Knitting Through the Generations

September 13, 2010

knitting baby socks

So, it’s getting to be that time. In just a few short weeks I’m going to be a grandma!

Am I excited? Such a silly question!

Yesterday we had a baby shower for the mother-to-be and, of course, she received lots of beautiful gifts. Many of them were handmade, which makes them all the more special. Seeing those beautiful knit and crocheted items reminded me of my grandmother Ruth. It also reminded me that nine months is enough time to grow a baby but not enough for me to master the fine art of knitting.

But I’ve learned more about knitting, which makes me further appreciate it. I love its history. I love that generations upon generations have been doing this same craft and passing it along to the next.

In the book “Knitting the Threads of Time,” author Nora Murphy writes of the oldest known knitting artifact—a sock from the 12th century that is now in Washington DC’s Textile Museum. According to her research, knitting originated in Asia and the Middle East, and then moved into Europe.

I asked Jan about Ruth and her knitting.

(Just a bit of sidetracking here: Jan is my stepmother, but I hesitate in using that label because she is much too dear for any negative connotations associated with “step.” When she and my dad married, Ruth was 92 and beginning to need extra care. My dad and Jan were there for her. And remember, Ruth is my mother’s mother—I think that makes my dad and Jan two very special people. How many men do you know who do their mother-in-law’s laundry?)

Anyway, Jan is a super knitter. She, more than any of us, can appreciate Ruth’s talent for needlecraft. When Jan was helping me start my baby sock project, she commented that I knit in the same style Ruth did. I was thrilled.

There are two main styles of knitting: Continental knitting (European, German or left-handed knitting) and English knitting (Western or right-handed knitting).

“Your grandma knit the European way,” says Jan, who also teaches knitting. “I would assume she learned from her mother and it would have come from Europe.”

Jan described those who knit in the European style as “pickers” because they pick up the yarn they’re holding in their left hand with the needle held in their right. On the other hand (note the pun), English-style knitters are called “throwers” because they hold the yarn in their right hand and wrap, or throw, it around the needle in held in their left. Jan feels the European style is easier as the knitter ages and her hands become more arthritic.

Jan also told an endearing story. Ruth spent the last two years of her life in a nursing home and once, when my dad and Jan came to visit, they found her sleeping. Jan said, even in her sleep, Ruth’s hands were moving.

“We who knit can understand,” says Jan. “She was sleeping and her hands were knitting. We could have put needles in her hands and she would have worked them.”

I’ve really got to learn this craft.

Socks I knit for my granddaughterSo here are the socks I knit for my granddaughter. My husband’s Aunt Claire (another knitter who should get together with Jan) helped me turn the heel. When I made it through that tricky part, I thought of my niece Bethany who told me she let out a cheer when she turned her first heel. Ah, we elitists who understand the true meaning of a well-turned heel.

I’m pleased with my socks. Except apparently I was a bit off on my yarn and stitch gauging. My granddaughter probably won’t be wearing these until she’s five.

Terri's afghan for the babyMy sister Terri is a talented needlecrafter and crocheted this beautiful afghan for the baby. I love the colors. The shower guests loved the scalloped edging.

Jan's sweater and cap for the babyJan knit this adorable sweater and cap for the baby. So cute!

The sweater Jan knit for the babyLook it these perfect rows of stitches! There’s beauty in such repetition. And aren’t those buttons the sweetest?

Here are a few interesting knitting sites. Please share your favorites as well!

Historic Knitting Patterns Interesting, old patterns as well as links to other historic sites.

Knitting How-To Helpful how-to videos and forum

The Purl Bee Beautiful photography and lots of interesting links

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4 Responses to “Knitting Through the Generations”

  1. Terri Says:

    Twice Grandma Larson tried to teach me how to knit. Twice, my daughter Bethany tried to teach me how to knit. In frustration Grandma Larson threw up her hands and declared, “you knit backwards!!” Bethany just roared in laughter. Hence, I crochet. ;-)

  2. Rhonda Says:

    I like the look of knitted items so much more but crocheting is a million times faster and you get satisfaction from finishing the project before you get bored with it. Great for people like me with a short attention span. I did learn to knit in grade school thru 4-H and actually completed a cardigan sweater. It took what seemed like forever. Then my grandma showed me how to crochet and I found my niche. I have a project going right now in our truck and can get one granny square done in about 20 miles!


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