Throwing My Yarn, Part 2

I found this while I was cleaning out one of my closets. It was inside a folder, in the bottom of a gigantic nylon knitting bag. There were many other sheets just like it, some of them far less readable. They belonged to my grandmother, who died in January of 2002. She was ecstatic when I learned how to knit, and only slightly less happy than when she found out that I’d learned how to play bridge. “It will bring you a lifetime of joy,” she said, to both the bridge and the knitting. I stopped playing bridge right after college, so I can’t really confirm her claim about that one.

The above pattern is for a sweater sleeve. None of the other patterns in the folder seem to match it, but I’m still tempted to knit it. The worn state of the paper, my grandmother’s unmistakable handwriting, and the unexpected manner in which I found it all give this pattern an otherworldly quality. It’s as if I had reached back through time and into my grandmother’s knitting bag. Knitting these sleeves would give me the same strange sensation, and it’s almost too much to refuse.

Almost. The truth is that I never liked any of my grandmother’s sweaters. She once knit a cabled pullover for me that ended many inches lower than my waist, and with a vareigated yarn whose color scheme could only be described as tropical. It went straight to the back of my sweater drawer, where it stayed until my father asked me if he could have it. I gladly handed it over, relieved that the sweater would get some use. A few years later, when my grandmother asked me whether I still wore that sweater, I did what any adoring grandson would do. I lied.

I’ve knit more than a few items for friends and family now, but I’ve developed a policy thanks to this incident with my grandmother: I never, never, never ask a recipient if they wear something I’ve knit for them. It’s an unfair question, to both the knitter and the knittee. If your knittee doesn’t wear his/her item, s/he is now in the position of considering whether to lie to you. You, as the knitter, have opened yourself up to grave disappointment and the possibility that the time, energy, and money you put into knitting that item have been wasted. Neither of you deserves this.

And so, my grandmother–a New York Jew–inadvertently taught me that one of the biggest lessons of Buddhism is the same as the biggest lesson of knitting: nonattachment. Stitches drop, scarves unravel, sweaters sit in the back of closets, collecting dust. Every stitch I knit will eventually come undone, every completed item is a meditation on impermanence. There are lots of good reasons to knit. One of the best reasons is that it forces me to let go.

12 Comments

  • Scout says:

    I loved reading this because just yesterday I pulled out something almost identical to this that was my mother’s who died 13 years ago. I’ve posted about it lately because my mom also taught me how to knit when I was little

  • john says:

    I love old archive-looking knitting notes. I came across some today that was OBVIOUSLY old. So cool. I feel like it connects me to the centuries-ago knitters. Love them.

  • Rachel says:

    When I read this, I was reminded of my own knitting from the past experience. My grandmother died unexpectedly Thanksgiving Day of 1997. I never really remembered seeing her knit, but I knew she occasionally did since there’s a hat, scarf, and sweater vest that still drift between my mom’s closet and mine. Fastforward to 2002/2003. In law school I taught myself to knit from the internet. My aunt later reinforced my knitting instruction. I never really thought about the fact that because my grandmother was gone, I had to teach myself to do something that so many people learned from their grandmothers. Several years later my grandfather was entering his twilight and made the decision to move to an assisted living facility. We of course had to clear out his house. My aunt saved for me a bag of yarn with a project already started. What do I do with it? What did she have in mind? If I try to complete it, will it live up to her expectations? I just love knowing that I can pull it out every now and then and touch the yarn she touched. I guess it’s almost a substitute for the knitting lessons we never had together. Perhaps I’ll leave it the way it is. It’s a special reminder of her. Great, now I’m crying, and I have to go to court.

  • Daniel says:

    What a wonderful gift to recieve! I am the only one that knits in my family though others have tried but didn’t take to it. I have a collection of old patterns that I have picked up here and there and many of them have handwritten notes in the margins, tally marks where the knitter was keeping track of their rows, or random slips of paper with additional notations to the pattern they were working. I see knitters at some of the groups I go to making notes in their books and magazines and even going as far as to color coding their charts. To recieve a handwritten pattern or recipe is a lovely way to have a little piece of rememberance.

  • Miss Bliss says:

    That was a lovely post my dear!

  • Sandy says:

    The first time I learned to knit and crochet were on the bed of my Granny. She had cancer and spent all her time laying on the bed crocheting. She made these lovely afghans for us all, tacky to some, I suppose. Mine is white with big roses on it. Anyway, she had cancer for 8 years and this passed the long hours spent in chemo at the hospital and the fatigued days in bed. I loved her so much! She had the softest arms i ever felt. This will sound gross but she had been heavy and then lost weight and her arms were just so soft! I dont think i have ever loved anyone as much as i loved my Granny. (Of course that was before my children who now hold that place, unfortunately hubby has turned out to be less than the love of my life , but we keep going…) I loved this post of yours! Thanks for sharing!
    This will sound silly but i thought it would be cool if you recorded that poetry class and posted it for us long distance folks to listen to… 🙂

  • heatherly says:

    what a neat legacy!
    did you scan all the pages, put them on a disc?

  • jay says:

    wow, that really IS a blast from the blast. Even if you never use it as a pattern, it is something worth cherishing.

  • nicole says:

    what a great memory & a wonderful sentiment…it really said something to me. thanks for sharing.

  • ken says:

    Non-attachment is very difficult. I’m not very good at it at all, but I twigged a long time ago to the concept that once you give a thing away it doesn’t belong to you any more. At all. Seems simple enough until one tries to practise it, but I do try, and try to encourage others to do the same, though admittedly not very gently some times.

    Once during one of my many attempts to quit smoking I asked a friend for a cigarette and when she gave one to me I broke it and stomped on it. She was incensed that I would waste it, while I maintained that once she gave it to me it wasn’t hers any more and she had no control over what I did with it.

    Quitting smoking makes one a little bit mean, I think, but the point was still valid…

  • Tina says:

    I especially enjoyed this post because of the reference to two of my joys: knitting and bridge. So sorry to hear you don’t still play. Maybe you will take it up again. As for learning to knit from Grandma, I did not. I am self taught. My grandmother tried to teach me to crochet. She did trim on handkerchiefs and pillowcases. I never quite got it. Now I am thinking of trying it again because my grandson asked me to crochet him a vest he saw in a movie. I ordered the pattern and plan to try it. I promise to follow your suggestions and not ask if he is wearing it. I know what you mean. I spent many nights hand quilting a baby quilt for my hubby’s grandson and by accident found it stuffed in a box in a closet. It is better to imagine the recipient enjoying the labor of love than to face the sad truth if it is put aside. I now try not to knit for others unless they make a specific request. If I can entice you to take up bridge again, email me. I can make several suggestions!
    tp

  • Sean says:

    Hi Jesse. I’m just reading some of your older posts. I found this one touching, as I think many of your readers did. I, too, have inherited my grandmother’s knitting supplies. I don’t really use any of her old needles or patterns, but I like keeping them with the rest of my knitting gear.

    It’s great fun reading your blog. You really do write beautifully.

    Sean

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