Wednesday, August 1, 2007

How I Learned to Knit

I can say that I learned to knit in high school, but the story really began when I was a child with my grandmothers. Both of my grandmothers were born in Mexico and had learned to crochet from their mothers.

My grandmothers were wonderful women. My Grandma Lucy was a survivor. The skills that she learned from her mother enabled her to survive. She immigrated to the United States wanting a good life for her five children. She went through many struggles in her life. She did some share cropping, working in the fields with her husband. She sewed all of their clothes. While her husband was working in Mexico trying unsuccessfully to farm, she lived in the US. She lost three of her oldest children in a drowning accident. She stayed in the United States because she wanted a good education for her children. In order to survive, she had many jobs and took in sewing and crocheting for other people to make some money for food.

My GrandLucy was like a second mother to us grandchildren. As a little girl, I would watch her as her hands were always busy sewing or crocheting or cooking. She would make beautiful crocheted blankets and pillows and clothes. She would crochet doll clothes for my dolls. One day she handed me a crochet hook and some yarn and taught me to make a chain. Later she taught me the single crochet stitch and how to turn it to make rows. I was so excited that I could make something like a pot holder or placemat.

My Grandma Connie was a very stylish woman. She had a lovely home. She decorated it with handmade crochet doilies made from cotton thread. These beautiful things looked so delicate and beautiful like lace. She loved crocheting things for her family. On Christmas Eve, the family with all the extended family members would meet at her house to eat her homemade tamales and wait for midnight to open one gift. She would crochet bed slippers and toilet roll covers and afghans and give them as Christmas presents. We all wondered who would get the hand crocheted gifts each year. These were cherished by all.

By now you are probably wondering what crocheting has to do with learning to knit? Well, I’m coming to that. As my grandmothers grew older, they crocheted less due to their failing eyesight or arthritis. I missed the crocheted bed slippers and gifts. Knitting at first seemed so complicated to me. There were so many loops and an extra needle to hold! I was however, intrigued by pictures of knitted sweaters and the smooth fabric it produced. I began to feel that I wanted to learn to knit around 12 or 13. I experimented with spool knitting, having made a homemade thread spool with nails, and made long ropes of knitted yarn. This wasn’t enough for me. I wanted a flat piece of fabric. Being rather independent, and without anyone around that could teach me knitting, I went to the local library for a book on knitting. I taught myself, trying to figure out the stitches with limited pictures in the books. I was very pleased with myself. I knitted just like I crocheted, holding the yarn in my left hand, knitting in the back loop, hooking the yarn and pulling it through as if I was crocheting. This seemed to produce a decent piece of fabric. I later learned that I was knitting in a Continental way in Crossed Knitting.

In High School I took a Needlecrafting class, which included knitting. We were given a pattern and taught to read it. As I knitted away, I started noticing that my stitches were not looking like the other’s who were knitting the English way. My wonderful patient and encouraging teacher, Mrs. Andrews, helped me to work out my stitches and learn how to get a straight stitch rather than crossed or twisted one. It was all a matter of purling in a certain way to straighten out the crossed stiches. Also I had to remember the ssk and knit together were reversed in my style. I had to think of these stitches as right slant or left slant. To me the SSK is a right slant decrease and the knit together is a left slant decrease. I successfully finished my first baby poncho. I was in heaven.

Over the years my needle crafting has come in phases. There was a crossed stitch phase, when I married. I made samplers for my home. There was a needlepoint phase and I created pillows and a giant Alphabet Wall hanging for my first son's room. When I started to have children, I knitted and crocheted, making my first yellow baby sweater and vest for my husband. As my kids began to grow, I became obsessed with crocheting doilies and even made a beautiful round lacy crocheted tablecloth to give as a wedding gift. I had received one as a wedding gift and I cherish it today after 31 years of marriage. Unfortunately, having to work under a deadline in time for the wedding shower to finish this cotton crocheted tablecloth, took its toll on my wrist. I was starting to feel pains from the repetition of the crocheting movement. It was devastating not to do anything with my wrist to heal. I needed to make something! My fingers itched to pick up some yarn or thread and make something. I found that knitting was less strain on my wrist. It keeps my wrist straighter, especially in my style of Continental crossed knitting. Ever since, knitting has been my main companion. Ultimately, this has lead to exploration of spinning and dyeing, but that is another story.

I am a school nurse by trade, but I love needlecrafts. Now especially knitting, has become my mental health therapy. When I feel lonely, it is my friend. It excites me, renews me and gives me a sense of accomplishment to finish a knitting project. I have discovered a whole new world on the Internet to share my knitting experiences and feel very much like I have something more to give to others. The Internet has a wealth of information to teach and motivate me. I am still learning knitting and there will always be something new to learn. I want to be like my grandmothers. Imagine my thrill when after having 3 sons, who didn’t want to learn to knit, I was blessed with a granddaughter last year. I can’t wait till she is old enough to teach her to knit.

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