Since my parents arrived a few weeks ago, bearing wool and knitting needles, I have taken up knitting. This activity is simultaneously mindless and absorbing, at least for a beginner, which is exactly what my undisciplined mind currently needs. My mother, whose knitting career spans 60 years, since her earliest entrepreneurial tea-cosy sales to schoolteachers at age 8, is more adept, and can apparently knit a jumper while reading a book.
Knitting connects me to a long, female family tradition of productiveness. The narrow, tortoiseshell needles I use belong to my aunt (my father’s sister), whose initial joking suggestion it was that I take up knitting. The knitting bag is covered with the huckaback embroidery that my mother learned from her mother, and later taught us as children. While we work, we recall the crocheted blankets of my grandmother and great aunts, still in active circulation as our adult bedspreads, the closest we have to family heirlooms.
My mother tells me stories of clothes she has made (including her sister’s wedding dress, later worn by my middle cousin to her own wedding), in the days before sweatshops made home production unprofitable. She tells me about the patchworking craze that coincided with the birth of my youngest brother, so that she spent the week in hospital preceding his appearance pinning her little hexagons onto backing paper amongst the staphylococcus germs. My nephew too intrudes into this estrogen-bathed lineage- my mother also taught him to knit, though his resistance to instruction and lack of a final plan resulted in something more like lace.
Knitting, I feel my female ancestors gather round me, with their recipes and secrets and crochet hooks, their books and sparing wartime ways, their reserve, their religion, their politeness. On the other side of the world, about to produce my own descendants, I welcome their presence.