Knitting; a most enjoyable pasttime

Photo by Barbara Ellis

A neighbour and fellow knitter asked me to help her out by knitting some premie-baby caps and mittens. I accepted with enthusiasm because I have always loved to knit. Unfortunately, as I began the first cap, I found that my fingers were not as agile as they once were. Not long ago, it would have taken me less than an hour to knit such a tiny garment. When I was finished, I fingered the soft bonnet and tried to remember how many years I have actually been knitting.

I am a World War Two baby and my homeland, along with most of Europe, was devastated by the war. Necessities of life were in short supply or did not exist at all. Food shortages were extreme and starvation was a real concern. In 1946, my father was able to send my mother, sister and me to Switzerland for a few months of peace and quiet: a sort of respite to regain our mental and physical strength.

As soon as we arrived in the little town of Tramelan, we were split up and billeted with different families. I was taken in by a young couple who welcomed me and made me feel right at home. It was there in the home of my foster mother that I learned to knit. The first night I was there, she decided that it was cold and so she knitted me a pair of bed socks. It took her no time at all and I remember being woken up when she had finished them and put them on my feet.

Within a few days, I became aware of the fact that this lovely lady had magical fingers. Indeed, the knitting needles seemed to have a life of their own as they clinked and clattered as she produced beautiful sweaters, socks or pullovers for me. I was fascinated as I watched the ball of yarn diminished while a sock or sweater sleeve emerged from below the needles. She did not use patterns but would hold the back or front of a sweater up against me to make sure of the size.

One day she invented a little game. Madame would throw the ball of yarn down the hallway and we would watch it un-twirl as it flew through the air. She would then send me on a small errand to get something or find some object in one of the other rooms. The idea was that by the time I got back to the kitchen, the ball of yarn would be used up and laying at her feet. Indeed, very seldom did I return and not find the ball of yarn close to her feet.

With great patience and love, she taught me how to cast on and then how to knit and purl. I spent most of my free time knitting little squares which she promised to sew into a scarf for me if I knitted enough of them. From such a humble beginning I learned the rudiments of the craft. Eventually, I moved on from squares to scarves and even mastered knitting with five needles to knit myself a pair of socks.

During my lifetime, I have knitted many sweaters, baby blankets, bonnets and others, for my family and friends. I even managed to knit two dresses for myself and often wonder if any of my handiwork exists today.

My sister had four little girls so I was always busy making something for them. The most demanding project I ever undertook was to knit a dress for each of them for Christmas.

Actually, only the bodice was knitted while the sleeves and skirts were crocheted. To make it appropriate and festive for the season, I made two of the dresses red and two of them green.

I started in October and soon realized that it was going to take me much longer than I anticipated. In the beginning, I really enjoyed crocheting and found it very satisfying to see each sleeve and skirt take shape. By the time I started on the bodices, it was already December and my time was running out. Enjoyment turned to drudgery as Dec. 24 loomed large ahead of me.

Thankfully, I did manage to get them finished and delivered by Christmas Eve.

There are many wonderful groups of women in our city who busy themselves knitting blankets, sweaters and socks for hospitals and relief organizations. During the winter months, they come together in groups of four or more to socialize while their busy fingers work and produce items for goodwill. In my building, there were four of us who met regularly to knit scarves, toques and mitts. In fact, one of our knitters has knitted hundreds of little dolls for one of the woman shelters. These lovely dolls comfort children who may be fleeing abusive situations.

In this year of COVID, this aspect of our lives also had to change and we can no longer socialize the way we used to. Even so, I am sure there are busy fingers in our city knitting squares for blankets, making toques and scarves for distribution to those in need.

Maybe next year we will once again be able to sit in our special circle of friends, enjoying each other’s company, perhaps in front of a fire, with maybe a cup of hot chocolate on a table close by. No matter what next year brings, I am sure women will continue to knit and produce items which will be useful and beneficial to others.