1. Thinking about thinking about knitting
When I knit, my thoughts sometimes wander to knitting to the past. Then I think about the long-ago knitters and what they were thinking about, a sort of recursive trip down memory lane
As they knit along, those old time knitters knew for sure they were making something valuable. Long ago people thought about their clothes much differently. In that society, people listed clothes in their estate inventories, or made made them part of their will. A nice pair of hand-knit stockings were worthy of being passed along as a special bequest for usefulness and remembrance. That attitude lasted a long time, too. When asked why she kept old clothes which no longer fit, my grandmother (born in Austria in 1902) used to reply with a German proverb that "clothes outlive their people."
Today, clothes don't have that resonance. Clothes are not really considered valuable. That, too, is something I think about when knitting: after all, it takes a certain thickness of skin to be a confirmed hand-knitter in the day of cheap ready-made sweaters and expensive yarn. However difficult life was for the old-time knitters, the usefulness of their craft was never at issue. So, while we think about knitting's value while we knit, that's one thing with which the old-time knitters never had to concern themselves: clothes in that day were valuable and scarce.
2. Two old sweaters stage a cedar closet jail break
Another by-product of clothes not being considered valuable nowadays is that, when people pass on, it seems a bit creepy, almost, to keep their old clothes around. The old way of passing your clothes on to others hardly exists: those clothes are more likely to end up in the goodwill store than being worn around. And yet, hand-knitting, at least around here, recently broke this trend.
|two old sweaters|
Here are a couple of sweaters I knit a long time ago for my father (brown sweater) and my stepfather (green vest). When both men passed on, I got the garments back. For years and years they sat in the cedar closet.
Meanwhile, my son was born, and grew and grew. Last year, at 12, he outgrew the sweater he'd been wearing as a sort of a dress-uniform for semi-formal occasions. He told me he needed a new one. I almost cast on then and there, but something passing though my mind sent me upstairs to the cedar closet instead. Down came the brown sweater. To my surprise, it fit him. For the past year, this old sweater has become his new dress-uniform. A few weeks ago, I was up in the closet again, looking for an old project to photograph for the blog. There sat the green vest. That turned out to fit, also, so now he has a sort of a uniform-rotation. (And who says the knitter's children have no sweaters? That kid has two!)
I almost didn't bring the sweaters out of the closet, because I thought it would be kind of unsettling. Instead, the sight of those old sweaters given a new life turns out to be a sort of relief. I feel like I can think about their original owners again without the first thought being "oh! they're both dead now." For one thing, I have to remember just how small both my father and stepfather really were, when I see the kid running around in their old sweaters.
|sitting on the shelf with the everyday clothes|
When these two old sweaters escaped from the cedar closet to sit on the shelf with the every-day clothes, they turned out to be something valuable, like something made by the old-time knitters: a glimpse of my family's past as well a glimpse of the textile-past, both brought to life.
Further, I now know something about the old time knitters and their thoughts which I didn't know before. When we knit, we think a lot about the person we are knitting for. But when they knit, the long ago knitters were making making a garment independent, in a certain way, of the person for whom it was knit. I mean, I'm sure they thought about the sweater-recipient, but they also expected that the garment would be passed along when the recipient had no further need of it; not gotten rid of, or stuck in a cedar-closet jail of remembrance.
* * *Something new to think about while I knit, I guess.