Save me, Elizabeth Zimmermann!

I finally laid my hands on a copy of The Opinionated Knitter, and I’m finding it comforting the way I would find a long conversation with my grandmother comforting. Neither of my grandmothers, nor my husband’s, are/were anything like her, excepting that three out of the four of them are/were knitters, but there’s something about the way she writes that reminds me of them. She, like my grandmothers, is of the World Where Everybody Knits.

I like to think I am, but I’m really not. Like natural inhabitants of the WWEK, I can’t really remember not being able to knit, though I can remember not being able to do it well. I can remember garter stitch on big needles, and long chains of crochet that didn’t turn into anything. I remember watching my mother make mittens, explaining to me about the thumb stitches held aside for later, about how the cables were made, about little bobbins of black and white and orange for the snowman design on the backs. I cannot remember none of that making sense to me. But for a long time, I was the only person my own age, whom I knew, who could knit. I am not of the WWEK. It is very pleasant to visit with people who are. They would say things like, “Come over and bring your knitting. We’ll have cookies.” And then you’d get there and you wouldn’t exactly talk about your problems, but you’d chat and knit together and things would somehow seem better, and you’d know you weren’t alone.

Feminism gains big in a lot of areas–most, I think–but loses heavily in women getting together to do crafts. Now, we work. When the author talks about women going from house to house to keep one another company while knitting, weaving, or spinning in No Idle Hands, or being lonely for the company of other women on the Oregon Trail during westward expansion, I feel that in my gut. And confidential to Emily from the Concord knitting group: yes, I know I should come over. Haven’t been able to manage the time yet, though it seems like I should have plenty. I hope you’ll still be there when I do!

Anyhow, I don’t know too many people who have had an awesome day today. Mercury’s in retrograde; that’s all the explanation we’re likely to get. My husband has borne my lousy mood with more complacence than I deserve. Maybe after we dispose of the boys for the night, I’ll get time to knit and find a cookie. And then things will somehow seem better for a while.


What have you done for me lately?

One question that came up at the Portsmouth sampler talk is a perennial question among stitchers and knitters alike: how did the adults of yore get such small children to sit still enough and concentrate to do these hand crafts? The samplers we saw during the talk were made by girls as young as 8, and two were made by a girl at ages 12-ish and 16; she’d clearly developed an affinity for needlework and done more than was technically required to show her proficiency with a needle. There is historical evidence to support girls having done a great deal of knitting during the colonial period as well; one girl’s diary that was excerpted in No Idle Hands recorded her making some progress on her knitting, probably of stockings, almost every day. The author theorizes that a certain number of rounds was likely required every day, before the knitter could go and do other things, stockings being as perennial a need as you can imagine they would be if they were handmade for everyone.

I’m always a little surprised when someone asks that. It’s not as though we don’t teach children today to sit still and develop fine motor skills. It’s just that it usually isn’t these fine motor skills. Knitting was an important and marketable skill for women in colonial times, and for some men too (there were jobs, like shepherding, that lent themselves well to knitting, and men were expected to do it). Embroidery was marketable also, regardless of social class. A poor to middle class woman could sell her work and/or make a living teaching others how to do it. A middle class to wealthy woman needed to be able to demonstrate her value on the marriage market. Both knitting and embroidery (and crochet and lacemaking, and a host of other crafts) were means by which someone could earn money and maintain her family, and they remained viable until into the 20th century (and some would argue, until now). To not teach a child how to do needlework was to hobble her economically. We would no sooner neglect to teach a child to read and write now.

So here’s my theory: it’s not that children now are less capable of knitting or doing needlework; it’s that the economic rewards of doing it (or the consequences of not doing it) are not nearly as great as they once were. Then as now, everyone learns to do what they need to do, like reading and writing, for basic success in life. Some people enjoy it and do more: reading and writing for pleasure, or profit. But what is done or not done is not a good measure of what can or can’t be done.

(Here’s another one: people will ask knitters why they bother knitting socks when you can just buy them much cheaper. Do people ask techies why they build their own systems instead of just hieing themselves down to the Best Buy?)

Is it fall yet?

…Daria really holds up, though it’s definitely of another era. This is always the time of year when I like to revisit the series, while I wait for that first whiff of autumn in the evening air.

Over the weekend, I attended a lecture about Portsmouth needlework samplers at the John Paul Jones house in Portsmouth, NH, and while I was there, I decided to finally see the Penhallow bedspread in person. The tour of Warner House was lovely, and the Penhallow bedroom was definitely the best room in the house.

I also managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Yarn Basket in search of something local for my swap partner. Time is running out on that–I really have to find the required disciplinary items. Part of the parameters of the swap involve items representative of your own and your swappee’s academic disciplines (we’re all in academia). I think I found something good for hers, but my own is leaving me stumped. I don’t want to get her a Jane Austen thing if she’s not a Janeite, and finding something that represents either literature or museum studies as a whole is surprisingly difficult. I do have some yarn I could give her. I might go that way.

I’m just finishing up my Via Diagonale now, on the last pattern repeat, and the new Twist Collective was up yesterday. So many great sweaters! I should take the opportunity to use up some of my stash on at least one of those–I could use something new to wear teaching. Last winter, I was so bored with all of my sweaters. The two I made myself, years ago, are so heavy that they’re too hot for all but the very coldest days of the year. I need to experiment with something a little more DK-weight. I loved Eadon:

and Twinings:


Who else is dreaming of a bright, crisp, colorful fall season?