Sunday, April 02, 2006

Everyday wear

It was snowing heavily all day Saturday. The snow fall was so hard the other side of the lake disappeared. I stayed in the whole day. Wandered around, looked out of the window every now and then, sighed and wandered some more. I don't remember what I was searching from that particular drawer when I came across a brown torn envelope with old pictures in it.

There were pictures of people who I know and those I don't, mostly black and white pictures, only a few colored ones. Due to this snow fall and nothing interesting to do I spent some time with the pictures. And soon became aware of the fact that there were lots of handknits items in them. Items that we consider luxurious were a must just few decades ago. Items that were used daily outside and inside, to school and to work as well as at home. Yet they were exquisite.Look at this little boy... The picture is from the 1960's. He is wearing a colorwork handknit yoke sweater and handknit mittens - the mittens have had some wear and appear quite raggy and he has almost outgrown the sweater. How beautiful the sweater must have been, too bad you can't get a good look of it because of the picture quality.

I have never seen any of the knits in the pictures in real life (except some very old baby items) because they were used up completely. When a child outgrew a sweater or it was not usable to the wearer any more, the sweater was ripped out and made into something else. There were other pictures of that boy where he was lying on the ground with that beautiful sweater. Mothers, Grandmothers and Aunts that made these lovely knits for the children then must have realized how hard wear the knit was going to get and how soon it was going to be too small, and yet they spent all these long hours knitting them.

If I knit a colorwork yoke sweater I'll keep saving it for better occasions. What better occasions? Think about the sweater the boy is wearing... Since it was wool it could absorb lots of moisture and still keep him warm. He looks quite content in the picture. This sweater was not considered to be a piece of art work but a useful and warm piece of clothing. He did not use it only on Sundays to show to other people how skillful the maker had been and it did not get folded into the closet for the other six days of the week. It was used because it was valuable and necessary for him. He probably had only that one. Hopefully there was already another one for him on the needles ...

Knitting is a fantastic hobby. And to most of us it is not only a hobby but a way to think and a means to meditate and then survive. But this picture had me thinking of what would I knit if I had to make knit items a part of the must have and must wear. What kind of yarn choices would I make? How much more would I value my yarn and my skill? How much more would other people appreciate it?

But this is another era. We need different things. I know we leave lots of beautiful knits behind, let's hope they are not all unused and that our knits make their way into other pictures than only to the ones that appear on the blog pages.

I sincerely hope that this one you see here is going to get a good amount of wear and will have holes in it eventually and then have some hard working hands mending it all over again until there isn't much to mend any more. Then I would know that I had knit something really valuable.

(These are going to be stockings (my own design) - again! - the yarn is English Sunbeam st. ives with 80 % wool/20% polyamide.)


  1. Anonymous20:03

    I agree - why do we save things that we work so long and hard on for those special times. The fact we are alive and can wear them is special enough I think. It is like "good" dishes - most folks bring them out for 'company' and I always felt my children and husband were special enough to use them at least twice a week. Only one cup ever broke - I did it!! I love your stocking - what is the difference between sock and stocking - is it the length? I love the fact the little boy has on 'ragged' mittens. I wonder if they have strings attached under his beautiful sweater! I am currently working on a blog page - wish me luck!

  2. Anonymous20:14

    Hi Lene, Your stocking is awesome. I think it is a sign of our times that most of what we wear comes from a clothing store. So many women work, who has time to knit mittens or sweaters? Most people I talk to don't even know how. Sometimes at school I see a child wearing a handknit cap or sweater, and when I ask them who made it, they always say Grandma or an aunt, never mother. I find that kind of sad.

  3. Anonymous20:43

    Sukkasi on ihana! I love your sock!
    I do always say to my children that I don't care how they wear their sweaters, socks and mittens, as long as they wear them normally. I know, when knitting things for them, that there will be heave use. But I think that if I am willing to knit something for one of my kids, I have to take into consideration the kind of wear I suppose the item is going to get. It is unfair to knit a beautiful item and then ask the owner, especially if it is a kid, to be very careful when wearing it.
    My gran did store her silver ware in a safe. I have always thought it was such a waste. We use our silver ware (and everything else beautiful, those things that will make a dull day beautiful) often.
    And I love old pictures too!

  4. Oh my, old pictures - and old knitting - are great!

    I've recently bookmarked your site because I just love the stockings you knit! Will you be writing up the pattern for these? I hope so! I'm addicted to knitting socks and somehow I just want to knit more stockings! Would you consider writing up the previous pair (if I remember correctly it was that pair of yellow stockings)? I would sure love that!! I'm even willing to pay for these patterns!

