Sunday, December 30, 2018

My Knitting Yarn

Since the name of this blog includes a bit of wordplay surrounding storytelling, I thought maybe I should start off with my own yarn craft story.  Many of my Ravelry friends will know the story already, as it's in my profile.  But, I'm coming up on my 10th anniversary of learning to knit, so it seems appropriate to repeat it here.

Anyway - I learned to knit in January or February of 2009, a couple of months before my 40th birthday. I decided to learn because of a house fire and Christmas stockings.  Much of the story is happy, but some of it is a little painful, too.

Photo by Cathy Byland Weeks

Back in the mid-1970s, my mother had commissioned a local knitter to make matching Christmas stockings for my parents and myself.  The above photo is my stocking from that era.

I actually remember going to her house, and looking at the designs. I remember liking the reindeer design better, but when I look at the same design now, it doesn't speak to me the way it did to my 6-year-old self.  But, we hung our snowman stockings up every year.  Then, in the 1980s, when my brothers came along, my mother had matching stockings made for them too. And my Aunt Cathy requested stockings for her family as well.  And in 1997, I got married, so Mom had a stocking made for my husband and stepson.  And after my daughter was born in 2001, one for her as well.  

Then, in September of 2003, disaster struck.  My parents' house burned down.  

We lost so much.  My grandfather's WWII-era allied-issue radio that still worked. My father's christening gown.  All the cute vintage Christmas ornaments that I'd grown up with.  My father's violin. My brother's French horn. My other brother's trumpet.  My prom dress.  We were lucky in some ways- my grandparents' photo album and the antique cradle were in my possession.  A surprising amount of the antique furniture survived - but even after restoration, many of them have a few visible scorch marks.

The Christmas stockings were destroyed.  It seems that acrylic yarn isn't indestructible after all.  I still have mine, because it was in my possession. But Mom's, Dad's, Paul's and Sean's were gone.

The knitter who'd made them was still alive, but Mom sunk into a several-year-long depression, and told me she wasn't going to have them remade.  "I don't want to do them anymore. My children are grown."

I don't know what gave me the idea to make new ones for them. I remember calling a couple of yarn shops (I didn't know that such things even existed!) and asking if there were knitters who'd make them. But they told me they didn't really do that - rather they preferred to teach me how to make them myself.  

Chris was excited. For some reason, he'd thought I should take up knitting - and had even suggested it to me.  Not sure why he thought I should do it, but husbands are funny sometimes.  He urged me to learn to knit so I could make those stockings.  So, I did.

But, the fire had been 6 years prior.  And by Christmas of 2009, I was far from ready to knit stockings. I was still a beginner, mostly teaching myself. Progress was slow. By the fall of 2010, I was still not ready.  So, I decided to dip into my poly fleece stash, and sew them instead.

Photo by Paul Byland

They were modeled on the knitted stockings.  I ditched the corncob pipe, and used buttons for the eyes, nose, mouth, and holly on the hat.  I knit each tiny scarf with a different stitch pattern so they'd be slightly different and added a jingle bell.  A neighbor with an embroidery machine added the names for me. 

Inside each one, I put a clementine (gotta have an orange in the toe!) and a handful of dove dark chocolates. Inside my mother's I put a note: "You don’t have to fill them, but at least hang them up each year. Everyone should have a stocking."  I wrapped them separately, shipped them, and told my family to open them at the same time.

There were lots of tears, and laughter. I did good.  My brother Paul installed hooks that day, and they hung them up on Christmas Day.

Here's the photo they took:

Photo by Sean Byland

Everyone's in the photo, more or less.  My youngest brother Sean was the photographer, and you can see him in the mirror above the fireplace.

And Mom has hung them up every year, even Dad's, though he died almost 5 years ago now.

The knitter who made the original stockings did make one more stocking for us - for my Aunt Cathy's oldest granddaughter in the early 2010s. The knitter was very elderly by that point (she hadn't been young in the mid-1970s when all this started) and died before my aunt's second and third granddaughters came along.  Aunt Cathy found a knitter via eBay to make them for her.

In 2015, my stepson got married, to a lovely young woman named Leah.  By this point, I was plenty skilled enough to make the stockings.  So, I found the pattern (Mary Maxim Snowman Head Stocking) and purchased it.  But... I kept putting it off, and when my granddaughter Cathesa came along in February of 2017, I STILL hadn't gotten around to it.  

Part of the problem, is that I don't like the kind of colorwork that goes into it. I don't mind intarsia when it's a simple pattern, but this isn't simple. And all those ends to weave in???  It takes hours.  My daughter-in-law and granddaughter are totally knit-worthy people, but ... I just couldn't get myself to make them.  And as of December of 2018, Cathesa is almost two - old enough to start noticing that her stocking is different.  

So, I finally burst out, "I don't want to make the stockings!  Can I commission another knitter to make them?"  My husband looked at me, shrugged, and said, "Sure, if they aren't too expensive."  Knitters who do this professionally make the stockings ahead all year long, just without the name at the top.  Then when they get the order, they duplicate-stitch the names on, and ship them out. My stockings needed to be a custom order, because the design usually has a green foot, and I wanted it to match the ones I have - all red, with a white heel and toe.  If the knitter had more of the red yarn on hand, it's possible to cut the green foot off, put the loops back onto the needles and knit the foot downward.  But if not, then they would have to be knit from scratch.

I was taken aback to find many knitters on Etsy who make them - I had no idea these were so popular.  I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised, but it was a happy finding.   I started sending out queries to the knitters, in the hopes that someone would have time to finish at least one of them, and get it into my hands before Christmas.  Most said no - I would have had to place my order by mid-November for that. I felt no ill-will - I know very well that knitting is slow work, and this was already after the first week of December.  But one of them said she could do my daughter-in-law's, and maybe even my granddaughter's by Christmas. And if Cathesa's got to me after Christmas, no matter - I'd give it to her for her second birthday in February. Yeah, a Christmas stocking in February would be weird - but she's turning two - she wouldn't care.

Much to my shock, the knitter - Tamara from DeBey Crochet (I love the rhyme!) finished both stockings before Christmas, and got them into my hands in EIGHT DAYS.  Even if she did cut the foot off two existing stockings, she worked FAST. I also really love it that Tamara also learned to knit because of these stockings, so it felt really right to have her do it for me.  

Photo by Cathy Byland Weeks

Here's the complete collection. It's a little hard to tell, but the colors vary a bit from stocking to stocking due to different dye lots and being knit at different times.  I love the variations - it adds to the history.  And, best of all, this freed me up to keep working on the scarf Leah and I designed together (which is shaping up to be one of the prettiest things I've ever made).

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