Reflections on Thanksgiving, hurricanes, the flu, antique knitting patterns and the waistcoat-that’s-not-meant-to-be

This has been a rather jumbled few weeks chez Knitigating Circumstances.  I have been felled with the flu.  It is one of those viruses of the cycling variety which knocks you over for a day and then tricks you into thinking you are on the mend before once again knocking you over.  This has been going on for some time.  Instead of spending my sick time knitting like a maniac, I have spent it propped up in bed reading.  Thus, I have done a lot of reading the past two weeks but not so much knitting (or answering comments to the blog; apologies to my readers).

I did, on one of the days in which I believed I was on the mend, make it in to London, to Loop, to attend an afternoon’s class with Franklin Habit.  Franklin has a lovely and very funny blog, writes a column for Knitty magazine, teaches knitting classes all over the world, and knits beautiful things for his lucky niece Abigail.  I was fortunate to take a class with Franklin at Knit Nation last year, which was about different traditions in lace-making.  I have attended classes with great instructors, mediocre instructors and get-me-out-of-here instructors; Franklin is firmly ensconsed in the former category.  This class was about how to interpret and use knitting patterns from the late 19th century.  This period, when knitting patterns were first being published, was before the introduction of standardized terms, needle sizes, sizing conventions, abbreviations, etc, so the patterns from this period are unique and quirky and often need deciphering.

Franklin brought along many of the pieces he has reconstructed from old patterns and written about in his Knitty column, including the fabulous Pineapple bag and Eleanor Roosevelt’s mittens.  It was great to see and handle these pieces, and I really enjoyed the class.  (One of the other people attending the class, Jennie, posted about it on her blog here; you can see that I am in one of the photos wearing my Killybegs cardigan.  She also has a nice photo of the Pineapple bag, and a great beaded coin jug.)  If you are ever in London, be sure to stop by Loop, they have great yarn, a really good selection of knitting books, sofas and chairs you can curl up and knit on (I’ve done this many times and they never kick me out) and an endless stream of nice people coming through the doors.

This week, unfortunately coinciding with my being sick, was also Thanksgiving.  This is a big holiday in my house.  I haven’t lived in the US for over 20 years, but we always, wherever we are in the world, have a big Thanksgiving dinner and invite many people from many cultures and nationalities.  My daughter Emma is away at university, and we just experienced the first Emma-free Thanksgiving in 19 years.  Despite the fact that I take great joy in Emma growing up and spreading her wings, it was very sad to look around the Thanksgiving table and not have her here.  (She was also gravely missed in the gravy-making portion of the evening- get it – Emma’s gravy is divine.  This year the gravy turned out awful.  Really awful.  Theo, a good friend who has been to many of our Thanksgiving feasts, was sitting next to me and after tasting the gravy he whispered to me “Let’s hope that Emma is back next year!”)

Thanksgiving is also a time for reflection.  It has been cold and wet here in the UK as the winter sets in, and this has made me think of all of those in the New York area who were affected by Hurricane Sandy, many of whom have lost their homes and belongings.  I lived in this area for more than 20 years, in various homes in New Jersey, Long Island, Manhattan and Brooklyn, so it was with sadness and incredulity that I watched the path of destruction on the news.  My sister, Romi, has owned a garden and landscaping business on Eastern Long Island for more than 20 years.  She has been busy clearing rubble and distributing goods to affected areas since the hurricane swept through.  Romi has started a charitable organization called the Hamptons Hurricane Relief Fund, which you can find here; she says they especially need warm winter items like hats and mittens.   If you have a pile of warm wooly knitting on hand, please think of sending it to those who need it.  Also, don’t forget that Hurricane Sandy caused added misery to Haiti, a small country already reeling from natural disasters; there are many charitable organizations at work in Haiti who could use donations.