    Greets from Belgium!

  5. Hello,

    You have me curious to look at the photos at Dad's house to see what, besides people, I can see in them. I was most struck by what you said about outgrown or damaged clothing being ripped out and the fibers used again to make something new. It is kind of sad that that good use of resuorces first struck me as clever and thrifty. I don't like being this deep into the consumer culture.

  6. Tuollaiset ulkona pidettävät paksut äidin neulomat villapaidat oli muuten hyvin yleisiä pikkupojilla 60-luvulla. Tuli ihan omat kansakouluajat mieleen 60-luvun lopulta.

  7. Anonymous23:53

    Your stocking looks wonderful! Will you share the pattern?

  8. Anonymous00:49

    I wrote a post a while back about how my Mum would knit sweaters and cardis for us, then when they became too small, re-use what she could to make hats, scarfs or gloves or even clothes for our teddies. Knitting was a necessity, not a luxury, and I think there lays all the difference...

  9. Anonymous05:48

    What a well-written, thought-provoking post. Knitting is a pure luxury for me as I live near the equator and have no real need for knitted items. I appreciate the necessity of wool items in cold countries and I am glad to tell you that I wear my cotton knitted items all the time.

  10. Anonymous11:28

    Poor you! Spring is there in France... also, you know, all my knits for children are used on a day to day basis... although it is sometime a pity!!! ;-)

  11. Anonymous13:44

    I've also often thought about the way we view our handwork as so special, as compared to the way it used to be seen (just part of everyday).

    Your new project looks absolutely stunning.

  12. I'm a weaver, and a frequent comment I hear when I do shows, is that something is "too pretty to use". Huh? I think it is sad that someone thinks they can't use nice items. Even my mother puts away the handwoven items and has NEVER used them, even though I could make better ones today to replace them. The Art Noveau (spelling?) movement needs to be rediscovered.

  13. I, too, like my knitted items to be heavily used, up to the point when they're not usable any more, because they are so worn out. I like to think about them as wearable art. I also agree about the nice dishes, and the hand woven tablecloths that I have inherited so many of from my grandmother. I am very proud of them, and display them every chance I get -I don't think it would be right towards my grandmother, if I hid them in a closet for ever!

  14. I love the stocking! Beautiful!

  15. Anonymous18:35

    Oh, so beautifully said.

    You can't keep something for the memories if it was never used to make memories with - that is true of good silver or a beloved sweater or any other thing we might mistake for an artifact, when really it is a tool, an object, a part of life.

    And the stockings are lovely.

  16. What a BEAUTIFUL stocking! :-)

    I too believe that handknits should be worn, not folded away in a drawer. But it still gives me pain to think of my favorite socks wearing out. ;-)

  17. Anonymous20:15
    Lene, I just had to send you this web site. It is of nesting Bald Eagles and is on an island to the east of Vancouver Island and is called Hornby IslaND. Sometimes it is black when you first go into the site, but then it clears up and you can see the eagle/eagles/ The camera also "stutters" from time to time. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Peg -

  18. One of the things I've always loved about knowing how to knit (as well as sew) was that no matter if society fell a part, my family would always be dressed. So I've always started with the functional basics. I didn't teach myself to knit by making a scarf (optional wear around here), I made a warm, usable (simple, boring...) sweater. What I admire is that all those women who were knitting mandatory clothing for their families, took the extra time to put design and color into them.

    Love the stockings!

  19. It is so nice reading about knitting done so long ago, it makes you stop and think about why we are knitting what we are and what yarn to use for an item. Your socks look really nice and warm.

  20. This was another beautiful post. In an age where everything is disposable, I treasure the thought of people actually using the knitted items I make for them. I'm still working on small things, like socks and scarves, or hats and shawls, but hope to eventually move up to sweaters. Items that will, as you say, make their way into everyday wardrobe, to be used and abused, albeit with love.

    Functional doesn't automatically mean an item can't also be beautiful, and I think you captured that very well in your post.

  21. I just love the picture of the little boy in the yoke sweater.
    Your knee socks are so pretty!
    I was wondering if you found a good yarn for the Austrian socks yet?

  22. Anonymous15:16

    It's so nice just to hear another person state these sentiments. I find that I sometimes feel the need to justify my knitting to others. They obviously don't understand what you've stated. Even with non-handknit items, I think we tend to "save" them for a special occasion. I remember that as a child. A special dress, or sweater would still look like new after I had outgrown it. Such a waste!

