Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Knitting History

     Over the past few weeks a couple of the podcasts I listen to have featured stories about how the pod-caster's started knitting.  Honestly, most of them are fairly new to knitting, and really new to spinning.  On the other hand, I have been knitting for many, many years, probably at least 55 years, maybe longer.  I don't quite remember ever not knitting.  I came from a family of knitters.  My mother was an exquisite knitter, knitting beautiful, all-over cabled sweaters, lovely socks and really nice earflap hats.  Obviously she knit during the decades that knitting was not particularly fashionable, the 40s and 50s.  There were yarn shops around, and a few magazines and books, but several of her patterns were hand written, and others, I believe improvised.
      I am not sure where my mother  learned to knit.  I don't believe that her mother knit, but possibly another relative taught her as both her grandmother and great grandmother lived in her house when she grew up. Every summer my grandmother and my mother and her siblings traveled back to Brantford, Ontario to visit my Grandfather's family.  It is also possible that she learned to knit during the years she lived in remote parts of Canada with her first husband, or when she lived in Gotenburg, Sweden during the Second World War.  I am pretty sure that knitting was a bit more prevalent in both Canada and Sweden than in Lynn, Massachusetts, where she spent her first 13 years, and as the wife of a Royal Canadian Air Force Officer she may have belonged to a knitting group in some of the places that she lived.
     But, my mother did not teach me to knit.  She was an absolute perfectionist, and would have never tolerated the inadequacies of a small child learning to knit.  My Aunt Irene, one of my father's sisters, taught me to knit when I was about 5.  I clearly remember sitting on the couch in our living room , with Irene beside me, and knitting first a garter stitch strip, then a little hat, and eventually small sweaters for dolls.  They were all knit in the same grey yarn, which as I recall was a Shetland type wool, probably sport or fingering weight.  I remember knitting mittens with Fair Isle-ish snowflakes, but I think Aunt I knit the thumbs for me.  I continued to knit, and believe me, knitting was totally NOT cool in the 60s, but I think it may have become a bit cool in the Hippie days, when I was in college during the late 60s and early 70's.  As a cross-country skier in college I had plenty of opportunity to knit and wear Scandinavian type hats and gloves for myself and for friends.
    When my children were born I started knitting pretty obsessively, in fact I have two big plastic bins of small knitted items that I made for them, and I can think of a number of items that I made as gifts or items that I knit for my own kids and gave away.  In the early 70s I started quilting as well, but quilting is not as portable as knitting, so I usually had a hat or mittens for travel somewhere handy.
     I got my first drop spindle in 1974 as a gift from an old boyfriend.  We had a small yarn shop in Canton NY that had some spinning items, and had really lovely yarn as well.  I never learned to spin very well, though I would get the spindle out every so often and give it a try.  When we moved to Vermont in 2002, I met a few spinners, signed up for a class at Fletcher Farm Craft School in Ludlow, VT and bought my first and second wheels, possibly the same week.  Wheel One is a tiny upright "cottage" wheel, probably locally made, that I got in a little, kinda junky Antique mall.  It was certainly not a good beginner wheel, though I enjoy spinning on it now.  Later the same week I saw an ad in the paper for a spinning wheel in a yard sale not too far away.  I went up to check it out, but it was a very large, ornate Kromsky Saxony wheel.  Not something I could sneak in the house easily. It was obvious by the amount of yarn and looms, etc in the yard sale that the woman was an obsessive knitter and spinner, so I asked if he had, perhaps, a smaller wheel for sale.  She took me downstairs into her cellar bathroom, which held three very large, very furry, and very energetic Australian Shepherds, and one Majacraft Rose Spinning wheel.  She quoted a price that I though was exorbitant until I went home to look up Majacraft wheels on the internet.  I called her right back and drove back up to her house and bought the wheel.  The Rose is still my workhorse wheel, the wheel that I use every single day.  Of course I now have more wheels, and enough drop spindles of every sort to sink a ship, but honestly, I am not a drug addict or and alcoholic, so what harm is there in having too many wheels?

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