Sunday, 12 May 2013

Mothers and Knitters and Common Threads

When I began casting about for a Mother's Day-themed topic for today, my Google searches returned a lot of links containing suggestions of projects knitters can make for their mothers. And all I could think was, other knitters knit for their mothers? Their mothers like having things knitted for them?

This has not been my experience. My mother knits very well, though since her late thirties she has not been one to knit often as it makes her hands ache to do very much of it. And knitters don't tend to knit for other knitters in general, because knitters can knit anything they like for themselves, and they'd rather. I don't think anyone has knitted anything for me since before I learned to knit myself. Not that I mind — anyone can see it would be coals to Newcastle. But I have knitted a number of items for my mother in the past, and try as I would to please her I almost never could. Something was always wrong with the things I made: she didn't like the fit, or the shape, or she didn't think the colour was quite right for her. One August in the late nineties, she thought I should enter some of my knitted items in the local fall fair knitting show and competition. I said I didn't have anything ready, but she helpfully produced the four or five sweaters I'd previously made for her from her dresser and chest of drawers, and brightly suggested I submit them. After all, they were still in pristine, just-finished condition because she'd never worn any of them.

I'm not the only knitting offspring of a knitting mother in this situation. A former co-worker of mine, Barbara, once told me a tale of the time she'd knitted her mother a sweater and mailed it across the country to her mother's home in B.C. as a surprise gift. A month or so later Barbara received a package in the mail from her mother. It was a sweater, not the sweater she had sent to her mother, but a different one... knitted from the same yarn. Barbara's mother had decided she she didn't like and would never wear the sweater her daughter had made for her, frugally ravelled out and re-knitted it in a different style, and then sent it back to Barbara for her to wear and enjoy. I have to say, of all the "Mother still knows better than her adult children" cross-checks I ever heard of, that has to be the nastiest. And when I told my mother that story, expecting her to feel the same way about Barbara's mother's destruction of her daughter's work as I did, Mum's response was a horrified, "She sent it back?!" My mother would have done exactly the same thing as Barbara's — she just wouldn't have told me about it.

Well, it hasn't been all bad. My mother taught me to knit when I was eight, and though the lesson was something of a battle royale (I desperately wanted to learn to knit, but did NOT like having all my stitches ripped out), next to reading and writing, knitting is probably the skill I've used the most and enjoyed the most in my life. Mum has worn a few of the things I've made her — there was a scarf and hat set that was quite a success. And she does genuinely respect my knitting skills and admire at least some of the items I make. Even though when I show her something I've made, the first thing out of her mouth is guaranteed to be some kind of criticism, she was incensed when my knitted entries didn't win any first place ribbons at the aforementioned fall fair, so much so that though it's now fifteen years later, it's still not a topic that can be safely mentioned to her. We talk about our projects, I loan her my knitting magazines, and we visit the wholesale yarn store in her town together. Our shared love of needlework and making things has been common ground and a bond between us much more often than it's been a cause for contention, and that's nothing to be taken for granted when the life I've led doesn't otherwise resemble hers.

I recommend this lovely Oregon Live article in which Mary Mooney reminisces about the day her mother taught her to knit back in 1981, when Mooney was ten. Mooney's mother died suddenly only two months later, and Mooney muses that because her mother was always making things, knitting has always been synonymous with her mother and with love, that knitting is a way to remember and to feel close to her mother, and also a reason to feel sure that she could connect with her mother if her mother was still alive, regardless of what kind of relationship they would have.

Many knitters got their first lessons in knitting from their mothers or grandmothers, and though each knitter's experience will differ, it's a memory very likely to be positive and to have created a bridge between the two. Here's hoping whatever form your Mother's Day takes, that today you too can enjoy thinking of how your knitting has connected you to whomever taught you, whomever you knit with, and whomever you knit for.


  1. My mother taught me how to knit when I was 24 at my request. She quilted my whole life but knit when she was younger. She literally taught me the knit stitch and told me when I perfected it we could move on. I started a long strip of garter and when I finally reached about three feet I asked her to show me how to purl. She said I still wasn't quite even and to just finish the strip into a garter scarf and then she would teach me to purl. I did this and begged her to finally show me how to purl. She sighed, said I was supposed to have lost interest by now and confessed she didn't know how to purl either.

  2. My Mom is very similar to Barbara's Mom, in that if my sis and I gave her a gift that she didn't like, she would eventually give it back to us or get rid of it. It would be years later, and she'd be very casual about it, like: "hey, I'm giving away some things to you want THIS (a gift I gave her for mother's day five years ago)??" She is generally a nice person, but just can't hide it when she doesn't like something.
    One year I knit my Mom a reglan sweater for X-mas, and surprisingly, she really loved it and still wears it. Her mother (my grandmother) taught me to knit, and my Mom never took an interest.

  3. I would love to receive a knitted gift from a fellow knitter!