Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Grandmothers of Knit and Purl

Both my grandmothers were born in January. As last week's brittle cold gave way to a thaw, I found myself walking and thinking of them. When I was growing up, they seemed quite different from each other. Grama-Grama Helen was born in Omaha in the early nineteen hundreds. She was definitely a city girl who loved costume jewelry and pretty clothing. Prior to being married, she and my Grandfather danced at Peony Park ballroom, went to movies, and ate at an old Chinese restaurant in downtown Omaha. Not so far away at the same time, Grandma Catherine was born on a farm in southeast Nebraska. Although she never talked about her courtship, I imagine it occurred at church and in her home. Both women lived through the World Wars and the Depression. Grandma Catherine and her husband lost a farm and moved to town. She was widowed in 1943. Grama Helen and her husband squeezed out a living in their small town when my grandfather accepted half-time wages for a full time job.  

Now I see similarities between the two women. Grama Helen attended the Methodist Church while Grandma Catherine was part of a supportive Mennonite community. Although two churches were different, both women had a strong faith. They both enjoyed music, baking, and cooking. Grama Helen made sweet orange rolls while Grandma Catherine baked hearty rye bread and a hard roll called semmel. They both sewed and did needlework. Grama Helen was an excellent seamstress and knitter. She taught me to knit. Grandma Catherine crocheted and did some sewing. Catherine liked to embroider and both women needlepointed. Helen went to Omaha to buy needlepoint supplies while Catherine ordered her from the Lee Wards Catalog. Sometimes Catherine would use a magnifying glass to count stitches in a magazine picture so she could make a project without ordering a kit or pattern. When she ran out of embroidery floss for a project she substituted another color. As I photographed this finished Winter Sky Textured Shawl, the wrong side flipped over and reminded me of my grandmothers, grandmothers of knit and purl.  On this January day,  the two women seem like two sides of the same fabric.

As my sore shoulder begins to heal, I am moving more and knitting less. I suggest any knitter pay attention to body mechanics before discomfort turns into pain. As I wrote in a previous post, knitting socks on two circular needles is better because I can rest my hands in my lap and keep my elbows supported and at a 90 degree angle. Metal needles with a reasonable number of stitches put less tension on my neck and shoulder. Recently, I happened to buy a pair of new Knitter's Pride Nova Patina circular needles that feel very comfortable to me.

Shawls that don't require pushing lots of close fitting stitches are best for now. Last week, I cast on a raspberry pink shawl which reminded me of Grama-Grama. To say that she loved pink is an understatement and a story for another blog post. Grandma Catherine was more conservative in her dress and favored navy blue and grays. Although I prefer blue of any shade, I also wear pinks and reds. Both remind me of my dear Grandmothers of Knit and Purl.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Once Upon a Quilt

Once upon the 1980's, I made each of my children a Christmas Quilt. These were not small wallhangings but quilts for their twin beds. Both of the quilts were hand pieced and hand quilted. How I hand quilted bed sized quilts with two young children is a bit of a mystery. At the time, I enjoyed quilting as much as I now enjoy knitting. I finished Kate's quilt in 1986 and Aaron's quilt a few years later. Kate's quilt is made of alternating blocks of Christmas motifs and those cut from a cranberry red print. Many of the Christmas motifs came from a coloring book and others from assorted quilt magazines. As I recall, we chose some of them together. I embroidered, pieced, and appliqu├ęd figures from the nativity, a Santa, a reindeer, a candy cane and more. Each year, we got out the quilts after Thanksgiving and put them on the beds. Then both of our children grew up and the quilts, wrapped in clean sheets, were stored in the linen closet.

Last December, Kate and family were visiting. I got out her Christmas quilt. She and her oldest little guy wrapped up in the quilt. I sent it home with them. Now the quilt spends December and most of January on E's bed. His favorite block is the one with a jingle bell at the end of the long hat atop an elf mailing a letter to Santa. After Christmas last year, I walked into their home and E. came running toward me with the jingle bell. He handed me the bell and remarked, "It is all my fault." I assured him, the bell coming off was nothing to worry about and quickly sewed it back on.

