I was fortunate enough to begin learning knitting and crocheting under the tutelage of my grandmother, who was extremely patient at correcting my stitches. I think she loved seeing me working with yarn, as opposed to sitting in front of the screen of a computer, which she never understood. She passed away several years ago, not before seeing me make many blankets, hats, scarves, shawls and baby booties.
Above: a little cap I made while expecting my first child.
Grandma was an educated woman and, I would even say, rather career-oriented for her time (she was born in 1916), but when she and my grandfather were exiled to a small Siberian village during World War II, following a decree by Stalin, life became very difficult indeed. It was cold, food was scarce, and people were doing whatever they could in order to survive.
I guess I should clarify that my family did not commit any actual crime, but like many liberal-minded Jews, they were deemed undesirable and sent to settle a corner of the world nobody wanted to live in. For years, they had lived in the tundra, with wolves and bears for neighbors, and without many of the things we consider basic necessities today.
In order to bring in a little money, Grandma became a knitter. This meant that people would bring her old woolen clothing items – sweaters, afghans, hats, etc – and Grandma would unravel the yarn and make it into something else. Often there were knots and tangles in the old yarn, or it was partly eaten by moths. “Those people would bring me old tattered yarn and expect me to make something good out of it,” she complained to me seven decades later. Today, it’s called recycling yarn. Back then, it was called working with what you have. Grandma was paid a pittance, but that pittance was probably what saved her family from starving.
Learning to Love Yarn
Whenever I go into a yarn shop and look at all the stacks of brand-new colorful yarns of any type you might possibly want, I think of Grandma. What may be a hobby – and not a cheap one, either – to people today was a venue of survival to her.
For those who don’t have a grandmother to teach them how to knit, there are plenty of video tutorials on YouTube and KnittingHelp.com. Choose simple, straightforward patterns at first, with substantial thickness of yarn and crochet hook or knitting needles for easier handling. I like to work with natural yarn such as wool or cotton.
Once you get to working with yarn, you’ll see how addictive it is. Knitting and crocheting is incredibly versatile and will enable you to create a variety of clothes, toys, rugs, placemats, and more.
Personally, I do crocheting a lot more than knitting, because a crochet hook, as opposed to knitting needles, fits easily into an average-sized handbag and can be taken out when I’m waiting for an appointment, at the playground with kids, etc.
Since good-quality yarn is not cheap, you will often get a lot better deal by unraveling a gently worn thrift store sweater and recycling the yarn, rather than buying new. Unravel carefully, hand-wash the yarn, hang it out to dry, ball up, and you’re good to go.
This post was an excerpt from my upcoming book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living. Get book updates and more by following my Facebook page.
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook, find her as SmallFlocksMom on Earthineer, and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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