First Knitting

I was seven when my mother taught me how to knit.  She learned from her aunt Elma. I don’t know exactly what the kinship arc was that connected my mother to Elma and made Elma my mother’s aunt and for this story it doesn’t matter.

I don’t remember the learning-to-knit part.  I remember the first project once it was done.  It was white wool, a short scarf, and very uneven and badly shaped in the way first knitting projects can be – wide at the start and loose, narrowing to the center and way too tight, then widening again as I tried to rectify the tightness in the center.  Some stitches were too big, others too small.  It didn’t look like my mother’s even knitting.

I gave it to my father as a gift.  It was soft and I guess I must have been proud enough to have made it that I could give it to my dad even though, when compared to fine knitting, it was clearly no good.

My father wore it.  That amazed me.  That he wore that no-good first-knitting little white neck warmer totally amazed me.  He would fold one side over the other to cover his neck.  The narrow part fit at the back of his neck.  The two wide ends came down to the top of his chest.  Then he’d put on his coat.  As I remember it, he wore it alot.  And even if that is a bit of hyperbole my amazement wrought, I’ll take it.

I decided to re-create that first scarf.  My motivation was simple enough.  I thought about how, if it is sufficiently inept, a first project can alienate one from trying again.  When we face real difficulty in achieving a goal of mastery, we may decide we are no good at it, are lacking in some fundamental talent that other people clearly have but which to us is inaccessible or elusive.  We hold our first-starting-out selves up against those with years of experience and find ourselves so lacking that we lose hope and lost interest.  The thing is no good.  It’s no use.  It’s unwearable.

The fact that my father wore that badly-knit scarf his little daughter made gave me the confidence to execute the next project, which was better.  Even if the scarf was unwearable to me, it was not unwearable to my father.

But I contend that an unwearable scarf -from the perspective of even tension and a consistent number of stitches – can become wearable if it is styled well.  The unintentional can be wrestled into submission to intention with the right approach and good tools. The first scarf can take us from ambivalent about the issue of our first efforts to more than proud: stylish.

This transformation is what I work for.  It’s my job.  I design and produce accessories. The justification for my work, my company, is my need, your need, for tools to turn handmade fabrics (knitted, crocheted, handwoven) and purchased garments into beautiful wearables that show the fabric off and make the wearer feel beautiful in addition to looking stylish.

My closures should make your life in fiber-wear easier.  I want the same things you want.  I want to look good without thinking about it too much.  I want to go about my days undistracted by difficulties with my clothes.  I don’t want my scarves falling off and catching in drawers when I bend over.  I don’t want my shawl to slide off one shoulder and require re-arranging many times a day.

I felt sure that I could take a first scarf, of the kind I made when I was 7 years old, from wonky to wonderful with a few screw-in closures.  So I cast on.

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It’s hard to return to a pre-control moment when you can’t achieve an even tension, have trouble discerning where a stitch begins and ends, and haven’t yet learned to purl. I got better at inconsistency and wonky as time went on.  Well, that’s not quite true.  Because I was working toward inconsistency, in a sense I became more consistent in my achievement of inconsistency.  Even naive execution contains the possibility of mastery.

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So I finished it. The end with the cast-on yarn trailing, is where I started.  The increase of stitches to make the scarf slightly wider was fairly subtle.  I wanted it to be more extreme.  My inconsistency in tension was not enough.  I pushed it harder.  By the time I finished, I felt I had begun to master the first scarf.  If I make another, I’ll do even better at bad knitting.

Now comes the interesting experiment – adorning the first scarf so it becomes an enviable style piece, a fabulous example of hand-knit art you might expect in a high-end chic boutique. This is my goal.

What is your first-knitting story? I would love to hear it.  You are welcome to tell me about it in a comment.

If you want to start growing your style toolkit, go to juldesigns.com

Check out my instagram @jul_designs to see how I have styled this Simulation and get 15% Off the Pedestal Buttons and screw-in closures in the Cordoba Series when you use coupon code FIRSTSCARF.

 

Shared Birth – The Beginning of a Reflection on Mothers and Sisters (and believe it or not . . . knitting)

The approach of my birthday, Mother’s Day and making room for my son to return home from college became an occasion for reflecting on family and creativity.

My twin sister Nora – of Noni Designs – and I were born at the beginning of May in 1967.  Our poor mother thought she was having one big boy.  Instead she got two tiny girls born six weeks early.  We were incubator babies, supposed to be Gemini (the doctor predicted a delivery date of June 12) but instead born Taurus.  Did that change everything?

We would have been Daniel if we were a boy and Nora if a girl. So my sister, who was first, is Nora.  May name Laura was hastily selected; I am named after my mother’s maternal grandmother.

This is what we looked like when we were born. Nora is on the left (I think). I always look at the lips if I am in doubt.

Brand new

 

In later pictures it’s easier to tell us apart.

AGED THREE?

I have no idea who made these matching sets of ponchos and tams.  Maybe it was my paternal grandmother, who was an avid knitter in the English style.  But they could also have come from one of the aunts on my maternal grandfather’s side, who all knitted continental, having emigrated from Sweden. (UPDATE: Since I wrote the above, my mother has commented that she thinks they were made for us by our Auntie Jo.  Jo was fictive kin and an important creative figure in my life, and probably for my sister too.  Auntie Jo was the first artist I knew.  That is, she did more than knit and sew like the other women in the family.  Auntie Jo painted.  She made wood carvings.  She was in gallery shows.  And she made phenomenal pecan pie.  She was not a pretty woman. She would tell you this herself.  But she was beautiful to me and she had black hair until she died.)

My sister was a cherub.  I often appear mischievous.  In the picture below, knowing that, you can guess I am on the left. We must have been about 3.

in knitted or crocheted ponchos and hats

PART OF THE EXTENDED FAMILY

You can pick out my sister easily if you look for the cherub.  She is on the right in my uncle Al’s lap (father’s brother).  To the left of him is Nancy, his first wife.  My mother is to Nancy’s left next to me.  And I’m on my father’s lap looking sullen. I like this picture.  It was taken in Boston before the family moved to Maryland when we were four.

3-ish with the family

And here are just the two of us during that same visit:

aged 3

Me less intense, my sister distracted by one of my parents?

STARTING TO REFLECT

I started looking at these photographs because I had to empty the beautiful creative space I made for myself and about which I wrote some months ago. The reason: Julian is returning home but I’ll tell you that story in a different post.  The room was spare but full of treasures and I took my time compiling and moving, looking at each thing, letting the objects evoke past adventures, most of them with Julian. And I found an old book of photos, from which came most of the pictures here. The moment for reflecting on them was perfect because it was only days away from my sister’s and my birthday.  So I thought about my sister and our mother. I thought about our father.  I thought about my son and what it has been like to be his mother and to mother him differently than I was mothered, to raise him without a father.

And I thought about my first knitting project, which I gave to my father.