When, about two years ago, I became obsessed with knitting and sewing again, my husband was very puzzled. He asked me, since when I had become a crafter. My first reaction was, “Well, always.” but then, if this were true he wouldn’t have been puzzled. The fact is that I was crafting like crazy all through my teen years, then I did less in my twenties, and when my husband and I met, I only had one knitting or crochet project going on, and those projects tended to spend months and month in my knitting basket without being touched.
So, while my husband knew that I sometimes knit or sew a bit he was quite unprepared for today’s situation where yarn, fabric, and needles are everywhere. There’s an on-going knitting project in every room of the house (well, not the basement at least), and my fiber-related paraphernalia is crammed into every available closet. For example I now am the proud owner of three functioning sewing machines (I only use one of them, though), and I own at least two pairs of knitting needles in every size available.
Of course I started thinking about when did this start, and why did I have the feeling that it never stopped. And I realized how important making socks, and sweaters, and skirts had once been to me, and how I slowly gave it up. First the things I sew almost never fit, and the sweaters didn’t either, and then I stopped wearing hand-knit socks in the house because I started wearing sneakers indoors. So there was no need to knit new socks because the old ones didn’t wear out.
And then I was looking for a warm woolen cardigan, and there were none to be found, so I bought wool, found a pattern and made one. And then I found knitting blogs, and ravelry, and since then I have been knitting like a madwoman. With occasional sewing. (I just made an apron for my son last weekend. Fun, and quick.)
It all started when, in the summer of 1975, my parents, sister, and I were vacationing in Hungary. We were camping, and some other woman that we met had a crochet shawl. My mother loved it and the woman showed her how to make one. I wanted to make one to, and so we bought yarn (very acrylic in orange and blue), and my mother showed me how to do double crochet and chain stitches. It is a nice simple pattern like half a giant granny square. I actually finished the shawl on my own. I only never got around to attaching the fringe, I think my mother did that for me. Seems I always had a problem with the finishing.
Sorry for the bad quality, this was a group shot from a carnival party. I was supposed to be a gypsy. My mother made a skirt for this. As you can see, already the orange and pink-combo appealed to me. The look and face remind me of my son a lot.
The summer after that we had to learn crochet in school but since I already knew how to do it, I got to make advanced pot holders. I was so proud!
That year a friend of mine and I met to play with our Monchichis (those were all the rage, then, I had to buy my own because my mother is against horrible plastic toys), and lamented our lack of Monchichi clothing. Since we didn’t have any money we asked our mother’s for yarn, took our crochet hooks, and this is what I made:
My very first “design”:
A dress, complete with a slit for her tail, a coat and a hat. I actually have more of the clothes I made for this doll and another one, and I took pictures of all of them. Shall I show them to you?
In the summer of 1977 our vacation lead us to Cornwall. Here we met another German woman who knit sweaters for all of her four daughters. Again, my mother loved the sweaters, and that woman showed her how to make them. And I got more yarn and needles and learned how to knit. I wanted to make a sleeping bag for my Sindy-doll. To this day the two parts haven’t been sewn together.
That’s me, age 10, playing. It’s a bit weird that I have a picture of the very first garter stitch square that I knit, and almost no pictures of any of the dozens of sweaters I made. Maybe my parents have more pictures of that time than I do.
Back at home I picked up a book on knitting from the library and tried to teach myself how to purl. If I had been left on my own I would have become a combination knitter but my mother looked at my purl stitches, and showed me how to to them “right”. The first thing I knit after that “sleeping bag” was a horrible vest, made of bulky yarn. My mother made me knit it because she thought it was the perfect beginners project. Quick, and easy. She always tried to dress me in blue because she likes it, and she thinks I look good in blue. Of course I don’t like blue, never have, never will, and avoid it as much as I can. Knitting things of blue yarn actually makes me feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless I eventually finished the vest because I only got new yarn after finishing a project.
The next thing was one that I chose myself. It was a glorious cardigan, made with four different colors, it had stripes, and textured patterns of knit and purls, set-in pockets, buttonholes and everything. The brochure from the yarn shop showed it in different olive, and rust-colored yarns but my mother was adamant, she didn’t like those colors (I still dream of them. I would have looked so great in that sweater!), so I got to make it in four shades of – blue.
