How many of us remember our mother or grandmother who taught us to knit? So often I am asked how & when I learned to knit. I remember knitting with my Grandmother, and the joy that we shared spending time together in a creative pursuit. We could bond with our knitting, both involve in our shared activity, yet still able to have a conversation and to learn from each other about so much more than knitting....exploring life, the universe, and everything is a part of the rich tapestry of knitter's life. The act of making those stitches goes deep into our muscle memories freeing our brain to work on its most pressing task of the moment. My daughter, the Small Genie, learned to knit just sitting with me and watching. Aged 3 and a half, she managed to wrap the yarn around the needle and make her first stitches all whilst chattering very excitedly. No concept of what she was really doing, but she knew that the act of knitting gave her pleasure, and she got a lot of praise and attention from me and my knitting friends, so she continued.
My husband didn't quite learn to knit from his mother, but he certainly benefitted from her excellent abilities with pointy sticks and endless yarn. Alongside managing a hugely busy household of 4 sons just 5 years apart, a GP husband who worked all night call outs, and a small holding to grow the family food, she could also knit endless jumpers and warm accessories to clothe the menfolk of her life. By the time I got to know her, the pressures of her life were considerably reduced. The boys had left home, her husband had retired early and although there were still vegetables being grown, this was now an urban garden plot managed by the retired GP.
Of course, knitting was still a major part of her life and she would almost always have a project on the go. Her abilities fascinated me. From her I learned that you should ALWAYS knit children's jumpers from the top down, especially the sleeves. Then you can easily pull back cuffs and bottom edges, reknitting with the the extra length that is regularly required for fast growing boys. She always knitted with undid, thick scratchy wool, which I didn't love so much (neither did her sons!) but the longevity of these garments, constantly remade and extended over the years was a testament to the quality of British wool and its ability to weather time and endless rough treatment. I tried to persuade her that modern wool production could create a hard wearing yarn without the scratch. She didn't find my arguments in the least persuasive and her husband's jumpers were of the scratchy variety until he died. But he was always warm and the jumpers looked fabulous.
Her sons, now with families of their own, had left the hand knits far behind as sons do, so the grandchildren (mostly boys!) were the next recipients of Granny's knitting. They wanted brightly coloured jumpers with logos of their favourite football team. The good news was that bright colours meant dyed yarn, and these yarns were produced in more skin friendly ways. So although Granny had a dim view of its likely longevity she thought the jumper may at least last the duration of their latest team allegiance. This was the point at which I struggled to keep up. With no pattern or printed design, Granny sat down with her needles and yarn and just started to knit the design in multicolours across the front of the jumper. Arsenal seemed complex, but doable. West Ham I thought was far too tricky, but she managed it with style. Chelsea just astounded me.
Granny turned 90 this year. She is physically fit, still with lots of energy and a desire to help out and do things. But her memory has deteriorated. She cannot remember what she had for breakfast or what day of the week it is. Sometimes she doesn't remember her family. She gets agitated after a while, unable to settle to anything. She hasn't knitted for years.
Over the recent holiday season she came to visit us a few times. My Small Genie sat with myself and Granny and we just got out our knitting. I told Granny we were making blanket squares, just simple garter stitch ones. I gave Granny some needles with a few rows cast on and knitted and we sat very quietly knitting. Granny protested at first that she didn't know what to do, just play with it I encouraged. The Small Genie and I continued to knit and chat quietly. Granny picked up her needles, held them with the ease of a well practised knitter and began to make some stitches.
Before long she was knitting row after row. Quite a bit of encouragement was required, but despite her brain telling her that she had no knowledge of how to do this, her fingers remembered. They knitted with skill for a while, until she would be overcome with doubt again. Usually at the end of each row. Yet her work was immaculate, she never dropped a stitch and she relaxed into it. This was a wonderful time of calm and mindful activity. This was a little insight into Granny, the lifelong knitter was still there. She completed her square in half the time of mine. I had to remind her how to cast off, but after a few stitches she remembered that too.
That simple ability to create something out of pointy sticks and yarn goes deep into the body's memories. It sits buried, often ignored, but it is still there. Somehow the joy of remembering how to knit is there for Granny, and it is almost like we have a way into her now. Even if we cannot manage the conversation these days, we still can sit with her and enjoy the companionship of knitting.