Friday, September 7, 2018

Memoir: Knitting

 I was just thinking as I sit here knitting, that it was a good thing that I had my heart broken when I was 15 years old.
After returning home from my first alone-flight to visit my friend Barbo in Erie PA and falling hard for the delicious Joel Tuczynski while I was there, I made my mother crazy with all the moping, whining and general pity-partying that I was doing, missing him and knowing I wouldn't probably ever get to see him again.
Her solution?
"You're going to learn how to knit".
I don't know if the connection was obvious to her, (wasn't to me) but I didn't put up any resistance and so it began, supposedly as a distraction.
Going back a few years, it was my dad who taught me to crochet, which he learned in the TB sanatorium after WWII. Apparently needlearts are a great way to distract from disease, whether physical or adolescent. I mention this because I learned to crochet and it didn't take. But I did learn to hold the yarn and needle in such a way as to ease my initiation into Continental knitting, later on.

After a blur of  learning to cast on and rip out and cast on and rip out, I managed to get the gist and did begin my first project. My mom chose a pattern that used great big needles and a big skein of orlon sayelle yarn (ugh) that was all the rage in those days, summer of 1962. I don't remember too much about this little sweater except that it was peach colored and had very loopy stitches. I finished it in a couple of days, (non stop knitting) and had passed the love crisis sufficiently to rate a tougher design, this time in wool.
I chose for my second sweater an Aran Isle design with lots of cables, diamonds, bobbles, and all sorts of complicated  stitches. I was undaunted. And naive.
Related image
This time I also had a peach colored yarn...could that have been my mom's choice? I think so. Anyway I dove in, and attacked the pattern, learning as I went along. A week later I was finished. It was imho, magnificent. Other's might have said it was, um, recognizable as a sweater.
Part of my education was the rule that a finished knit needed washing to get the oils and dirt out of the yarn and block the sizing. So....I filled a sink with hot sudsy water and proceeded to felt the life out of my sweater and turn it into an unwearable disaster.
I grudgingly gave up on wool and returned to acrylic and kept knitting. By then I was determined to make up my own design. (Where do children get that kind of confidence???) Color-blocked ala Mondrian and 60's clothes was my big idea and multi-colored sections of orange, yellow, red, the ubiquitous peach, and fuchsia went together for this pullover and I was careful not to overdo the final washout. Keep in mind that I was knitting for my own body, wearing a AA bra and having absolutely no hips to work around, and it is no wonder I plowed through these sweaters in days.
One finished item led to another, also of my own design, and by the end of summer I had finished 13 sweaters, some of them school wearable.
I was a real knitter. Forgot about Joel and saved a meager amount of my mother's sanity.
At that time Sears sold yarn, and had a sale. We went and did damage. Thus began my lifelong habit of lying about yarn. We told my dad that we saved him so much money by waiting til this yarn was cheaper. ha!

But I digress.
As I look back on this time I recall that my Christmas/birthday present was the best ever that year. Fabric for a skirt and matching yarn for a sweater! It meant that I was good enough at both sewing and knitting to rate these raw materials. Contrast this with getting the finished garments as a gift. Not the same.
Jumping ahead to grown up years when I traveled so much on airplanes, I passed the time knitting socks, a small project which could fit into my purse and keep me happy while waiting for flight delays. I accumulated oodles of socks which filled my drawers and became gifts for others, and brought me back to wool yarn, especially hand dyed stuff. Wool yarn is so different than acrylic and has a life of it's own, responding to my fingers with squishy springy movement. And now that I have discovered and "invested" in non-itchy Merino, and especially merino-silk blends, it is against the skin bliss. Many of my yarns are superwash, which defeats and eliminates the felting of that early mistake.
Learning to knit for me has resulted in finding a coterie of like minded people and developed into a sort of cottage industry for me. My knitting friends at church are so great, and do such good work for charity. Meeting on a weekly basis we find ourselves healthier mentally for having each other.

So good thing my heart got broken back then, 55 years ago, so I can justify my stash...


  1. Thanks so much for sharing. We share a few common things, but not the broken heart turned me into a knitter story! My Mom and her Mom were knitters so I learn to knit. The skill you have with a pair of knitting needles is wonderful!

