Handmade: Trucker beats smoking addiction with knitting

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News
Adam Dittemore

Adam Dittemore, once a "heavy smoker," hasn't had a cigarette in a year thanks to his late maternal grandmother, Virginia Chisam, who taught him how to knit when he was just a kid.

Dittemore, a tractor-trailer driver for almost 25 years, was up to nearly two packs a day, and had been an on-again-off-again smoker for 22 years. But, one day, he decided to trade in those slender rolls of tobacco for balls of yarn and a pair of knitting needles.

So now, whenever the Bellevue resident sits in the cabin of his truck -- sometimes for hours at a time, waiting as it's being unloaded -- he fills the time and unwinds from the long haul by pulling out a knitting project, instead of a pack of cigarettes.

While sitting in his truck during this telephone interview, he worked on a scarf with "nice and airy lace stitches" -- his favorite. "He said, the stuff I do in my truck, I try to keep simple, but at home with my bright light, chair and glasses, I do more detailed work, and with smaller yarn. In a truck, you're kind of fighting for space."

I asked, "So, what do your male friends think about you being a knitter?" Well -- after informing me there was a guy standing nearby, at that very moment, trying to figure out what he was doing, he responded,  "My guy friends -- they don't give me too much trouble. Sometimes they give me trouble, but in a playful way. Their wives tell them they should learn."

Dittemore, 44, learned basic knitting at the hands of his grandmother when he was around five or six. "She used to make dish towels and blankets, and she kept it simple," he said. "I've gone long periods without doing it, but I never really forgot how. It really helped me quit smoking. It gave me something to focus on, and it's been a year without cigarettes!"

He rekindled his love affair with knitting about four years ago, when he and his wife, Mindie, were at a Joann Fabric & Crafts store. They browsed the yarn section where he  surprised her with his knowledge of knitting.

"I started knitting again, and doing little patterns. The last few years, I've gotten better than ever before!" He did a couple on-line tutorials to learn to read patterns, and it's been knit one, purl two ever since. 

Wool fibers are his favorite "because they tend to be the most forgiving," he said. "They work better for me than acrylics and cottons. I've used cotton for making dish towels, but for the most part, I use 100 percent wool, or wool blends."

Dittemore buys yarn from the Yarn Garden in Charlotte, and Sticks and Strings in Lansing. He said, "I try to use the smaller shops because I find they're a lot better. And, Lindsay (Potter, owner of the Yarn Garden) has local dyers who make exclusive colors just for her."

When driving through cities, here and in neighboring states, Dittemore said he sometimes sees yarn shops but can't stop and shop because there's no place to park his big rig. (What's a truck driving knitter to do?)

"The Knitting Truck Driver," as he's known on Facebook, tries to get in a little at-home knitting daily. "I try to knit everyday when I can relax for a little while," he said. "After a long, fun day of traffic, it's nice to unwind. It's a good way to turn your brain off. It puts you in a different frame of mind."

Adam Dittemore

His sons, David, 12, and Alexander, 6, expressed interest in wanting to learn to knit. "They have me trying to teach them how to do it," he said. My oldest son is going to do a knitting project for his 4-H Club, and the youngest one is actually learning to crochet from a lady who teaches sometimes at the Yarn Garden."

Dittemore, who's looking forward to trying his hand at learning to knit socks, and Entrelac (a knitting technique for creating interconnecting rectangles that appear to be woven), said, knitting had always been his "secret little hobby." 

In an email sent Tuesday, his wife summed up the topic of men who knit best when she wrote: "Thanks so much for showing the world that 'real men' knit too! ... Men should not be made to feel like they have to hide a hobby they enjoy."

And, as the saying goes: "real men give a knit!"

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150,jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.