09 May 2006

Thoughts related to the Amazing Lace,

or (One Reason) Why I Knit

Since I've signed up for the Amazing Lace, I've been thinking all things lace. Since my project for the Amazing Lace is, for now, top secret, and since my progress on other knitting projects isn't exactly page turning (how many pictures of the back of orangina, slowly inching along to look exactly like the front, do you really want to see?), I thought I would post a little differently about lace. This is a post I've been promising for about three months, but now I have an excuse, because it starts with lace. It also seems appropriate, considering that sunday is Mother's Day. So...

This is a sweater made by my maternal grandmother. She was born in the Ukraine, moved to Germany as a child, and then to New York as a teenager, where she met and married my grandfather and raised my mom and my aunt. I never met my grandmother -- she died when my mom was in high school. But when I think back on my childhood, I feel like she was always a presence. My grandmother was amazing with her hands -- she was an artist and an amazing seamstress. I wore dresses my grandmother made my mom to several dances in high school and I remember what a treat it was to go into the attic and carefully pull them, one by one, out of the trunk in which they were stored. My grandmother was also an incredibly gifted knitter. We have pictures of some sweaters she knit for herself and, as an adult, I have come into possession of two of them. This pink mohair sweater is one.

My mom taught me to knit when I was little (10 or 11, maybe). I'd been sewing for years (like my grandmother, my mom also sewed a lot of my clothes when I was a kid, and I can't remember a time when I wasn't putzing around with a needle and thread, inventing patterns for my dolls and making little quilts for my dollhouse), but had never tried to knit. Like my grandmother, my mom knits in the continental way, and this is how she taught me. At the time, I had a friend, Gretchen, who knit what I always understood to be the "American" way (holding the yarn in her right hand and wrapping each stitch). As is the way with 11 year olds, I decided to knit the way Gretchen did. Although I don't remember the details of the conversation, I have a vivid memory of sitting on the stairs in my old house, talking to my dad through the rungs in the banister. I remember that he explained to me the importance of carrying on family traditions, and how meaningful it would be to learn to knit in the same method as my mother and grandmother. Although I don't remember knitting much after this (I made a couple of mangled attempts at knitting in middle school, and again a long, ugly salmon pink scarf in high school), but this conversation made an impression on me. I don't know if this was the beginning of my obsession with family and tradition, or if it just fueled a pre-existing fire. But when I picked up knitting again after college, I made a point of proudly learning continental method, and teaching it to several of my friends. When I knit this way, I always think of my grandmother and my mom.

After I started getting serious about knitting, I pulled out this sweater (I'm too afraid to wear it) and started looking at it more carefully. It is one of the most amazing knitted garments I've ever seen. My grandmother's attention to detail is mind-boggling. It is an incredibly delicate cardigan -- the entire sweater is beautiful, perfect, even cables.

It is perfectly pieced, with no "wonkiness" in the shoulders or side seams. She even made buttons to match.

And then, what seems to me the most amazing thing, she sewed and set a lining in the entire sweater.

Sometimes, like now, when I look at this sweater, I feel overwhelmed by the amount of care and detail that my grandmother put into its construction. It makes me feel sloppy and lazy about my own work, and reminds me that there is a Craft to knitting and a great deal of value in creating heirloom quality pieces. This is the love and dedication that I strive for, to make something that can be passed on, that my granddaughter can wear and admire and that will hopefully inspire her to knit too. It is this sweater that makes me take a deep breath and rip out inches of knitting when I make a mistake. And this sweater (and my mom, and the sense of tradition and continuity that I feel when I pick up my needles) is one of many important reasons why I knit.


Theresa said...

That is truely gorgeous. You must be so pleased to have it.

Mom said...

This is the nicest Mother's Day present I have ever received and none will ever be nicer. Thank you and I love you!

JulieLoves2Knit said...

What a wonderful story about your grandmothers sweater! My mom taught me to knit continental also - can't imagine any other way now - although I do knit two handed for color work. I lost my mom recently so your story about tradition had a lot of meaning for me.
Knit on and enjoy the walks!!

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