Little old ladies who knit…


Growing up back home in Ireland, my mother would constantly be knitting – and I don’t mean goofy colored scarves or odd-sized mittens – no, she was hard core. She would knit for real. I can hardly remember seeing her sitting in the living room without a pair of knitting needles clicking away and a big ball of yarn unraveling on the floor as she worked. She would transform a simple thing into something beautiful… like art.

As a little kid I was often the recipient of her handiwork, and being the youngest in the family, I can recall being happy about having something to wear that I could truly claim as my own, and not another hand-me-down from one of my older brothers. The classic Aran wool sweater was a favorite pattern of hers, as I’m sure could be proven by taking a quick peek at the family photo album where Ronnie, John, Joan and I each at one point probably sported our own homemade woolen masterpiece. I genuinely believe though that it was me who benefitted most from my mother’s knitting – the fuzzy memories of a variety of colored woollen sweaters filling my limited pre-pubescent wardrobe still reverberate.

I don’t think it was until I got closer to my teenage years that I began to realize why my older siblings didn’t share my enthusiasm for wearing clothes that our mother had knitted. Not surprisingly, as my voice began to break and the world seemed to get a little more complicated, I too did not want to be seen dead in a big woolly jumper (western European for sweater) that had been made by my mother. Ah, teenage angst!

Fast forward a few decades and I now look back on those times with a much different lens. My mother passed away a few years ago before she even had a chance to meet Jack, and as the time seemingly flies by, I find that my memories of her are becoming more and more vague. A couple of old family photographs remain, but as much as I try, there doesn’t seem to be much else to hold onto. That was until Sam came wandering downstairs one morning during his college winter break wearing a big, hairy, woollen sweater.

I noticed it right away, admiring the workmanship and remarking how much it reminded me of the sweaters my mother used to knit. He laughed and told me it was one that Granny Miriam had made! Apparently, some twenty plus years ago, I had carried it with me from Ireland on one of my trans-atlantic trips, but over time it had somehow managed to become forgotten, working its way toward the back of a rarely-used closet. Sam had stumbled on it one day while rummaging through some old clothes, and with an intense appreciation of his Irish heritage, he knew immediately that he had struck gold.

I’m so glad that Sam uncovered something as precious and meaningful from our family past, and I’m even more happy that he wears it so proudly.

12 thoughts on “Little old ladies who knit…

  1. How delightful that your son has an appreciation for family “heirlooms”. My niece, and now my 10 year old great-niece knit, so there may be hope for a new generation of knitters. Sadly, that skill (or desire to possess said skill) has passed me by.

    • David Patterson

      Thanks Carol. Sam actually wears that sweater probably more than he should! I fondly remember my mother trying to teach me how to knit… that didn’t work out too well – though it does sound like your family are doing their part to prevent it from becoming a lost art.

  2. Tara Patterson

    This is such a funny coincidence, we were just talking about grannys knitting at home the other day!

    It is so cold here at the minute and I have this crazy patchwork knitted throw that she knitted for me when I was really small and every winter without fail it comes out of storage and goes on top of my bed, it is absolutely ancient but so incredibly warm, love it!

    • David Patterson

      Tara… great to hear from you, and thanks for sharing the story about your Granny Miriam’s knitting. She definitely left here mark there. I just called Sam to let him know I had written this post about the sweater, and he laughed as he told me he was wearing it right then!

  3. David – another touching story from home that evokes the best in our lives . My 20-year-old daughter also rummages through my closets and is always pulling out “vintage” things she loves. On my trips to Maine I’m always hoping to discover not only new hiking trails and restaurants, but also local handicrafts, such as the Island Quilters:

  4. I knit. I know the amount of work and talent that went into the making of that beautiful gansey sweater. I’ve made many like it because that style is a favorite workhorse that wears like iron around the farm. But ganseys were actually created for fishermen and the lore that surrounds them is quite interesting. (See link below) A little secret I’ll tell you about knitting that non-knitters probably don’t know. When you knit something specific for someone, you tend to occupy a lot of your knitting time thinking about that person. Which, when it comes to ganseys and their lore, makes sense. Perhaps that’s where the expression “Made with Love” comes from? I know every “gift” I’ve ever knit for anyone …. every sweater, every baby blanket, every afghan, every pair of sox or booties ….. made me think of that person (fondly) as I worked on the project for them.

    Great story about the heirloom your grandmother made. I hope someone in your family keeps this beautiful sweater for future generations to come!

    Here is an interesting link:

    And a gansey blog!

    • David Patterson

      Cheryl… thanks so much for the detailed information about what goes into the knitting process. I am sure that Sam is very appreciative of what his granny created, and I know he will take good care of it.

  5. I love this sweater ! I’m a knitwear designer from Ireland, living in Arizona (of all places !) I love Cheryl’s description of what really happens when one knits, it is so true, so much thought goes into deciding what wool to use, what pattern will reflect the person’s character. I only knit for people who truly appreciate the time and love that goes into the process – mass production of sweaters, especially the traditional Aran jumper has destroyed part of our heritage…

    • David Patterson

      Nathalie… thanks for the comment. I can remember my mother spending hours and hours on anything she did, and whatever she was knitting always had a predetermined home – someone who appreciated the work and love that went into its making.

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