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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Knitting through the storm...

My grandmother survived the pogroms of Eastern Europe, a solo journey to America at age 13, and my grandfather, who is one of the grumpiest men I've ever met. But until the day she died, just shy of 100 years old, she was an avid knitter, spewing out afghans, sweaters and socks to keep her brood of nine children clothed and warm. Lucky me received one of her gems at age 20, a very tidy little blue cardigan that I have to this day.

I never really thought of my grandmother when I started to knit. It just seemed like a fun thing to do with my daughter, with whom I used to "co-knit" scarves that were more about process than product.

Several months ago, a friend, whom I will call my "knitting guru", pulled together a group of women to knit caps for a special neighbor friend who was going through chemo. I was driven by the mission and inspired by the camaraderie of the group, and managed to make several hats for our friend. They were full of flaws, but beautiful, nonetheless (if I do say so myself!). We all read Kyoko Mori's book, "Yarn: Remembering the Way Home", a memoir that is framed by lessons she learned from her knitting experience. I was most touched by her recognition that mistakes are okay. I realize that this sounds pretty basic! But somehow knitting lends itself to metaphors that speak to the heart. For example, 

* Individual pieces of yarn weave together and create something beautiful and new.
* Sometimes, when you make too many mistakes, you just need to undo what you've done and start over.
* When a ball of yarn gets really knotted, it takes a long time to undo the knots.

See what I mean? Once I got the knitting bug, I discovered a world of knitting addicts (we are everywhere!) who find pleasure - as do I - in color and texture, and creating usable objects that people want to wear! What a concept! I also discovered that the process of knitting is meditative, relaxing, invigorating, all-consuming, jitter-reducing, anxiety-protecting, and creative. Once you've gotten past stage one, you can actually talk and knit, which is also incredibly satisfying...

When I told my college-age daughter I had started to knit again, she expressed concern that I was - in short - getting old. Despite my arguments that knitting was the "new cool", she had conjured up images of me as a doddering old grandmother, content with my yarn and needles. Alas, when she saw the hats I was making, she put in a request for a sweater, and lo and behold, she started to knit too!

My first three hats went to my friend who had lost her hair. The next three were sold to neighbors during an "open studio" event, in which people stroll through the 'hood and view art on display in and around people's homes. These folks actually paid money for my hats! The next batch went to my family. My father - nearly 100 years old - had moved to assisted living and I had started flying to visit him every other weekend. 

I made four hats for the cousins who house me when I'm visiting him. They call them their "Mindy's." I've made five hats for my immediate family, including my husband and sister. And I finally made a hat for my father, who, after seeing all this knitting action, said he'd like "a Mindy" for himself. I also made several hats for my daughter's friends and a neighbor. The next few hats will be for the amazing people who care for my father nearly 24/7, keeping him alive with their love and attention.

When I think I'm done making hats - after all, there are a lot of other interesting things to make - someone else puts in an order. And I'm grateful for it...


  1. Beautiful Piece. Thank you for sharing it.


  2. What a lovely piece Mindy! Makes me wish I 1) knew how to knit, and 2) had a "Mindy" too!!

  3. Well, you COULD have a Mindy if you go to the SWS Winter meetings. I'm going to knit some "Mindy's" for the silent auction!

  4. You had me with the first line of this post: "My grandmother survived the pogroms of Eastern Europe, a solo journey to America at age 13, and my grandfather, who is one of the grumpiest men I've ever met."

    That's just awesome... One of your best posts yet, my friend! And I want a Mindy some day!!

  5. Loved reading this--and so cool that you included a mention of Kyoko's book, too

    KNIT ON!


  6. Sweet! I'm looking forward to my new "Mindy"!

  7. Mindy--Thanks for the reference to that book. Could you post your pattern for the Mindy you pictured?


  8. my mom used to read us that the "caps for sale" all the time. love it!

  9. Sure, Celia!

    Here's the pattern for the Head Hugger (Ann Norling), which I've slightly revied. And there are lots of variations, once you're comfortable with it. the pattern calls for ribbing throughout, but I shift from a ribbing to knitting.

    Use a circular needle
    5.5 gauge, cast on 104 stitches

    Knit the first two rows, and then create your ribbing for the next inch or two (depending on whether you'll roll up the bottom of the hat) - I do a 2/2 Ribbing (K2 P2) pattern, but you can do 1/1 ribbing (P1 K1 around) or 1/3 or 3/1 ribbing...

    Decrease as follows:
    Round 1: Work 6 in established pattern, K2 together around
    Rnd 2 (and all even rds) - K around
    Rnd 3: work 5 in est pattern, K2 tog around
    Rd 5: work 4 in est pat, K2 around
    Rd 7: Work 3, etc.
    Rd 9: Work 2, etc.
    Rd 11: Work 1, etc.
    Rd 13 - K2 together around

    You can also start with knitting 7 in established pattern and then moving to 6, 5, 4, etc. This makes a slightly boxier top of the hat.