  2. I admit that I am not a knitter, but for as far back as I can remember, I have been in love with art & craft techniques, from decorating the windows at Halloween to making and selling my coiled fabric bowls, with a lot of tie-dye clothing in between, it has been food for my soul no matter what is going on in my life. We who connect with creating are truly blessed! It's our way of coping with whatever we have to deal with, and never (at least for me!) grows old. That's how I began following your blog, because you shared all the wonderful things you have created, along with your wonderful gardens and home decor! Thanks for being such an inspiration!

  3. Love this history / story - it is great. Parts of it are my story as well!!!! BUT I do not at the present time have a yarn stash. On with FALL. Bloggers are starting to blog fall and Texas has at least 6 more weeks of summer....

  4. I loved this post--such a fun story! And the last line was perfect! I wish I had such a valid justification for all my fabric! Thanks for the smiles.

  5. I agree Holly her first sentence were my thoughts exactly. What a summer you had and how wonderful to have had someone who encouraged your creativity. It is no wonder that you are creative in so many areas. What you wrote "By then I was determined to make up my own design. (Where do children get that kind of confidence???) makes me think about how important it is to encourage creativity in young people. I always knew I could sew, even without any reason to believe that. No one in our family sewed or own a machine. When I bought corduroy fabric and a skirt pattern that I was going to make by hand, our neighbor told me to come to her house and use her machine. She showed me how to use her machine, gave me some advice about laying out the pattern in the right direction and encourage me to sew the zipper myself. I loved my skirt and that was the start of a lifetime of many different types of sewing and needlework.

  6. Thanks for sharing this! I taught myself to crochet when I was 10. I think everything I made then was gifted, so I can't attest to the quality or desirability of the finished projects, but I'm guessing both were...low. 30 years later, I suffered my own wounds to the heart, with my 15 year-old daughter's mental illness and bipolar diagnosis. I have spent hours in waiting rooms while doctors tried to figure out what was wrong, and then in the ongoing efforts to find the right mix of meds and therapies to fix it. At first I tried to work during these frequent appointments, but the turmoil our family was going through made it hard to concentrate on my computer screen, and typing on a laptop in your lap is an ergonomic nightmare. I can't remember how I came to the idea, but one day I found myself at a yarn store buying yarn to make my mother a blanket for her 70th birthday. I bought the hook the yarn package said I needed and followed a pattern tutorial I'd found online to make a 140-square blanket.

    I crocheted in waiting rooms of doctors, therapists, and neurologists, and when I stayed up to be sure my daughter stayed asleep and safe. Somewhere along the line, I realized that when I was crocheting, I wasn't thinking about all the horrible things that could go wrong (in the beginning, the mess I was making with the yarn was horrible enough...) and that I always felt less overwhelmed after crocheting for a while. I focused on the thread moving through my hands and over the hook, and not on the rapidly dissolving future we'd dreamed for our child. The 140 squares of that blanket were made with acrylic yarn, and I had to block it to within an inch of its life to make the squares fit together. But it's a functional, pretty blanket, and it feels like physical evidence that darkness and terror can be transformed into something positive and beautiful.

    The blanket led to an endless stream of projects, accompanied by miles and miles of yarn, which I also lie about. I've been inspired by your stash reduction campaigns, and moved beyond words by your post about your husband. I am glad that knitting gives to you what crocheting gives to me, and I hope that the peace and calm that comes from making will be with both of us, and all our sister and brother makers as we move forward into the unknown and sometimes scary future.

    1. THANK you for your touching and eloquent story. Best wishes, Mel

  7. What a great walk down memory lane! I can relate for different reasons. I’ll never forget getting a skein of white mohair yarn for Christmas and a red candle dripped on it. Imagine trying to to get that out!

  8. Loved your story of learning to knit. It sounds like you have been a speed demon from day one! I can just imagine your excitement over skirt fabric and matching yarn. My mom helped me through a sewing competition at the local Singer Sewing Shop (her contribution was ripping out my mistakes). I was about 14 or 15, and my outfit was a brown wool tweed skirt and jacket. But what really “made” the outfit was the little pillbox hat my Mom’s friend constructed out of the same tweed fabric. I won first prize (don’t remember what the prize was). We start our passions early, don’t we.

  9. Thanks for sharing. . . . It is ALL about justifying the stash.

  10. My first sweater was also peach, I love peach but it isn't my colour. I love to hear the clicking of needles and even in late life taught myself to knit with finger advancing the yarn instead of dropping the right hand needle. Alas, too many sewing projects push knitting to the far background. Loved your story Mel.