I guess my mother secretly resigned herself to make something out of that yarn after I would have given up on it. She never would have finished it for me since she doesn’t like her knitting to be complicated. Well, I do like it to be complicated, obviously, because I finished it. The project after that was a Norwegian sweater with a yoke in stranded knitting. Again, I had to do it in blues.
The next thing (I think) was a sweater that was knit in one piece from the front to the back, increasing for gigantic sleeves of the kind that we call “bat-wing”-sleeves in German (I don’t know how to call them in English, they basically start after the waist, and look as if you could go hang-gliding using only your pullover). It had an intarsia pattern with 12 different colors. Again, I couldn’t have the yarn the pattern called for, the only yarn available that had that many colors that worked together was a mohair yarn. My father sat down and re-calculated the pattern for me, which was very, very nice, only since he didn’t have a clue how knitting works (and I basically was a beginner, too), I tried to do things that are impossible with a yarn that you can’t rip back. It took me a long time but I finished this one too. It never looked as it should have, though. The colors were wrong, the drape was wrong, and I had made the increases and decreases for the sleeves in a way that made the sleeves much too tight, also it was too warm.
After that I stopped using patterns and made up my own designs. The first of those was a bright pink cotton sweater with a lace pattern. Sadly, there are almost no pictures of me wearing my sweaters, and I have thrown them all away over the years. You also have to remember that those were the 80s when sweaters were boxy and had no shaping. I designed a striped hat when I was thirteen that was very popular with my friends, and I made several for them as gifts. I taught myself how to knit socks from a book, I figured out how to knit gloves on my own, and I learned to look at other people’s sweaters and copy the stitch patterns. A friend of mine had an entrelac sweater her grandmother had made for her, and I remember sitting in class one day, looking at her back and trying to figure out how that was done. (I did figure it out, and made myself a white cotton vest). You have to know that I knit so much at that point that my English teacher said he didn’t recognize me without my knitting in my hands. (Back then we were allowed to knit in class.)
Over time I got weary of the fact that most of my sweaters didn’t fit, and I thought this was because I never could use the yarn the pattern called for. I didn’t know then, that swatching is more complicated than knitting up a tiny piece of stockinette, measuring it any which way, and guestimating how many stitches to cast on. In the nineties I started knitting from patterns again. I made a silk lace cardigan with a crochet edging I have worn so often that it’s starting to fall apart. That one didn’t fit either, at first, I had to make the back much wider than the pattern stated to save it.
Then I made a couple of sweaters using fashionable novelty yarn. None of them fit, and you can’t rip back novelty yarn, so I threw them away, knitted sweaters got out of fashion, and it took me three years to make a measly crochet scarf.
Until about two years ago. Now I’ve found a new determination. I’m much more thorough in preparing and executing my knitting, and I’m also willing to rip back everything and start anew. Also, I no longer use novelty yarn or mohair which makes the whole ripping back-approach much easier.
I have always been proud of how independent and fearless a knitter I am. I will approach everything in knitting with fierce determination, and work my way through it. I like to learn from books, and the internet helps a lot. But only the other day, when I was threading my tapestry needle, was I realizing how much I have learned from my mother. She has a hard time following a pattern, and she doesn’t like intricate stitch patterns, complicated construction, or doing colorwork. But she was the one who taught me how to cast on, and off, and how to sew knitting together, how to thread a tapestry needle, and how to alter a pattern on the go when you see that it won’t fit. She was the one I could take my failed attempts at self-designed sweaters too, and then she’d help me think of a way to save it.
I’ve been so much in my own with my knitting that only last year did I realize how firmly I am embedded in a tradition of crafty women. My maternal grandmother was the master-crafter. All her daughters know how to knit, and sew, and crochet, and do embroidery. Every one of the them has something she likes doing best, one is knitting socks for children, one is making embroidered tablecloths out of the linen their mother weaved, and one is quilting, and sewing.
I’ve always considered myself to be on my own but I’m not. Even my sister is knitting, and crocheting, and quilting, and making things, and has a spinning wheel. It seems to be a family thing.