Thanksgiving also always leads me to reflect on the waistcoat-that’s-not-meant-to-be; but first, let me digress.  Doug is in charge of the Thanksgiving turkey.  He makes the best stuffing on earth.  I am allergic to gluten, so he makes his stuffing from corn bread, and adds tons of dried fruit and nuts – apricots, figs, prunes, cherries, macadamias, pistachios, pine nuts, pecans – as well as onions, celery, herbs, butter….  yum, yum.  It is absolutely mouth-watering.  Every year, when he is preparing the turkey, and the girls and I are acting as sous-chefs, he asks for the yarn and needle to truss the bird up with.  And here lies a knitterly story.

Seventeen years ago, when the kids were babies and we were living in Potsdam, in the former East Germany, Doug was stuffing the Thanksgiving turkey and we realized that we had no kitchen string to tie up the turkey.  “Hold on a minute,” I said, and ran to my knitting basket.  I grabbed a ball of cotton yarn and a darning needle and ran back to the kitchen, and Doug trussed up the turkey.  The yarn and needle ended up in the kitchen drawer instead of back in my knitting bag, and has been used every year since then to truss up the turkey.  Here is a photo of Doug, preparing the bird this year:

And here is a close-up in which you can see the little ball of yarn:

Every year when we truss the turkey, I think about the knitting project I stole that ball of yarn from.  It is destined to never be finished.  In 1992, Rowan published its 11th Book of Patterns and in it was the Cones Waistcoat by Kaffe Fassett.  I had never knit a Fair Isle pattern before and thought that this would be the perfect pattern to start with.  We were living in Australia at the time, and were untenured university lecturers with student loans to pay off (read: we had little money), so ordering an expensive knitting kit and shipping it to Australia was a luxury.  I eventually caved in and treated myself.  In 1994 when Emma was a baby and I was pregnant with Leah, Doug had to go into the hospital for surgery.  I had just received the knitting kit in the post.  I took it with me to the hospital, and while Doug was in surgery and in recovery afterwards, I alternately walked Emma around and cast on and started knitting the Cones Waistcoat.  I was not good at knitting Fair Isle, and the waistcoat was probably doomed from the start.

As I watched Doug truss the turkey a few days ago, once again having my yearly think about the waistcoat-that’s-not-meant-to-be, I realized that I had it tucked away in the bottom of a closet upstairs, and ran to get it and photograph it for the blog.

That’s as far as I got.  And it’s as far as it’s ever going to get.  I’m not even sure why I’ve kept it all these years.  I was kind of astonished when I pulled it out to discover how big it is; it’s definitely two sizes too big (at the very least) for me now.  I guess I have forgotten how breast feeding and pregnancy (in this case, both simultaneously) can change your shape.  You can see from the back that I didn’t really know what I was doing:

Hopefully, I am now a bit more skilled as a knitter because there are a lot of Fair Isle patterns out there that are calling my name.  This has been something of a mishmash of a post; reflections on Thanksgiving, hurricanes, the flu, antique knitting patterns, and the waistcoat-that’s-not-meant-to-be.  Good wishes to all of my readers.  I am now off to plop myself in bed with a good book, my knitting, an antique knitting pattern or two, and a piece of pumpkin pie, and reflect on my blessings.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on Thanksgiving, hurricanes, the flu, antique knitting patterns and the waistcoat-that’s-not-meant-to-be

  1. Loved the post – nice story. Sorry to hear you were ill, and hope all is well now!

    Inquiring minds want to know if you’re going to frog the Kaffe waist-coat and put it out of its misery?

    • Ha! I’ve been carting around the poor Kaffe waistcoat for years, across continents; I think I’ll probably just keep doing it. I can’t bring myself to throw it away, and I don’t really have another use for the yarn (and I don’t want to finish it). Maybe I should have it bronzed as a souvenir……

      • Well, I find the pattern very pretty and kilim-like. It would be nice to find a vocation for it, after all these years. Couldn’t you make it into a nice throw pillow?

  2. Pingback: Knitigating Circumstances turns five! | Knitigating Circumstances

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