Tuesday, December 30, 2008

May every stitch bring you closer to the calm clear space in the center of your soul

Knit - knit⋅ted or knit, knit⋅ting;
Verb (used with object) -
1. to make a garment or fabric by interlocking loops of one or more yarns by hand with needles or by machine; 2. to join closely and firmly, as members or parts: the tragedy knitted the family closer together. 3. to contract into folds or wrinkles: to knit the brow; to form or create from diverse sources or elements: she knitted her play from old folk tales and family anecdotes.

My mother was an avid knitter. Knitting, in fact, was her passion, her one indulgence from the work of creating a home for her 6 children and husband.
In my memory, I can't see a time when she didn't have a knitting project in process: hats, mittens and sweaters; little jackets and coats for small children; celtic sweaters; and argyle socks for my paternal grandfather. But, now in her 86th year with failing vision and hands stiffening from arthritis, she is unable to pursue the avocation that gave her such peaceful hours and gifts of love for her family.

"I like making a piece of string into something one can wear".
Author Unknown

My mother raised 5 daughters but she only produced 1 knitter. No, it wasn't me. Oh, she tried to teach me to knit when I was young but I had neither the inclination, talent or patience. To me, it seemed to take forever to make just a few rows of something-that-looked-nothing-like-what-it was-going-to-be .....

In recent years, however, I fell in love with the exquisite yarns available to knitters: hand-dyed, cotton, linen, silk, alpaca, cashmere and mohair. My tactile sense, my love of texture found it difficult to resist their fragrances and the feel of these lovely yarns. I would visit them in shops but I only touched and smelled, then walked away: I am not a knitter. Walking away, I suppose I remembered the slow, clumsy attempts of a girl struggling with something she wasn't very good at doing.
Oh, I liked the clickety - click of my mother's metal needles; I liked seeing the yarn moving rapidly through her hands. But I didn't want to do it myself.

(used without object) - 1. to become closely and firmly joined together; 2. grow together, as broken bones do; 3. to contract into folds or wrinkles, as the brow; 4. to become closely and intimately united.

Recently I asked my mother how she got started knitting. Perhaps, there was someone she knew who knitted? Or something beautiful she wanted desperately to make for herself?

These questions came to me this past autumn when finally I gave in to my fiber obsession and enrolled in a series of 5 knitting lessons through the adult education program at York High School. I remembered 'knit'; I remembered 'purl'; but I didn't know how to begin and I didn't know how to stop.

During Christmas weekend, while my mother was in Maine on a holiday visit, I took the opportunity to ask all my questions. She said it was 1943 when she began knitting. My father was fighting in Europe; she was pregnant with me with lots of time on her hands. A family friend named Kitty Bell (a spinster!) gave her an exquisitely made baby sweater as a gift and that gift became the catalyst for a life-long avocation. She was intrigued by the process and she loved the result of the work. She said she'd never seen hand-knitted work before.

She had to learn to do it for herself.

(Praising her work, I mumble to myself "I can do it, too."

Kitty Bell, who lived on the second floor of the three-decker house (my grandparents lived on the first floor) and another knitter, a Mrs. Watkins who sold yarn from her home, taught my mother to knit. She loved it; she was immediately good at it and she never stopped loving it and enjoying the results of her efforts. She knitted for nearly 65 years -- until age, vision losses and arthritis slowed her down. Now, she says she is not pleased with the result of her work; it doesn't meet her standards.

It makes me sad to think of the loss to her of this great comforting and satisfying joy.

But in 1943,my mother was young and alone and frightened; knitting was a way to pass the time
. She said she never went out in the evening while my father was overseas; she had a lot of time and some good friends to apprentice her to the craft.

In my mind, I see her sitting by the radio listening to war news and quietly knitting; perhaps one of her 7 sisters visited in the evening while she struggled with her first knitting attempts.

Noun - the fabric produced by knitting -
1. a knitted garment; 2. a style or type of knitting; the basic stitch in knitting, formed by pulling a loop of the working yarn forward through an existing stitch and then slipping that stitch off the needle.

A wonderful thing happened on this holiday weekend. I brought out my first knitting trials to show my mother; I asked her help. I asked my questions and listened to her stories from the war years. And then a miracle happened: I saw my mother as a young woman; I saw her youth emerge through the stories. I saw enthusiasm -- excitement -- confidence -- knowledge -- skill and her love for the craft in a way I'd never seen before.

It was magical
: it has been a long time since I've seen my mother glow as she did that late Saturday night.

Between us, a new bond was created by sharing the love of craft and the mutual joy of using one's hands to make something beautiful for a loved one.

It was a lovely moment ........ one I will always treasure.
Title credit: from Earth Heart Designs