Saturday, November 14, 2009

1918 - Tying it all together

My grandma bought the yarn for this sweater a long time ago, maybe 20 years ago. And she began the back, she got about 4 inches along. Then she put it down and couldn't figure out what row she was on. So the sweater sat for five years or more. And then she showed it to me and asked me to finish it. I figured out where she'd been and attempted to get the same gauge as she had. I know where to look to see where her work stopped and mine began, but an unpracticed eye probably could not spot that there was more than one knitter on this project.

I found some buttons, finished the sweater and gave it back to Grandma. A couple of years ago my uncle was sorting through her things, figuring out what to do with her grand accumulation because she was going to a care facility. He brought a box to my house of all kinds of clothes, and the sweater. He had no idea that I had knit most of it. And now Grandma's memory is far enough gone that she probably doesn't remember anything about the sweater either. Still, both our hands worked on it. As Grandma said, there are no short-cuts, every stitch must be done.

Grandma (my mom's mom) and my other grandma (dad's mom) taught me how to knit. They were both left handed. I remember them laughing about how strange it was to teach a right handed child how to knit. I was pretty young, probably 6 or 7. I remember how they really enjoyed teaching me, they were so patient and would show me again and again how to do the stitches and how to hold my hand for a long-tail cast on. Knitting really ties me to my grandmas, and this sweater seems the embodiment of this beautiful art they passed on to me.

I have had so many hundreds of hours, possibly thousands of hours of pleasure that flow from those times long ago when they taught me to knit. I think now, when the time is long past for the questions to be answered, that it would be good to know who taught them. Grandma was born in 1918, 91 years ago today. And whomever taught her to knit most likely was born and lived mostly in the 1800s. I know Grandma hung on to knitting when she had terrible arthritis and was convinced it saved her hands from being crippled. But I doubt she did it because she thought it was good for her hands. She was divorced, poor and raising 7 kids. Maybe knitting let her relax, or at least temporarily forget her worst hardships.

In some ways knowing those details is not so important. Part of knitting is knowing there is a thread that takes you back centuries to other knitters. It is like that feeling when making bread, or cutting vegetables, or digging the garden. You know that you are doing what has been done before, and will be done again, and it makes you part of the whole of it.