Thursday, January 30, 2014

Of Memories, Mothers, and Making Mistakes

It's been months since I posted anything on this blog, despite my good intentions to do so.  Three topics have been running around in my mind and I've decided to combine them, if for no other reason than the wonderful alliterative quality of the title above.

The first topic has to do with memories and how people who make it up the twenty stairs to The Quilted Purl want to share those memories.  The most common trigger for these memories are the three antique sewing machines in the shop.  The one pictured above is my most recent addition and came from right here in Georgetown.  So many folks turn to one another, or to me, and recall how Mother or Grandmother had one just like it.  Or they compare and contrast my machines to the ones of memory.  If the folks are related in any way the conversation often turns to, "Whatever happened to that machine?  Who has it now?" and occasionally,  "Do you think it's worth anything?"  And then there are the beautiful reminiscences of the items lovingly made on those machines.  For a few moments we are all transported to the past and the loved ones who spent time creating clothing, bedding, and memories.

Of course while folks are tapping their pasts, it's my past and the women pictured above that come to my mind.  My mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all  figure into my thoughts of knitting, sewing, and crocheting and provide such a sense of continuity not only of love, but also of handwork.  And it's the same for so many folks.  

In November of this past year, I lost my Aunt Ann with whom I shared a love of knitting socks.  My brothers, both Catholic priests, concelebrated the funeral Mass and one of them said this in the homily:

Brothers and sisters,
we believe that all the ties of friendship and affection
which knit us as one throughout our lives
do not unravel with death.

Just two weeks ago when I visited in Kingston
I remember seeing some knitting on two needles,
on the floor next to Ann’s chair.
And I remember wondering two things:   
First: what was she making?
And second, would she have time to complete it?

Sadly, the skein of Ann’s life came to an end
before she finished her knitting.
But there was another, more important kind of knitting Ann did:
the knitting of friendship and affection,
the knitting of a love that does not unravel, not even with death.
Whether you and I know how to work with those long needles or not,
we are all called to fashion those same
 “ties of friendship and affection,”  ties of love,
that bind us together with God and with one another.

I don’t knit.  I’ve only watched others do it.
But I know that knitting is a slow process,
where every single “knit and purl” counts.
It’s one stitch at a time, over and over again, one row at a time…
And I know that sometimes a knitter “drops” a stitch
and needs either to rip out some of what’s been done
or go back and, cleverly, pick up a dropped stitch.

(For the rest of the homily click here.)

A few weeks ago, one of my cousins posted on Facebook a picture of the socks Ann had made for her.  One by one, her siblings all commented on the pair of socks their mother had made for each of them, and the joy they find in having them.

This fall a young woman who lives in town, came by wanting to brush up on her knitting skills.  Through chatting I learned that her mother, a great knitter, had passed away this summer and now she wanted to get back to knitting in her memory.  In fact, she brought by yarn that had been made from the fleece of sheep her mother has raised.  What a lovely tribute to a mother so missed.  Which leads us to the third topic, making mistakes.

Which of us hasn't made a few mistakes in our lives, only to have the help of a mother or grandmother in correcting them?  I make mistakes everyday as I knit or quilt and have the tools at hand to correct those mistakes.  Sometimes it's just a matter of a few stitches to tink (think "knit" backwards) or maybe I have to frog a whole piece (think of what a frog says) and rip it out.  The seam rippers and I are on very good terms and they have saved more than one disaster at the sewing machine.  The young woman mentioned above has been in several times for a bit of help with correcting a mistake and it's a pleasure to see her satisfied look when she's able to recognize and correct the mistakes herself.

Some mistakes are more serious and call for greater correction.  A few months ago, the man who runs the programs at the county jail came by the shop wondering if I might be able to donate some yarn for a  crochet project some of the women in the facility were working on.  The requirements for the inmates were that they produce three projects (in this case, infant blankets) for charity and then could make something for themselves or a family member.  I was happy to oblige and asked if they knew how to knit, which they did not.  So, two women from town and I volunteered to teach knitting at the jail.  

We had no idea of what to expect.  Actually, we were a bit surprised that the inmates would be allowed knitting needles at all and it was with some trepidation that we approached the meeting room where we would be locked in with the inmates for a hour or so.  They quickly put us at ease as one by one, they introduced themselves, shook hands, and thanked us for taking the time to teach them knitting.  For the next ninety minutes, we were simply a group of women chatting, laughing, and knitting or at least attempting to knit.  

Week after week, we were never sure who would be there, who may have made bail, or sadly, been transferred to another facility.  There were two constants: gratitude and the mention of mothers.  Some of the inmates were mothers themselves and talked about their children and their hopes for them.  Not all had the benefit of a mother to set a good example, but all spoke with love and acceptance, no matter the circumstances.  Several remembered mothers or grandmothers who knitted or crocheted, and one wanted to knit because her daughter had learned how and she wanted to be able to share that with her when she was released.

These last two weeks, we had no one for the class as not everyone meets the criteria to be eligible to attend.  Our two most faithful students had both moved to different facilities, the program director told me when he came by the shop earlier this week and none of the other women were eligible.  However, there were  a couple of men (trustees) who were interested in learning to knit if we were willing.  We were. So this morning,  Sandi and I spent ninety minutes guiding three men through the mysteries of casting on and the knit stitch, amid laughter and gratitude.  And of course, one of the first things one of the men said was, "My mother used to do this.  She made me an afghan."  And he said it with great love.


  1. Austie's blog led me to yours! What beautiful writing, Ruthie. It brought me back to my mom and grandmother who helped me learn to knit and crochet. I'm an avid needleworker Wish I could visit your shop.!
    A friend from our past,

    1. Thanks, Jennine. It surely has been a long time since the Junior-Senior Cotillion at BFHS! If you are ever out this way, I would love to show you the shop, remember the old times, and share stories of the women behind our handwork.

  2. Lovely post. It's so true that our family influences us in lasting ways. I'm sure I sew today because my mother and aunts were sewers and I saw them at it. Teaching someone to knit is a wonderful gift to them.

    1. You are so right, Joanna, about the family influences. It seems we all have a story to tell about that, including the folks who come in and tell me how despite best efforts on the part of someone else, they just never could pick up knitting or crocheting. But the memories are still there.

      At the jail, all three of us have found that the knitting is simply a conduit for the more important aspect of our visits - connecting as people. I think we've learned more than taught. Happy sewing!

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