Sunday, 17 October 2010

When my paternal grandmother taught me

to knit she taught me to do so without using patterns. Patterns were not part of her life. She kept notes about the number of stitches she used for certain items but little else. I remember my grandfather's very fine black socks began with the rather cryptic "Ben's black 84". Presumably that meant "Ben's black socks - cast on 84 sts". His grey socks began with 72 sts because the wool was a little thicker.
She could also make him a cardigan with no pattern at all and the grandchildren had a succession of sensible, sturdy no-nonsense garments for every day wear. Our Sunday wear was a little more exotic. My brother might be given a knit-purl pattern or a simple cable. My sisters and I would get the angora boleros that all little girls had (for them) or a lace panel in wool for me. (Angora and I did not mix well. It was much too warm for me.) Even then my grandmother did not use a pattern. She would occasionally look at a pattern and she was able to tell other people how to make particular patterns. She could even read the instructions and translate them into language other people understood but patterns were not for her. She wanted to make a garment that fitted an adult or could grow with a child.
My maternal grandmother on the other hand was a rigid pattern follower. Patterns were there to tell you what to do. They saved you the trouble of thinking about the issue yourself. You knew exactly where you were with a pattern. She would make herself and my mother lacy garments. We children had very little from her. She was not terribly interested in knitting for children. If you were going to put the effort in then it had to last longer than a couple of years for a growing child.
Their approaches reflected their approach to life. Having finished a task yesterday I was waiting for something to finish cooking before I served a meal for my father and myself. I took out a pile of books belonging to my mother and my maternal grandmother.
"What are those you have there?" my father asked when he came in.
"Knitting books," I told him.
"You don't use knitting books."
I knew exactly what he meant. I have technical knitting books. I have stitch dictionaries. I have some books for inspiration but I do not use patterns. Life is too short for that. I want to try things which are different, not do what someone else has already done.
"What are you going to do with them?" my father asked after he had looked at two.
"They can go to the book stall at the church fete. They probably won't sell but some might. If they don't then I suppose the rest will go to the charity shop. Someone will use them."
He nodded and then said,
"Well when you have finished that can you have a look at this? I thought I might try and make some for the fete but I think the design could be improved."

4 comments:

jtwebster books said...

As a definite pattern user, I am amazed that it is possible to knit without one. Your are obviously a very talented knitter. I hope your books find a good home, whether at the church fete or charity shop.

catdownunder said...

I think it is the way you get taught rather than talent. It is a way of thinking about things!

Rachel Fenton said...

Hurrah for throwing out the patterns!

I agree it's indicative of a way of thinking.

catdownunder said...

I wondered if anyone would agree!