reflecting on yarning

17 Jul

Dear Mum

It’s not that I forgot your birthday this year but more that this year has already been such a strange one that normal and usual are no longer quite what they were only a few months ago. Deadlines seem to rush up, then slide past almost unremarked. And, oh, that’s another week, or month, gone who knows where, and now here it is, once again approaching the anniversary of your death.


We’ll all get a party eventually

The three of us had actual birthdays during lockdown. We might – just – have sneaked in a special lunch for YoungB before distancing measures became too stringent. We decided that the risk was not worthwhile, and reluctantly cancelled our restaurant booking. His celebration was at home and with cake. Mine? Definitely at home and with cake. Dr B’s? Ditto. Well, I wrote about his cake! We will have a pub or restaurant meal together eventually in whatever the new version of normal turns out to be, and if there’s no second wave meaning a return to lockdown. So far, things are looking all right here in SA but we know that it would be foolish indeed to become complacent.

Because it’s winter and cold, I was musing about hot water bottles and what a difference they made to the comfort level of the crisp, cotton bed-linen we had when we were kids and which sometimes felt as nippy as the frosty ground. I recall that you knitted covers for our hot water bottles, and that Dad made a twisted cord to fasten each of them. I specifically remember watching him do that because it was something out of the ordinary that he should be contributing to a yarn project. Many years later, I made twisted cords to adorn the neckline of some baby singlets I’d knitted for a friend’s premature twins. They are easy but always effective – as you can see!


Feather and fan singlets, with twisted cord at neckline

While I certainly remember watching you knit, I think it was so much a part of your everyday life, of you, that remembering you work on a specific project is barely possible. I remember many of the garments you made: cardigans, jumpers, woolly hats and beanies, scarves, jackets, shawls and stoles to mention just a few.

It was a treat to watch you and the Great Aunts sitting around the kitchen table when they came to visit, all busily knitting and having a yarn. I miss that kind of thing and it’s not something you and I had much opportunity to do together. Youngest Aunt doesn’t really knit, and although Middle Aunt does, we don’t haul out our knitting when we get together. On the rare occasions we meet up with our fellow-knitter cousins, we don’t sit about and knit. We’ll almost certainly have a yarn and we might occasionally discuss yarny projects but, and absolutely no pun intended, it’s clear we’ve lost that connecting thread.

You were a clever and inventive knitter, always willing to try something new or put your own twist on a technique to ensure the result you sought. Naturally, you had the occasional disappointment when no matter how you tweaked it, a pattern just did not deliver. Most of the time, I dare say only you would have known that the resulting garment wasn’t right or that – for example – the collar might have sat better if you’d tried yet another technique. Taking my cue from you, I’ve occasionally tinkered with a technique that was too fussy to bother with when a simpler one would produce the same result and avoid excessive frustration.

Crochet was never your forte, although you were competent enough to help fix mistakes in my beginner work. You conceded that it was often quicker in the hands of an expert, but pointed out that it consumed considerably more yarn; another important consideration. I am still not an expert but, as with anything done frequently enough, I have become more proficient over the years. I appreciate that, like knitting, sometimes a simple technique provides a complex-looking output and I’m all for that.

You would have loved Ravelry and found the wealth of online tutorials a valuable resource, as I have done while seeking inspiration with my latest yarn projects for your new great-granddaughters. Those projects have overall been enormous fun and a great learning experience. I think of it as a good way to keep my brain nimble as well as my fingers, including a certain amount of mental juggling between terminology. My brain still hurts from hearing people with UK accents delivering instructions using US terms.

However, I will probably never again use your mother’s crochet hook, which says it’s size 5 1/2, but is smaller than the 1.4mm that some charts say that’s meant to equate to. It’s smaller than 1.25mm or even 1.00mm, because I have hooks in those sizes that I’ve measured it against. The measurements in these charts look more accurate. I used it a few times when I was a young woman but neither my eyes nor my dexterity would be up to it now, unless I could find a way to put a chunky handle on it. That might mean I could hold it, but I probably still wouldn’t be able to see what I was doing. Heaven help us, I think I’m getting old!

And, yes, Mum, I am getting old. I am older now than you ever were, which is a very sobering thought for a chilly winter’s evening. I think it’s fair to say I have fewer wrinkles, thanks to having never smoked and, equally as importantly, being of a generation encouraged from an early age to practise good sun-protection; but I think I have much more grey in my hair, only partly disguised by what Dr B concedes is a surprising amount of lingering blonde!

YoungB is out carousing with a group of his mates in a last hurrah for the footballer among them who’s lining up for imminent knee surgery. Dr B and I are about to have some vegetable soup for dinner, accompanied by crusty bread. It’s an ideal winter meal. After that, I expect we’ll pull up a patch of couch in front of the TV. We might watch something, or one or the other of us – or possibly both or us – might snooze. No matter. I’ll pull my blue shawl over my shoulders. It does need another spot of mending, I admit, but it will keep me warm. And it will be, as ever, like having you reach from the past to wrap me in the warmth of your hug.

Thanks for all the knitting tips, Mum, and for leading by example. I’m doing my best to follow in your footsteps 😀



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