The Coolest Thing I Ever Knit

The other day I realized I am into my 5th year of what I still think of as my "new career":  teaching knitting, writing patterns, and perhaps most importantly, not being a corporate slave.

During that time, I’ve met and taught a whole bunch of knitters.  I can’t honestly say that I remember all of ’em — although chances are that I’ll remember your knitting project before I’ll remember your name — but the first year that I was teaching, I worked with a mom & daughter pair that I still remember vividly.

To the best of my recollection, the daughter, Haley, was about 9 at the time.  She caught on to the whole "knitting" thing very quickly, and as she sat practicing her new skills, she started asking me some really amazing questions.

"This kid," I thought, "is going to be the next beat the pants off of Barbara Walters."  Here are some of the questions Haley asked me…

"How long has knitting been around?"

At the time, I gave the best answer I was aware of, but which has since apparently been subject to much dispute.  Knitty has what looks like a thorough article on the topic, and of course there’s Bishop Rutt’s excellent book — so I won’t try to reinvent the whole wheel here.

Of course, knitting history is subject to a lot of issues:  one of which is that knitted items don’t last.  Items made of organic materials aren’t often going to be preserved for centuries.  And knitting was a very practical thing from the outset, and no one was knitting garments — mostly socks — in order NOT to wear them.

Another is that when an artifact made of stretchy connected loops is found, one can’t always be too sure how it was made — much the same way that today’s knitter can’t look at an item and know whether it was knitted Continental style, American style, etc. etc.

Knitting was, until recently, thought to have been around since pre-Christian times, which is what I told Haley.  But now it is thought to be more of medieval origin.  The oldest knitting that is truly identifiable as such is from Egypt, circa 1000 CE — and guess what?  It’s socks!

Some other socks found in Egypt, dated circa 3rd-5th century CE, were thought to have been knitted, but now are thought to have been made with a technique called "nalbinding", or single-needle knitting — which just sounds incredibly tedious:  

‘Each stitch is formed by sewing the extreme end of the yarn through the work, and then tightening the loop until it sits next to the stitch previously formed.’

Count your blessings, girls.  What the heck was this, a form of punishment??  "Go to your room pyramid, young lady, and don’t come out until you’ve nalbinded at least an inch of sock!!"

Here’s a related question, though Haley was too new a knitter to ask it:  "How long have UFO’s been around?"

The answer probably is, just about as long as knitting.  While cruising online for historical knitting information, I found the site for the UK-based Knitting & Crochet Guild, which has a large number of historical items cataloged online.  In the 1940’s section I found this miserable little knitting story:

"One of the most poignant items in the Collection is an unfinished cardigan. It is very neatly knitted in fine wool, in a checkerboard pattern of two stitches/rows navy and two yellow. It was knitted from darning wool, which was not rationed, but which came on cards in short (one yard?) lengths.  The knitter had bought card after card of darning wool to make her cardigan. She knitted both fronts and the back, then one sleeve – beautiful on the right side [left], but just look at all the ends on the inside [right]; all joined with knots even in the middle of the row to make best use of the wool – but then the shop ran out of the wool and she could get no more. Can you imagine the anguish! The knitted parts lay in a drawer from then to 1998 when they were donated to the Guild."

How painful this is to read!  My heart just bled for this knitter.

But then, I realized that I’m assuming when she put it in the drawer, she herself was sad and dismayed.  But was she?  What’s your take?  How many endings are there to this story?  Do you think she was yet saying to herself, "I’ll get back to that when the wool comes in…"  Or was the war over and she was actually glad to stuff it in the drawer, because she had just FINALLY bought herself a whole big bag of navy and yellow wool, in great big actual balls — no more of those stinking little cards of darning wool!

I think the only thing we can know for certain about her is that she was one very determined knitter.  (And she was no fool, either — she didn’t waste any time on those ends!)

Kinda makes you feel like you ought to go work on some of your own UFOs, and be grateful for the opportunity, doesn’t it?

"Do you consider yourself a professional knitter?"

To be honest, Haley, up to that point I had not really thought of those two words together in the same sentence.  I was still pretty beat up from my high-tech corporate experiences, actually, and felt like I wasn’t much of a professional anything.

But that question kind of made me stop and think for a couple of moments:  let’s see, professionals get paid for what they do, and I now get paid for knitting, or at least teaching knitting — so yes indeedy, I guess I am a professional knitter.  How cool is that?

AB Jonelle top"What is the coolest thing you’ve ever knit?"

Oh, this one was easy.  I told Haley, "I can show you the coolest thing I’ve ever knit."

I took her over to where my very first Anny Blatt – "Jonelle" – was hanging in a corner of the shop, and I’m glad to say that she was suitably impressed.

Yes, I have the kind of taste that can impress the hell out of a 9-year-old.  My mother would have been completely appalled at the idea of wearing this, let alone knitting it.  I, on the other hand, fell in love with it at first sight in the AB book.  It was a challenge to make, with a lot of "post-production" (i.e. finishing) work:  sequins, beads, metallic embroidery, sparkly Muguet, and even sparkly metallic eyelash yarn.  And I still love with Jean-Cristophe


Someone once asked me where I was going to wear it, and I said, "Who cares?  I’ll wear it to the grocery store."

A few months later, I had the opportunity to meet Jean-Cristophe Tarazona, who runs Anny Blatt North America, when he stopped by the shop.  Naturally I wore my fabulous, sparkly Anny Blatt creation.




  4 comments for “The Coolest Thing I Ever Knit

  1. 06/12/2008 at 9:18 AM

    Yes, it is on backwards, and we’ll never let you forget it. Thanks for the links to knitting history. We can use those next year for the kids!

  2. 06/12/2008 at 10:20 AM

    Hey, I’m not trying to hide anything — that’s my pictorial evidence there! 🙂

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