  23. Anonymous16:52

    You are so articulate, Lene. It is true: we forget that the soothing hobby we all do now used to be a source or drudgery and toil to our ancestors (not so distant ones, either!).

    I made my eldest daughter a pair of thrummed mittens stuffed with alpaca fleece (wool gives her hives). She wore them once and came in with the thrums snagged and pulled out in little tufts. I was upset--until I realized that, unlike the plain-Jane wool socks I had knit her, she was actually wearing and using these. Now I don't mind so much if they don't look terribly nice.

    There is certainly a place for a special silk shawl or a cashmere sweater worn once or twice. But most of the things I knit are given away, and it is my hope that they are used and loved. I just need to realize that sometimes other people's idea of what a well-loved handknit eventually looks like is different from my idea of what it should look like. :-)

    Kiitoksia paljon for the wonderful post.

  24. It's an interesting idea--when knitting was a necessity, it would have been wrong NOT to wear the beautiful handknits until they fell apart. Putting in the extra effort for handsome colorwork would have been like tying ribbons on the ends of braids--practical, yet adding some beauty . . . Although, of course, the colorwork also added extra warmth, which was practical, too!

    But now that knitting is more of a hobby, it's true, we expect the knits to be "respected" more because I think we think of them more as "art" than "necessity." We can keep ourselves warm from the local department store--the handknits are special. Like the good china that only gets used on holidays.

    Hmm . . . between your post and Stephanie's, I've got some thinking to do!

  25. Anonymous18:01

    Imagine that you are going through the things of someone who died and you find a pair of socks, a quilt, or a shawl; something you made especially for that person.

    But instead of being holey and worn, it's sitting there, pristine, never-used in tissue paper.

    To me that is so sad. My gift was meant to keep the person warm, to envelop them in my love and caring, to become a small part of their everyday life.

    For my mother's 75th birthday I made her six pairs of socks and I knew it would be difficult for her to use them. I didn't give her any mending yarn but instead told her that when any of them wore out, I would replace them with a new pair. I also told her that if, after her death I would find them unused in a drawer, I would find a way to torment her about it.

    She is wearing them, and she is enjoying them though at 82 she has yet to wear holes in any of them.

    p.s. and yes, I have decided to begin using the special stitch markers...

  26. Anonymous18:23

    When I was a little girl, my mother went on a long vacation with my sister and I. Neither my sister nor I knew that my mother could knit, but on this long vacation, she astonished us by making two sweaers for each of us, one plain, one striped. We wore those sweaters into the dust--many years after the cuffs had unraveled, and I had outgrown the plain sweater, I still insisted on getting it over my head somehow and wearing it around. But, no matter how hard we begged, our mother never knit for us again when we were children. However, when we got to college, mom discovered knitting yet again. This time, she wanted to make fancy things--sweaters with ruffles, novelty yarns, strange shapes. These sweaters were a fun to for her to knit, but hell for us to wear--very odd fit, very odd decoration. We tried to please her and wear them, but we could not. Now that I have three children of my own, I remember this history. I make the fancy knits with the ruffles and designs for myself, and for my children I make plain sweaters, socks and hats in superwash wools. For the older girls, I ask them to pick the colors, and last hat, my middle daughter asked for a color decoration. But generally, the garments are plain. Sometimes my children wear what I knit, sometimes they do not. But the moral of the story, to me, is that when the recipient wears a sweater to pieces, this is the very best compliment a knitter can get. And when the garmets are rags, its OK to let go of them. The kids will remember the garment, and that's what you're really striving for anyway, isn't is? If all you're knitting is garments, you are wasting your time. It is so much cheaper to buy clothes than to make them. And the time! So, the only purpose to knitting, it seems to me, is to knit a connection between yourself and the wearer. Every hole, every unraveled cuff, those are the proof of the connection. You knit it, they wear it, and if they wear it out, so much the better. To me, that's the (only) point.

  27. You know, I totally agree with you. I have given away many handknits and I hope that they are worn or used often. In fact, I have told all my family members for whom I have knit socks that they come with a lifetime of free darning. Until they can be darned no more and then I will knit them new socks.

    Also, I love stocking. It is beautiful.

  28. Anonymous19:59

    There is a family trend to use things. There are very few "heirlooms" that get passed down, but those that do are faded, chipped, and otherwise lovingly used. They continue to be lovingly used and maintain a tie with generations long gone.

