something I had loved as a child, seemed really appealing.

I got some yarn and some needles, but I hadn’t learned how to “cast on”—or, in civilian parlance, “start.” On 9/11, my remote house in Benedict Canyon felt like too scary a place to wait for the world to end, so I packed my beagle and my knitting needles and headed to a  friend’s. “Hey, Amanda,” I asked, “you don’t know how to knit do you?” To my surprise, she replied, “Actually,  I knit in high school.” She cast on for me,  and away I went.  To say knitting has saved my life is not hyperbole.  I recently met a wonderful woman who worries because after her divorce she will be alone in her house while her children visit their father. She finds the quiet unbearable. I told her something that I hadn’t even realized I knew: “knitting helps with sitting.”

When my mother was dying of cancer, my sisters and I spent weeks in hospital rooms, and my knitting—the colors, the soothing rhythm of the needles dancing over the yarn—was a salvation. During this time I worked feverishly to finish a blanket for a friend’s baby shower.  On the day of the event, my mom was having an unusually good day and I couldn’t pull myself away. So I stayed and we talked and laughed. That blanket is such a tangible reminder of one good day in an awful year that I couldn’t part with it. As I write this, it is draped over a chair in my living room—a little something I created,  while sitting by the bed of the woman who created me.

In early 2010 I had left my job at Sony and was consulting without an office or any real structure for the first time in my life. My dad was very ill with mental health issues after the death of my mom, followed quickly by the financial crisis of 2008, and life looked very different once again. I camped out at Compatto Yarn Salon for a lot of that year and knit this doll. The meticulous nature of the pattern was exactly what I needed to soothe my racing mind.

Creativity can save you. It saved me and it is why I run Depressed Cake Shop. I know it is saving others too.

Valerie Van Galder is a knitter, a baker and a beagle lover, and is inordinately fond of planting tomato plants in her back yard. She also can be found answering messages on www.depressedcakeshop.com.

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