Sunday, April 29, 2012

Knitting Across Time and Place

One of the things I love about knitting is the connection to knitters across time and place. Right now, I'm knitting a pair of socks called Tintern Abbey by Brenda Dayne. This sock pattern is based on the gothic arches of Tintern Abbey located in Wales where Dayne lives, designs, and produces Cast On, a very well done knitting podcast.

I chose this pattern for both the elegant design and the opportunity to learn how to knit socks from toe up instead of from the cuff down method. The pattern includes directions for a Sherman Toe and Sherman Heel. According to Dayne, "the Sherman Heel fits like a glove." I have a narrow foot with an even narrower heel so I thought the method was worth trying. I'm anxious to finish and try on the sock. Because I rarely knit a pattern without modifying it, I'm using double pointed needles rather than two circulars. I also made my preferred sock toe because I know it will fit.

While knitting the foot as specified in the pattern, I listened to an audio book and some knitting podcasts. However when I was ready to tackle the Sherman Heel, I turned off the audio. While Dayne's pattern includes a well written and photographed tutorial for both the Sherman toe and heel, I needed quiet to study the directions. One step in the heel refers to gusset stitches without giving a specific number. When I looked at the stitches on my needles, I easily sorted two sets of gusset stitches from those of the instep and heel. Although Dayne and I have never met, we share an understanding of sock construction handed down by generations of knitters. In fact, one of my great great grandmothers lived on a farm in Southeast Iowa where she spun yarn to knit wristlets, mittens, socks, and shawls. Although she probably knit socks using the traditional top down method, I doubt she had access to commercially written patterns. Some time, while knitting six pairs of socks, I began to understand knitting in the way of my great great grandmother and that pleases me.

Most interestingly, I'm not sure I'd have come to this conclusion if I had been funneling stories into my mind via an ipod. While I'm not going to give up listening to books and podcasts, I'm going to limit my audio and screen time to make room for quiet thoughts to wander into my mind.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lilac Scented Memories

Last week, the lilacs in my yard began to bloom. I have three varieties and am considering adding a white lilac. While I drive to and from work appointments, I look for the hardy flowering bushes along backyard fences and alleys, near the curbs of busy streets, and in yards and gardens. Unfortunately, I can only imagine their scent while flying by in my car. Yesterday, my husband and I set aside Saturday chores to visit the Maxwell Arboretum Flack Lilac Collection on the south side of the CY Thompson Library. (Photo above)  We arrived around 6:00 p.m. along with four couples dressed for a high school prom. As I pushed my nose into fragrant blooms, proud parents took photos of their teenagers. The young men, looking slightly awkward in their tuxes and suits, reminded me of my grandfather when he was their age.

In 1917, my grandfather Dewey was eighteen years old and lived on a farm in central Nebraska with his widowed mother. Instead of the suit he might have preferred, he donned the uniform of a World War One doughboy. Dewey and an older brother volunteered for military service so another brother could stay home and farm. My granddad arrived in France in late May 1918. When my sister asked him about the war he replied, "We didn't think about making history, we just wanted to go home." Just after the armistice was signed, Dewey wrote his mother saying, "I hope to be home before the flowers bloom." However, shipping the American Expeditionary Forces back to the United States took some time. Dewey arrived home in mid May of 1919. I don't know whether or not he returned in time to see lilacs bloom that year but I do know my grandfather was very thankful to be home.        

Although Dewey didn't become a farmer, he gardened most of his life. My grandparents had several large lilac bushes in their yard where my siblings and I often played. Once, when I was a first year teacher, my grandfather picked a large bouquet of lilacs, placed it in a plastic bucket of water in my car before I drove 2 1/2 hours back to Lincoln. Dewey has been gone for almost thirty years but the sight and scent of lilacs will always remind me of my gentle grandfather and a young man who went to war because he felt he had a responsibility to his family and country.