Ruth Marcus
Columnist July 5, 2012

There is a famous essay by George Orwell titled “Why I Write.” I’m no Orwell, but I’ve always wanted to write one called “Why I Knit.”

I’ve had this idea stashed away for a while, like a skein of yarn saved for the right moment. I’d get to it, I figured, perhaps after a spate of Very Serious Columns. I was a bit sheepish — no yarn pun intended — about alighting on such a frilly, girly topic.

Ruth Marcus is a columnist and editorial writer for The Post, specializing in American politics and domestic policy. View Archive

I’m pretty sure Walter Lippmann did not knit.

I’m definitely sure that Walter Lippmann did not write about knitting.

But I am, defiantly, out of the knitting closet, thanks to the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Because the Very Serious people at the U.S. Olympic Committee — to wit, their Very Serious lawyers — have seriously dissed knitting, and knitters. This will not stand.

The dispute involves a knitting Web site, 2 million members strong, called Ravelry.com, which was planning its third “Ravelympics” during the Summer Games.

Except that the Olympic folks are fiercely protective of their brand and decidedly lacking in whimsy. So out went the cease-and-desist letter, tutting about trademarks. Fair enough, except the letter went further.

“We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon . . . tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic games,” advised the organization’s general counsel. “In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

Pause here to note that the committee might want to turn its attention to Mitt Romney, whose family summer ritual features the “Romney Olympics,” with a bowdlerized triathlon expanded to include log-sawing and nail-hammering after the candidate nearly lost to a daughter-in-law.

In any event, the USOC’s dismissive tone, well, needled the knitters. The Ravelry community — which renamed the event the Ravellenic Games — received not one apology, but two. The USOC regretted its “use of insensitive terms.” Do not mess with people armed with pointy needles and high-speed Internet.

These times call for “Why I Knit.”

Indeed, knitting has parallels with writing. Both crafts involve conjuring something out of virtually nothing — the blank page, a ball of yarn. Both processes are mined with frustration: the column that simply wasn’t working; the dropped stitch that required tearing out a heartbreaking number of rows.

Yet where Orwell wrote primarily for a “political purpose,” for me knitting is purely personal. Dropped stitches notwithstanding, knitting is relaxing, needles moving rhythmically as the yarn weaves through your fingers. In an increasingly cyber-world, knitting is satisfyingly tactile; as with those of us who cling to the quaint notion of a print newspaper, your knitting is something that you feel and hold.

Knitting is communal. When you knit in public, people — other knitters anyway — stop to talk. My friend Ricki and I knit some Saturday mornings. Our companionable chatting feels more Jane Austen than Mark Zuckerberg, no terse texts or status updates.

Knitting is an expression of love; to knit is to give your time. I knit baby hats, in berry shades with jaunty leaves and a stem at the crown, for friends’ kids, and, increasingly, for grandkids. I knit cabled scarves for my daughter’s friends.

Yet knitting carries with it a faint whiff of the grandmother; it is a girl thing, and an old-fashioned one at that. But I recall covering a meeting of the D.C. Bar, 20-plus years ago, at which two women sat knitting furiously, modern-day Mesdames Defarges. They were, it turned out, two of the country’s leading women’s rights lawyers, Judith Lichtman and Marcia Greenberger.

Real feminists do knit. They had enough self-confidence to tend to their knitting — and enough sense to know that they could accomplish something while the men sat there, unproductive.

I have my knitting with me now on the road — a shawl from a pattern I downloaded from Ravelry called, appropriately enough, Traveling Woman. The yarn, fingering weight, is shades of sea glass, shimmering blues and greens.

The pattern, with its eyelets and swoops of scallops, is challenging but forgiving. When I confuse knit-two-togethers with slip-stitch-knitwise, the flaw stays hidden. The pattern repeats itself every 14 stitches, with a single purl that lets me know if I have, once more, wandered off track.

I’m almost done, but I have another project ready to start, a lacy summer scarf. The Transportation Security Administration, unlike the Olympic Committee, had the good sense not to tangle with knitters. You can bring your needles through security.

ruthmarcus@washpost.com