1 stitch at a time, her life’s focus is knitting

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1 stitch at a time, her life’s focus is knitting

Chu Sun-ja usually turns in around one or two in the morning these days. It’s all thanks to the 6-meter-long (20-foot) wedding dress she’s preparing. It takes her 10 solid hours to knit just five centimeters. She knows, for this is the fourth of these taxing dresses she’s made. This will be the last one of its kind, because Ms. Chu, 58, who has three daughters and a son, has no more children (or spouses of children) to wear her dresses. Being the last one, it evokes special emotions.
This one will be worn by her future daughter-in-law on her son’s wedding day on Nov. 19. She’s already on edge about this combination fashion show/wedding.
Her laboratory, “Knitting is Life,” decorates a corner of her pharmacy. When she was young, the pharmacy prospered and she built a three-story building in downtown Daegu. Nowadays, the drugstore is little more than an avocation; because of her involvement in knitting, she never bothered to move her dispensary closer to a hospital to keep the business profitable.
“When handling hospital prescriptions, it gets so busy that it’s hard to keep your knitting needle in your hand,” she said. The pharmacy’s lab is stocked with various wools and different works in progress, such as sweaters, skirts, hats, bags and dolls.
In the leftover space sit eight women, knitting on the floor in close proximity. All are Ms. Chu’s students; they knit one stage at a time, by referring to a sample, looking to their mentor for guidance when stuck. That’s why these ladies don’t mind coming from afar. One student in her 70s, who travels an hour, praised Ms. Chu, saying, “She helps us without a hint of annoyance, even when we ask something unimportant.”
“As people age, they begin experiencing dementia,” Ms. Chu said. “But when knitting, you don’t have to worry about dementia. While using your hands, your brain is active. Not only that, it’s very economical because when you tire of wearing the same clothes over and over again, you can unweave it and make a new one.”
Ms. Chu’s followers are spread across the country. Many of the women, who are mostly over 50, use samples delivered by mail because they cannot log onto Ms. Chu’s knitting Web site, www.chusoonja.com.
Ms. Chu’s relationship with knitting began in grade school; she knitted whenever she had a spare moment. It continued through college, marriage in 1969 and the pharmacy. Her hands never rested.
It was at her first personal exhibition, in 1984, that her knitting progressed beyond the hobby stage. She wanted to introduce knitting to a population increasingly ignorant of the craft. It broke her heart that some high school graduates didn’t even know how to hook a stitch.
“When people think of a knitting needle, the first thing that comes to mind is a sweater,” she said. “However, from men’s jackets and coats to Korean traditional clothing, hanbok, there’s nothing you can’t make.”
Her passion led to three subsequent exhibits, fashion shows, even lectures. In 1992, she published a book on knitting featuring clothing patterns and pictorials of her work. While preparing to write a second book, she took note of the Internet and decided on a Web site. Today, the site contains patterns for 400 items of hers.
While instructing others on knitting, she attends to her mother-in-law and her sickly grandmother. Her husband helps out at the drugstore. Though she appreciates her family’s understanding, at times she shows a tinge of regret. “The popularity of knitting is on the wane, with cheap products from China continuously being imported,” she said. “Will young women think of knitting again when this article appears?”

by Song Ui-ho, Jo Moon-gyu
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