lady knitting on her porch

I’ve always been fascinated by handcrafts. Crocheting. Knitting. Tatting. At one time or another, I’ve known how to do all of these things, at least in a very basic way.

My maternal grandmother shared her love of crocheting by teaching me to create circles and squares with a hook and yarn. My paternal grandmother taught me to knit and to tat. The tatting shuttle took a great deal of patience to operate. Her pillowcases and handkerchiefs were trimmed in lace created by her shuttle. I remember that she had an ivory shuttle that once been her mothers, my great-grandmother.

I wish I could recapture those moments spent with my grandmothers, their arms around my shoulders and bent fingers touching mine as they guided. I still smell peppermints and lilac scented perfume when I think of them. Perhaps it is this nostalgia that draws me back to these pastimes.

My mother in law taught both of my daughters to knit and crochet. One of the girls is reminding me how to knit and the other has promised to help resurrect my crocheting skills.

 The "Little Happy Gang" children's knitting club, who are knitting for Canadian soldiers and for the Canadian Red Cross Society. (Photo Credit: Library and Archive of Canada)

The “Little Happy Gang” children’s knitting club, who are knitting for Canadian soldiers and for the Canadian Red Cross Society. (Photo Credit: Library and Archive of Canada)

So my knitting daughter cast on for me and demonstrated knit and purl, then I repeated her actions to the best of my ability. After a few rows, I could barely push my knitting needles through the stitch.

“Oh, these are much too tight” She smiled and took the needles from my hand. Clickety clack, she finished the row. She is relaxed and confident young woman. I, on the other hand, have insides that are sometimes twisted in knots like tangled yarn. Which is, after all, largely why I’m interested in the relaxing practice of knitting in the first place.

“You should start on larger needles,” she suggested, looking at me with kind concern. It’s an interesting turn of events when your child advises, in tender tones, that you might want to consider something tantamount to training wheels for a bicycle.

La leçon de tricot, d'après Millet by Jean Francois Millett (Photo source: New York Public Library Digital Collection)
La leçon de tricot, d’après Millet by Jean Francois Millett (Photo source: New York Public Library Digital Collection)

So off I went, to purchase a larger pair of needles from Kniterary, a quaint shop in my hometown. The woman behind the counter quickly ascertained my skill level.

“What would you like to make?” she asked.

“Well, I’m just a beginner …”

“Do you know how to knit and purl?”

I nodded. The language of knitting is mostly reassuring, although casting on and off  has me in a bit of a dither. It sounds like a boating metaphor and I get seasick at the mere thought of pitching over the waves.

The shopkeeper reached for two small balls of cotton yarn and a set of thicker needles. “You could start off knitting – dishcloths.”

Not a sexy beginning I admit, but I must walk before I can run. My dreams of knitting infinity scarves and Irish cable knit sweaters will have to wait.

Practiced knitters don’t need to watch their needles as they work. That must be nice. I’m like a new driver. I over think every move until my shoulders have raised to my ear lobes and my elbows are crowding my armpits. But I’m an optimist. I know I’ll get there.

Australian participation in war knitting marathon at New York's world fair 1939-1940 (Photo Source: NYPL Digital Library Archive)
Australian participation in war knitting marathon at New York’s world fair 1939-1940 (Photo Source: NYPL Digital Library Collection)

Knitting is hard. Writing is hard. They are both hard in different ways.

Writing is an affair with a fickle lover. Some days the affection of words can be drawn out more easily, and some days they turn their back on me. “Not tonight,” they say, “I have a headache”. But if I stay with it long enough, the words will eventually give in and begin to flow from my mind then through my finger. I can arrange and rearrange them on the page with the tap on the keyboard. The more I think, the more I am rewarded.

Knitting, not so much. My brain tells my fingers what to do, but my fingers and thumbs betray me. The more I tell myself to create a looser stitch, the tighter each stitch becomes. It’s like bowling. The worse I play, the harder I try, then the worse I play, then the harder I try until finally, I want nothing more than to return my bowling shoes and march to the car. Suffice it to say, I’m at the practice stage of things. I do a lot of knitting and unraveling.

To my knowledge, no one in my family knows how to tat. In the near future, I’ll be resurrecting that art and make my contribution to the family knowledge pool. But for now, I remain a grateful student.

Are you revisiting a lost art?

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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