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I'm the Local Gal in Richmond, Indiana, exploring my hometown and heart. I write about all thing local, sometimes global. It's a small world after all.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Personal Knit History

“And in the act of making things, just by living their daily lives, they also make history."
Anne Bartlett, Knitting

My daughter feeling the texture of a project on the needles.

I knit.
The repetitions are soothing.
Two or more needles, a feed of yarn and then
the magical, tangible appearance of fabric imparts
 an assurance unique to producing an article,
a soft cover or garment to cushion a sometimes, seemingly rough life.

I love knitting. 

Knitting is all about connectivity on both the physical, structural level as well as on an emotional level. It is a thread, a craft running continuously, bridging and transcending gaps between generations, geographies and genders. Knitting is nurturing. According to Annie Modesitt, "We knit to make ourselves happy" and we knit on a primal level to keep ourselves and our loved ones warm. I've found this to be true, at least for myself. In the chaos and jumble of our modern life so paradoxically connected yet disconnected, it is soothing on so many levels for me to knit. I suspect I am not alone.

As we chart our way in this new, young century, we seem always to be looking ahead at the unknown future. When we confront ambiguity and certain change, it is natural we grasp for something familiar. It is natural that we turn to the familiarity and nostalgia of the past. Knitting is one of those things. Knitters have knit for hundreds of years. The history is fascinating. There are twists, turns and unsolved mysteries. For the past several years, whenever I get the chance I research the history of fashion, of knitting and fibers. I love it. I love finding stories of people and craft that make the past come alive. The stories with feeling that lend themselves to me and make history dear. I thought it would be great fun today to explore my own personal knit history.

My own family has a strong tradition of arts both "domestic" and "fine", especially on my mother's side. (Can I insert this parenthetical statement in order to explore the thrill of typing distaff side with the knowledge that most of you (who are into the fiber arts or perhaps genealogy) will know what I mean!?) My mother's side of the family were immigrants from Holland to America, after the war. Our family was fortunate to survive such trying times. My great grandmother, Hubertina Raemaekers, whom I called Old Oma was an excellent seamstress, knitter, crocheter and perhaps, even a spinner.

My mother recalls a spinning wheel in the great big house where the best memories of her childhood were made. It may still be in the family, though we don't know which of my great aunts may have inherited it. Hubertina's daughters, in particular, two that I am aware of, my Great Aunt Ria and José, my Oma, still are both very talented ladies. My mother believes Great Aunt Ria might have hand knit the wedding ensemble of her daughter Lydia. I remember staring at a certain dress, as a little girl each time I would go to her house to play with my cousin. It was stunningly beautiful, draped on a dressmakers' dummy and displayed with a pair of extremely lovely shoes... Perhaps this was that same dress?

I like to think that it is in my blood to knit and spin and that the knowledge is stored in my fingers, as a genetic memory. My eldest sister taught me how to cast on, knit, purl and bind off. She guided me through my first knitted lace while I was still in high school. At that time, my mother passed on to me many of Old Oma's knitting and crocheting needles, hooks and notions. It warms my heart each time I find the opportunity to use them. Most recently, I used a sweet pink stitch holder to hold the thumb of a test pattern mitten. I felt a tug at my heart, as I slipped the stitches and latched the holder closed. It even matched well the color of my mittens. Perhaps my Old Oma even passed on a bias for certain pinks to me! I love the reminder of the sweet little woman who loved us all so well. She had the sweetest smile, and when I knew her she had the whitest, fluffiest hair and keen eyes.

Azapa Mittens designed by Samantha Miller

My mother keeps carefully a stash of family heirlooms knit by my Old Oma and my Oma safe in a cedar chest made by my uncle. My matriarchs made sure my brothers and my sisters and myself were all cozy and woolly warm! I aspire to make useful, beautiful things for myself, my husband and my children today.

A cedar chest of baby knits. I wore this jumper when I was small!

Is there a tradition of handmade crafts in your family or circle of friends? Who passed on their knowledge to you? What handmade item do you treasure the most?


  1. I love the story you have shared with us and I love to knit too! I taught myself last summer and you recently sold me a ball of washable wool (red! at Unwind shop) to try my first pair of socks. I even feel successful with this first one so far! lol I'm so excited the Unwind shop is open and you girls are so helpful and kind there <3

  2. Hi Geneva! Thank you for visiting my blog. I'm so glad you enjoyed my story. I remember you coming into the shop that day. You were very pleasant, thank you!

    I am so impressed you taught yourself to knit! I am a visual learner, and I often refuse to try something unless I can see someone else demonstrate it first. I am trying to be a bit braver and more adventurous in knitting, among other things.

    I'd love to see your first socks sometime (I love red!)! Nothing beats the coziness of homemade socks! :)