Ruth Larson teaching macrame

“Under the fence, around the sheep, bring it through, and off it leaps.”

As a kid, I remember my grandmother Ruth saying some cute little ditty while trying to teach me to knit. Maybe it was something like the one above. Or maybe it was something different. Or maybe it was while teaching me to tie my shoes—another tricky endeavor involving string and coordination—and it was the “over, under, around and through” verse she was saying.

Whatever.

I eventually learned to tie my shoes. But learning to knit? Now that was another matter (and apparently I wasn’t the only one—see Terri’s comment).

The fact that Ruth’s grandchildren were losers with needles certainly wasn’t reflective of her as a teacher. She was, in fact, a very good teacher and she readily shared her love of knitting, crocheting, embroidery and any other needlecraft popular at the time.

When Ruth settled into small town life in Henderson, MI, (which we’ll soon learn about), she became active in many community projects. Teaching needlecraft was one of them. I perused archives from the area newspaper, the Owosso Argus-Press, and found lots of articles about Ruth Larson, the teacher. The photo above and an accompanying story are on page 9 of the July 10, 1975, archive.

Isn’t it cool that we can click around online and see all this info? (I just couldn’t figure out how to get rid of the yellow search highlights—sorry about that).

ArgusPress.February 4, 1978, Owosso, MI

This article is on page 5 of the Owosso Argus-Press, dated Feb. 4, 1978. Here Ruth is teaching a class sponsored by the Shiawassee County on Aging (SCOA).

Argus-Press.August 5, 1984, Owosso, MINot only was Ruth a well-known teacher, she was also a respected judge for the Shiawassee County Fair. This article appeared on page 7 of the Owosso Argus-Press in Aug. 5, 1984. Recognize any of these names?

Know anyone who took lessons from Ruth Larson? Pass along this blog and ask them to leave a comment. We’d love to hear from her protégés!

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

Age is a Relative Thing

April 24, 2010

So here we are, still celebrating birthdays. You know how each family has a month that’s just lambasted with birthdays? Well, years ago April was that month for our family. And because Easter often was in April as well, my mother would combine all the birthdays with Easter for a big family gathering.

Here’s a bulleted list of birthdays for you. I do this because, as a graphic designer, I’m skillfully aware that a vertical list of many items is visually more pleasing to the eye than a horizontal (how’s that for a shameless business plug?)

  • April 3:     Rebecca (my sister)
  • April 4:     Harriet Amos (my paternal step-grandmother)
  • April 10:   Diahann (me)
  • April 24:   Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt (Ruth’s mother, my great-grandmother)
  • April 27:   Gladys (Gulick) Amos Klotz (my paternal grandmother)

April 24. That’s today.

And today was my great-grandmother Emma’s birthday. So today we’re talking about her.

As you know, Emma was born in 1884 to Charles and Wilhelmina Hornburg. As a young woman, she married Carl Hooge, a Chicago policeman, and together they had two children, Carl and Ruth. In 1917 Emma’s husband died, leaving her the single mother of an 11 and 8-year-old.

A year later, Emma married Rudolph Arendt and together they had a daughter, Charlotte. They were married 37 years before Rudolph died in 1955. Emma lived another 23 years, many of them residing with her daughter, Ruth, and her final years with her daughter, Charlotte.

Emma died in 1973 when she was 89 years old.

All of this seems rather factual and impersonal, doesn’t it? But the truth is, I remember very little of my great-grandmother. From my childhood, the only image I have of Emma is her sitting in a chair by the window. She lived with my grandmother at the time and whenever we visited, there she was sitting in her chair.

She sat. And sat. And sat. Besides needlework, I wonder if she did anything else?

You know, age and time are funny things.

As a young child in the 1960s, I thought Emma was a very old and ancient woman. Yet 25-30 years later, when I was an adult and Ruth had reached that same old age, somehow Ruth didn’t seem ancient at all. She certainly didn’t sit around in a chair all day.

I guess age is a relative thing. Children naturally think everyone is old. And for each generation, the average life expectancy and quality of life exceeds the one before it.

Ruth (Hooge) Larson, 1909-2006

Pretty in pink, here’s Ruth standing by her granddaughter, Cheryl’s, car. It’s 1997 and Ruth’s 88-years-old. Don’t let the cane fool you—she did pretty good getting to wherever she wanted to go!

Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt, 1884-1973

Flashback to 1968. Here’s Emma (Ruth’s mother) sitting in her chair. She’s 84 in this picture. This is the same spot she was sitting nine years earlier…

Emma (Hornburg) Hooge Arendt, 1884-1973

…in 1959 at age 75.

Wilhemina (Behrendt) Hornburg, 1854-1939

Going back even further to 1934. Here’s Emma’s mother (Ruth’s grandmother). She’s 80-years-old in this picture—this is the woman who had 12 kids!

So, of course, there’s more to Emma than her just sitting in a chair. What memories do you have of her? Can anyone fill us in? Please do!

Getting to Know Ruth

January 17, 2010

crochet afghan

When I think of my grandmother, the first thought that comes to mind is needlework. Knitting, crocheting, cross-stitch—you name it, she did it.

As a kid, I took this all for granted. Don’t all grandmothers knit endless supplies of mittens, scarves, sweaters and afghans for their grandchildren? And when those grandchildren grow up, don’t all grandmothers crochet lovely lace doilies and table runners to adorn their homes?

Well, my grandmother did. And no, I didn’t know the value of these treasures until I actually tried making them myself. I wish I paid more attention to her instruction when I was young.

As I’ve mentioned, Ruth was born in 1909.

She was born March 5, 1909, to Carl and Emma (Hornburg) Hooge. Her brother, Carl, was two years older, and, according to a Chicago Tribune article, they lived on 5340 South Wood Street in Chicago, Ill.

Ruth grew up, married George, and together they had two daughters, Carol and Judith. In the 1940’s, the family packed up their household and left the big city of Chicago for Henderson, Mich.

Henderson, Michigan?

Is that even on the map? Well, maybe on a county map.

Henderson was a pretty small village back then (it’s even less today). It was a blink of an eye, with only a country school, church, grocery store, hardware store, post office and feed mill (grain elevator, as we call them in Michigan).

It was here that George, Ruth and the girls started their new adventure. They bought the village grocery store, lived in the large apartment above the store (seemingly large to me, as a child) and supplied the rural townsfolk with food and a friendly smile.

Can you imagine the extreme change of lifestyle this must have been?!

George and Ruth kept this store for 25 years, and all the while she knitted, she crocheted, and she cross-stitched.

That was my grandmother. To start, anyway.

Also, just thought I’d mention: I’ve got two bells done.