Sunday, June 19, 2005

"You've Got To Pick Up Every Stitch"

That's what Donovan said, but my mother said it first. When she was teaching me how to knit, she said the most important thing about knitting is learning how to rip and start over. I hear her gentle, reassuring voice: "Never be afraid to rip and start over."

My first experience of The Power of Knitting was the "oohs" and "aaahs" I got as a three-year-old, wearing a winter coat, hat, and mittens set that my mother had knit for me, to match a pair of wine-colored leggings. The next memorable knits were two jumpers, one green, one blue, that I wore to kindergarten with white blouses underneath. I don't know how old I was when I learned to knit, but by age 12 I was knitting up a storm. I even knit a striped turtleneck sweater for my favorite TV star at that time, Ollie the single-toothed dragon puppet on Kukla, Fran & Ollie. (Ollie was a creation of Burr Tillstrom, mentor of Frank Oz). The sweater had yellow, green, and red stripes, and Ollie wore the sweater on one of the shows - I was thrilled, even though the black and white transmission (this was 1949-1950) lacked the joy of color.

When I got to high school, the girls were knitting argyle socks for their boyfriends. I was too young and dorky to have a real boyfriend, so I knit a pair of argyle socks for my brother. My best friend's mom was a champion knitter who spent a good part of her days sitting with the ladies of the local knitting shop. She was also a glamorous dresser. For my sixteenth birthday, she gave me a special gift certificate for a custom-designed pattern and yarn from Alice Maynard's shop on Madison Ave. That sweater was the most complicated and best-fitting thing I have ever made. I wish I still had it.

In college, girls were still knitting. I remember once dropping a needle rather loudly in one of the lecture amphitheaters, much to the displeasure of the professor. Mine was not the only needle to roll down the aisle that year; the class was so large that the professor didn't know us by name.

Some of my mother's knitting equipment and pattern books moved with her when she came to my house at the end of her life. I especially like the 1940's pattern books...I wish I had saved more of them. Her last work was a blanket composed of triangles knitted from all the scraps of yarn she had leftover from her various projects. It reminds me of the sweaters and dresses she made for my dad, my brothers, me, and herself.

My daughter-in-law, Pippi Bluestocking, is a great knitter, and she makes objects as well as clothing items: animals, dolls. I tried modifying a knitted dog hand-puppet pattern to make mermaid puppets for Mermaid Girl last year, but was not that successful...the tail was problematic.

It's a great irony that knitting is making a comeback as an antidote to our techno-world, because the automation of needlework started that world in the first place. Joseph Jacquard, a French textile manufacturer, invented the Jacquard loom in 1801. The technology was adapted by Charles Babbage for mechanical calculating, and subsequently by Herman Hollerith for his magnetic punch card, exploited profitably by IBM for the first generation of computers.

It's not really a circle but a spiral: in 1905 we could knit. In 2005 we can knit and we can blog about knitting.


AmyS said...

Another great post - so many interesting links to follow. And good thoughts, too. One of these days I am going to write something about knitting, too.

PPB said...

knitting is one of those things I really wish I knew how to do. my grandmother crocheted, and tried once to teach me, but she lived so far away that ongoing lessons weren't possible. you're right, though, it is definitely becoming hip.

Savtadotty said...

Thanks, Amy. I look forward to your knitting post, whenever. Now that I am on your mailing list, there's no risk I'll miss it.

PBear: I suppose you could learn these handicrafts from videotapes, but it's much more fun to learn directly from an experienced craftsperson, especially but not necessarily a loving relative.

That Girl said...

I dont knit, but it's definatly on my list to learn. I love to needlepoint tho. Although it's a website that pokes fun at old patterns, perhaps one of the ladies at knows where you can get those old patterns you crave.

Yael K said...

I love to knit but I am really bad at it and the polar ice cap is melting faster than I can knit a project. I taught myself when I was a kid and really want to learn how to do it 'right' (and faster) now! I can't believe how absolutely gorgeous the little sweater is that you are knitting. Those fish!!

Savtadotty said...

That girl: That site is hilarious. The authors are so snarky and imaginative. Thanks for the link.

Yael (get used to it!): I can help you learn to "do it right," but the only way to do it faster is to use it as relaxation therapy in a stressful environment. Living in Israel could be just the thing to accelerate your productivity!

elswhere said...

Hey mom-- I tagged you with a meme over at Spanglemonkey. Go check out her "Serious Meme Business" post for details.

Not that you have to do it or anything; just wanted to let you know...