Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Knitting History

I called my parents this morning to tell them about the new house and get the latest news from home.

My family is doing well but one of my great aunts passed away over the weekend. My dad went to the graveside service yesterday. After the service people were reminiscing about various relatives who have passed away and someone mentioned Great Aunt Dora. My Great Aunt Dora is best known for her knitting. She knitted children's sweaters and sold them in a shop in Traverse City. One Christmas all the kids got sweaters from Aunt Dora. (That's a lot of kids. She was Grandma and Aunt and Great Aunt to a lot of people.) They were all the same basic sweater, but they all had different scenes that wrapped around the body of the sweater. My sweater had dogs; my older brother's sweater had fish; my younger brother's sweater had clowns. I always thought they were pretty neat. You could turn the sweater around and around and the design never ended.

When I started knitting obsessively, my mom got out one of the sweaters and asked if I remembered them. Of course I did. "But those were knit on a machine."

"They certainly were not!" My mom corrected. Inside the sweater was a tag that said "Hand Knit by Dora K_____." The sweaters were perfect and I always thought they were knit on a machine. There was no way she could knit that many sweaters without a machine.

"She hand knit them and sold them for $25 or $30 in Traverse City. The store couldn't keep enough in stock."

Again, I protested. "You can't sell a hand knit sweater for $25! This is weeks of work."

"Oh no. She could knit a sweater in 2 or 3 days, depending on how big it was."

Again I looked at the sweater. This boggled my mind. 2 or 3 days? Are you kidding me?

Back at the funeral, people were reminiscing about Aunt Dora's knitting and someone mentioned her spinning wheel. Apparently, in addition to being able to knit the same sweater repeatedly at mind-boggling speeds, she also spun her own yarn. Her daughter had the spinning wheel for a while but now no one knew quite where it was. My dad mentioned it because he thought that I might like it if it ever turned up. I caught my breath and immediately started imagining where I could put it in the new house.

"Oh yes," I said. "I would like that very much."

My Uncle Harry told my dad about seeing Aunt Dora spin yarn. She would wash the wool, dye it, and card it. Then she would use the spinning wheel to turn the carded wool into yarn. I've never seen yarn spun but I imagine that it must almost look like magic. Uncle Harry still has a pair of gloves that Aunt Dora knit from yarn she spun.

Suddenly the spinning wheel didn't seem that important. I'm not very likely to become proficient with a spinning wheel. It's more that I have a burning to desire to own anything related to knitting and yarn. I have lost so much more because I didn't learn from Aunt Dora. It's no one's fault. I didn't start knitting until after she had passed away. But I can't help feeling a deep regret. I could have learned so much. Compared to Aunt Dora, I am a second-rate hack. I should probably be embarrassed.

So, if the spinning wheel comes my way, I'll be happy. I'll even let the greedy knitter inside of me gloat a little. But I always want to remember that I ought to be trying harder. That saying "oh, it's good enough" is not good enough. After all, this is my family history. I'm knitting history. I want my children to feel pride when they say "your grandma knit this."


At April 11, 2006 2:21 PM, Blogger Joy said...

A whole sweater in 2-3 days? That's outstanding! And the pictures that never end sound fascinating. I'd love to see photos of those sweaters if you can produce any. Sounds like an amazing woman, your Aunt Dora.

At April 12, 2006 7:45 AM, Blogger brooke t. higgins said...

Okay, so my first thought was, "Man, Brenda gets all the cool stuff." Cuz, like, you know, the spinning wheel and stuff.

But then I thought, "Wow... that's pretty amazing. I wonder if there's any knitting history in my family?" I know there's lots of that c-word going on, but I don't know about the knitting. Hmm.

Awesome story, B-town. Thanks for sharing!


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