  29. Anonymous20:20

    Lene, I have a question about your beautiful stockings. Do you make them long because your daughters (or other recipients, I don't actually know who they're for) have requested that? Because it's cold cold cold in Finland, and longer stockings cover more of the leg? Because they'll be worn with skirts or knickers, and will show? Simple curiosity on my part, but I hope you'll let me (us) know --
    I loved the yellow ones.


  30. You have written so poetically about hand knit items that were made with love and imagination. I long to have my two girls wear my items, made from the desires of my heart, however they are so picky--something has to be just the right style, or not made by mom, etc. I call them yarn heathens! Finally, my older daughter selected a pattern for me to knit (out of cashmere, nonetheless). However, the style lifeline of this item is short. I made her promise NEVER to give it away or dispose of it!!!

  31. What a thought provoking post. I wore all the sweaters my mom made till they wore out, and I think she's glad I did. I wish I had pictures of myself wearing them, though.

    I'd like to see more of your old pictures of knitting. There's a book with pictures of sweaters the author got from a factory in Sweden, I think, that were in a bundle to be made into paper (I can't find the title or I'd post it) that this reminds me of.

  32. The book I was thinking of is Treasures from the Rag Pile, by Annemor Sundbo.

  33. Anonymous00:17

    Oh, please do share the pattern for those stockings, that's lovely. I'd like to adapt that to my size.

  34. Very eloquent. I tell people all the time that I will not sew or knit another thing for them if they "save" what I have made for them. And how lucky we are that our love is a luxury instead of a chore, these days. The greatest compliment I will probably ever receive is my 4 year old wearing his "olympic" frog sweater the moment it comes up from the wash and crying because he wore it yesterday and wants it again today.

  35. I bookmark your blog to read what you write. Your love of knitting makes me cry. If we had to knit the socks for our children and husband, instead of being able to bop down to the store for 6 in a pack, we would knit with love and make them beautiful - even if they were made from the grey wool ripped from the old sweaters. Our sweaters are hugs for those we want to keep safe, even if we use synthetic from the sale rack. Write on!

  36. Your socks are beautiful. I love what you said about the everyday knits. I always hope that my friends and family will wear the garments and socks I make until they are worn out because then I feel like they were properly loved. Then again, there are some things I make that I hope are taken care of and are passed down.

  37. Anonymous07:48

    I agree, and so did my Grammie. She made handmade baby quilts for all of her great-grandkids. Now, you know she couldn't have been young when she took on this task - besides, she had 7 children and 20 some grandkids and I've lost count on the great-grandkids and now great-great-grandkids. But I do remember her getting very upset at my cousin, for taking the quilts and putting them away in bags to preserve them as heirlooms but NEVER USING THEM! I'm sure this is because Grammie came from a day when, as you point out, they knit for neccessity. Loved your writing - and the stocking is beautiful - may it wear long and well on it's recipient.

  38. Anonymous13:15

    I am reminded of visiting museums and seeing scraps of cloth 'preserved' from hundreds of years ago, and little signs saying 'we may never know what this was supposed to look like'. However carefully we make things, if they are made of fibre, they will eventually turn to dust. So we may as well wear them, right?

  39. Wow. Wonderful writing, beautiful sock. I think what you wrote will stay with me. I Think I'll knit a sweater for my son....

  40. Anonymous22:37

    Hello Lene,

    I found your web-site via the Yarn Harlot and I must say I very much like it. Especially the stockings are just great!

    Also, I was born in the 1960s and remember well from my childhood that my grandmother and mother used to unravel sweaters and the like which had become too small and reusing the yarn.

    And I very much agree with all of you who said that knitted items should be used and worn - just think about how sad it would be to see them eaten up by moths just because they were stored safely away!

    And the Love you put in knitwork provides extra insulation ;-)

  41. Very interesting, Lene -- I thought about it a lot and had so much to say that I wrote it down here:
    rather than clog up your comments.

  42. I love my knits to get lots of wear! (and I have some of my socks that I knit 15 years ago that still hold up to almost everyday wear!)

  43. Anonymous03:52

    I stumbled on your Blog by following other ones. GREAT pictures and articles. I have to say, the pictureof the little boy...when I first seen it, I immediately thought of the movie Christmas Story. I had my husband look at it andhe said the sathing. Funny, the boy could be the twin hahaha. I love pictures that show knitted items from years ago. Thanks for sharing