This year the quilt came out again. Kate, being a thoughtful mother and daughter, explained how Grammy sewed the quilt with fabric and thread. E. loves to look at the quilt and find the jingle bell, the fuzzy sheep, the candy cane with a ribbon, the star, and more. As Kate asked me this year, "Did you ever think that when you made this quilt, that thirty years later there would be a little boy who would get so much joy from it?" The answer to her question is, "No I wasn't thinking about grandchildren." I did hope my children would look forward to getting out Christmas quilts through the years and I think that despite, their sometimes harried mother, they did.

This quilt story hasn't come to an end because E. has a younger brother who is fourteen months old. E. also thinks the Christmas quilt belongs on his bed. So I have begun again. I haven't done much quilting in the last few years but I still have my supplies. Thank goodness I saved the coloring book and most of the patterns. In the quilting archive, I located a set of red and green quilt blocks made but never sewed together. Now they will be a Christmas Quilt for M. After I finish the motifs, I will machine piece the quilt top, add borders, and have the quilt machine quilted by a local woman. If I tried to hand quilt it, M. might have children of his own before the quilt is finished. Five blocks are stacked in a basket with quite a few more to go. Once upon a new Christmas quilt, . . . The End.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year: Old Stories and New Skills

Life is quiet as we wind up the holidays and I settle into the peace of January. The local forecast for sleet and snow ushers in evenings of reading, knitting, and hot tea. Some time in December, I decided to reread a few of my favorite books. This week I finished "One of Ours" by Willa Cather. During this second reading, I noticed things, I had forgotten or missed. "One of Ours" is not an action packed, fast moving novel. Instead the story unfolds slowly in Cather's lyric descriptions of the characters and the place, both Nebraska and France. She skillfully ties the settings together with ideas that include native cottonwood trees and wildflowers. Toward the end of the novel, Claude, the main character comes to a realization he has always known, that is, the things in life that are important are not material goods like linen and china  but "the ground and hope . . . the feeling matters." She also writes a beautifully understated relationship between Claude and another soldier, a musician who plays the violin. I find myself thinking about the novel a week later.  

I received some books for Christmas including a short volume of the early poetry by Joyce Sutphen, the poet laureate of Minnesota, and Wendall Barry's "Collected and New Sabbath Poems." Both poets write about rural settings. Although I am just beginning to read Barry's book, I love his idea of everyday as holy. At least, that is how I understand his Sabbath poems. My daughter-in-law gave me a used copy of poetry by Emily Dickinson as well as "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens. The Dickens' book is a wonderful hardback book with lovely old-fashioned illustrations. I last read that story in ninth grade English so I'm wondering what I might discover when I read it for a second time.

Since I have a sore right neck, shoulder, and arm, I decided to learn how to knit socks on two circular needles. An article on body mechanics and positioning for knitters suggested knitting with elbows supported by a pillow while resting the project in the lap. All of this means the knitter's arms are positioned to work at a 90 degree angle. For me, circular needles are more conducive to this position than double pointed needles. The method, with fewer transitions between needles (two instead of three or four) means less tugging and pulling of yarn to avoid the "ladders" that can occur when knitting with double pointed needles. Even though I've been knitting at a more relaxed and slower rate, the socks grow more quickly with the circular needles. A good friend encouraged me to try this method and I am glad I did. I also received some good advice when I purchased new needles from The Yarn Shop, one of my local yarn shops. The pattern, "A Nice Ribbed Sock" by Glenna C.  is one I have used many times. The yarn is Opal, Sweet and Spicy 2 in Cake Pops color way. There is nothing like bright and cheerful colors for January knitting.

I hope you have time to read a good book or knit some socks. Take good care of the arms, wrists, and shoulders though. Happy New Year.