grandma and knitting
Jenny Rose Ryan
My grandma was a much better knitter than I. My trouble is that I hate patterns because I’m impatient. I get bored with following them, lose my place as I k2tog. So, as I improvise a hat, some slippers, a purse, I inevitably drop a stitch as I’m trying to decrease. This may also have a bit to do with my propensity for drinking red wine while I knit and watch sci. fi.
I’m impatient to finish projects, to get started on new ones, so I usually have three pairs of needles occupied at any given time. I frog old things I don’t like to reuse the yarn; many, many lopsided afghans have met their demise this way. I like my projects to go quickly, it’s all about the instant-gratification, so even if I try to start a pattern, I almost always abandon it partway through the piece. I am really, really impatient. All of these reasons contribute to my love for making items from squares or rectangles. My scarves and purses are intricately woven, containing patterns and colors I’d never even try in a sweater.
Grandma’s sweaters were incredible; cables, intarsia, dancing kitties on a fence. Needles stuck from various spots throughout her projects; sleeves half-done and waiting, perfectly, for their bodice. I don’t believe in god, but sometimes, I believe that if I hope hard enough, if I have a strange faith, I’ll channel her hands and create something magnificent. But then I remember the impatience, and I think, gee, maybe I should work on that.
The idea of relearning how to knit all started when mom dug the tattered carpet bag from her closet a few years ago. It looked and smelled familiar, and we both quickly began tearing up as we remembered. I remember sifting through the paraphernalia encased inside: Bakelite (or other early plastic) needles, blue and green metal ones, rubber bands and twist-ties, strange plastic circles I later learned made pom-pons. It was a little like reaching into Mary Poppins’s fabled bag; never ending, filled with adventure and deep, deep, deep. I wanted to be a part of my family’s knitting lineage; the bag had been Lucy’s, but also her mother’s.
My newest foray into knitting a square took place during a four-hour car trip. Through print-outs of minimally-helpful online tutorials and trying to bring forth my ten year old self-- sitting on the davenport next to Lucy, my grandma, with a cache of bright pink acrylic yarn tangled in my lap-- I started to plug along. The terrible drawings of hands, the illustrations of where the yarn is supposed to be throughout the stitch, tripped me up and left me cursing. I couldn’t stop.
I tried to remember how I’d learned when I was 8. I wasn’t a hip knitter then; just an intent little girl trying to bind off before I grew too frustrated and threw the project (a pot-holder) across the living room. But grandma cheerfully, patiently tolerated my fatalistic disposition, and kept directing me where to put the needle, how tightly to wrap it, how loosely to leave it. The only projects I finished were the pot-holder and a small Barbie scarf-- because Barbie (who I renamed Samantha, because that’s what I renamed every doll) really needed to bundle up for those Wisconsin winters. Really, I couldn’t do it without Lucy right there, because she never taught me how to cast-on, and mom barely remembered her own lessons. Still, I would watch Lucy’s hands churn when that was all she had left.
I don’t know that I’ll ever be as good as Lucy without that patience I certainly didn’t inherit. In my wake, you’ll find many lopsided hats. Meant-to-be-felted slippers that didn’t felt. Half-finished socks. A partner-less mitten. My project pile is the Island of Misfit Woolens. But, every time I drag out the fuchsia bag with its wooden handles, I think of who else has held it and that’s really all I need.