A History in Scarves

In the back and forth of this winter’s weather, from 34 degree mornings to 78 degree afternoons, I’ve been using a lot of scarves. My scarf repertoire is pretty extensive, but also relatively new.

The first scarf I ever owned was blue, downy, fluffy, and given to me by a middle and high school friend named Chelsey. I still have it and used to wear it to cold Georgia Southern football games. I also wore it skiing, along with my bright blue snow bib and pale blue ski jacket and Tarheel blue gloves, which is when I discovered that my scarf was quite ineffective against actual cold.

The first scarf I bought for myself was on the street in Barcelona. Okay, actually we were in Parc Guell by the bus parking lot. I wouldn’t have stopped but several of the others in my group had, so I felt safe doing so. I fell in love with the lightest, shiniest pink polyester scarf. Plyed with a “buy two, get one free” deal, I also bought a rich sky blue and a red and orange ombre. The pink and the blue I let an acquaintance borrow four or five years later, along with several dresses, because she was going to the same area of West Africa that I’d visited the year before. The scarves would cover her head as local custom demanded and and the dresses, which I’d bought there, would ingratiated her more quickly. She never returned them. I keep my orange and red scarf hanging in my closet, wearing it only once or twice a year.

I bought my next scarf—black, and currently hanging from the coat hook at my desk—from a vendor outside Primark on Oxford Street in London. I also bought a white one, possibly because of some sort of sale. I draped them over my shoulders in chilly classrooms and crisp evening streets. I draped and swirled and knotted and loved them. Where I wore hoodies in high school for warmth and armor, here was an elegant alternative suitable to a wider temperature range. I wore my scarves to the theatre and stuffed them into my bags.

That same summer, I bought a light, wide lavender scarf I had to fold many times to avoid blanket dimensions and to provide a touch of warmth. I wore it with a white blouse and grey skirt to Les Mis. At Javert’s suicide, I clutched it to me like Fantine and stumbled down the stairs from the Upper Circle, coughing so roughly that an attendant from the bar on the top floor and the coat checker from the lobby took to the staircase to search for me, one descending and the other ascending until they met each other, and me, in the middle.

My mother bought me an airy pale pink scarf from The Gap, so soft that I ran my fingers through and through it, still wanting it even thought we found a hole near one end. And because I wanted few things so much, she bought it for me. I liked to wear it to poetry readings and student panels in college, along with jeans, a white long-sleeve shirt, and my black pleather motorcycle jacket.

A very dear college friend returned from a year in China and gifted me a bamboo compact and a short silk scarf depicting the letters of an ancient poem. I keep the compact on my vanity and hardly ever wear the scarf. It is the most precious of all.

When I returned to England after I graduated college, I bought scarves quickly, cheap or expensive, to match outfits and coats, to warm and shield me, twice just to make me feel better, and once because my flatmate told me a lilac scarf gathered into puffs and waves didn’t look like me. When moving home again, I gave a few away. The rest, including the often-worn lilac-colored one, I stuffed into the corners of my suitcases until each seam held its breath.

The first scarf I completed was too irregular and short for an adult, so I gave it to a hot-blooded boy I babysat. Other than the moment I passed it to his mother and she tied it around his neck, I don’t believe he ever wore it.

The second scarf I made was more even, every stitch tight, especially when my flatmate (who’d taught me) was speaking. I never could regulate modest tension with her there, complaining and criticizing (even if it wasn’t about me). I’d pull my stitches so tight with unvoiced frustration, then she’d exclaim “watch your tension” and I’d want to hurl the entire thing, skein and metal needles and all, at her face. So I tried not to knit when she was in the room. Rather, I knitted while watching Merlin after she went to bed, in Edinburgh while she napped, on the bus to see the friend she didn’t like, in the kitchen while she Skyped with her boyfriend in her bedroom. I even took my needles on the plane home, getting the most done during the layover in Newark. I had five hours to eat Frosty’s and knit and reacquaint myself to the accents of so many Americans. But I never did finish that scarf.

I can’t regulate tension well wherever I am, so I asked a student at a later employment to teach me to crochet. I graduated from hats to scarves and taught others. In the four years since I first learned, I have gifted and been gifted scarves. Red knit, pink linen, gold crochet hang in my closet or lay rolled in a drawer. Two-toned reds with gold thread and ribbons of coral and cream appear in photos taken in cities I’ve never visited. My friends have frequently asked me whether or not I made the scarf I’m wearing. I learn new patterns, working and working the material between my fingers, working and working to keep its softness from the dog’s mouth, playing with colors and volume, keeping the skeins off the floor and away from the dog hair (so much dog hair).

I don’t crochet much anymore. There’s too much dog hair. I most often miss it when I’m at work, wishing I could spend my lunch break in the armchair by the window, intricately knotting yarn, my fingers worked as I listen to something soothing. But my work is always at home, with boxes and bags of skeins I haven’t touched in months. And at least one scarf is rarely far from me, at work, at home, in my car, if not around my neck.

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