My Grandmother’s Hat
Old knitting makes me nostalgic.
Actually, all old handcrafted items make me feel this way, whether it’s in a museum and they have a young girl’s needlepoint sampler under glass, ancient hand-woven baskets are on display from cultures lost long ago, small bits of lace attached to the end of a cuff in an apparel museum that flutter under an air vent, or small hand knit treasures made for people long gone are shown. Nostalgia aside, it makes me proud that these items still exist, and many of them appear to be in decent shape. These small items carry such weight to them. So many stories with each stitch… What was going on in the crafter’s life when they made this? Were they making it as a gift for a loved one or to sell at the marketplace? Was it their livelihood or done for the simple love of crafting? It makes me a bit sad that while these lovely items remain, their stories and makers are lost forever.
My mom has worn a particular hat for as long as I can remember. Very simple and off white with a slight halo, as I sift through my many memories I always recall her wearing it come wintertime. I never really thought about where it came from or why she was so attached to it until recently.
While on the phone with my mom a few weeks ago, the hat came up in discussion and she asked advice on how to clean and block it. She told me her mother, Irene had crocheted that hat for her over 30 years ago. If you are a regular reader, this is the same Irene whose wedding dress became the family heirloom Baptism gown. She mailed the hat to me and when I pulled it from the padded envelope it felt slightly crunchy. I guessed it was probably an acrylic and mohair blend and knew it had never been blocked or cleaned well.
I washed it in Soak, let it dry over a few days and cleaned it up a bit. Looking almost like new, this hat brought forth such feelings. My Grandma Irene passed away when I was 16. She knew I was a knitter and loved to watch me knit. Her hands were frozen like claws from bad arthritis due to a lack of the wonderful medical advancements we have today. I have a hat and scarf she made me but just like the items in the museum, this hat had serious weight to it. She’s been gone for so long yet this hat remains. After a good wash and cleaning it looks brand new, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s gone. She’ll never crochet again, she’ll never make something for my son (even though he has blankets she made for me) and she’ll never get the care that could have left her hands mobile enough to continue to crochet, or feel the amazing fibers we have today.
I suppose this will happen to all of us knitters… We’ll be gone someday and our stashes, needles and finished knitting will still be here. If taken care of properly, those finished items may be around for our great-grandchildren to wear or beyond.
Crafting binds us all. I come from a long line of crocheters with my mother breaking the mold and looking towards knitting. Every time I pick up a crochet hook and start a chain, I think of all the women in my family doing the same simple act and how it changed over the years with new inventions like cars, radios, dishwashers, television and the internet helping and distracting us equally. Each chain I make is for one of the women in my family tree and while my grandmother is gone, my mother will continue to wear this hat and I’ll continue to wrap Callum up in one of her blankets she made for me. She’s gone, but not entirely.
I encourage everyone to teach at least one person in their life how to knit or crochet. They are such special and amazing crafts and in an ever-increasing era of technology, sometimes we lose sight of the simple act of crocheting a chain or casting on to knit. We need to ensure this craft will last long past our lifetimes and keep future generations grounded.
Chain on, dear friends, chain on.