What on earth did I do before a friend re-introduced me to the world of knitting and other needlecrafts a few years ago? Has it really only been three years since I picked up a pair of needles and dove into the fine fibre world of k2, p3*?
It’s hard to believe, but, yes, just 3 years ago my friend Brad (who lives in Amsterdam with his fabulous husband and bestest of hounds, Rusty) talked of knitting, and I asked if he’d be willing to show me how at some point. At the time, I was quite stressed and thought it might be a way to re-focus my mind, whilst also providing a creative outlet. It had been years since I’d knit anything and I never really finished a project. I was more of a happy hooker in my youth (minds out of the gutter, please!). In an incredibly kind gesture, Brad gave me a set of bamboo needles and provided a bit of instruction and inspiration just before / after New Year’s Eve 2010-11.
Little did we know….
When I returned to Helsinki after that New Year’s trip with my husband, I found a group of expat women in Helsinki who are a part of the American Women’s Club in Finland and who meet regularly to knit, crochet, craft and generally support and help one another. Not only did I get some incredibly helpful guidance on knitting, but I’ve also and perhaps more importantly forged lifelong friendships with quite a few talented, brilliant and exceptionally kind women. I honestly don’t know how I’d have mentally and emotionally survived these past several years without knitting, but more specifically without the friends I’ve made through my crafting journey.
Knitting has also reminded me of one of the most amazing women I’ve ever been fortunate enough to have in my life — my grandmother. Katharine ‘Babe’ Louise Baring Fuller was not only one of the wittiest and strongest of women I’ve ever known, she was incredibly gifted with a rare and precious talent.
Born and raised (in Texas) at time when women’s roles were very much different to today, and when skills such as sewing and crafting were expected rather than honed as luxurious hobbies, she took her craft seriously. When I was a young girl, she taught me the fine skill of touching and feeling fabrics before looking at labels to determine quality and fibre content. When working on a particular craft, she demonstrated how patience is just as important as technique — if you rush a project, you’re likely to mistakes no matter how skilled you are (which is a lesson that transcends all of life it seems, and one which has taken a long, long time to finally learn).
In addition to her random acts of silliness and infectious laugh, I will forever recall how zen-like she was when crafting. She was an expert seamstress who made her own clothes and whose sewing ‘station’ I would do just about anything to have now. Sewing for her was more a matter of necessity since she was so, so tiny and petite sizes were rarely if ever an option. We would browse the latest fashions on offer at Saks and Neiman’s and then she would go buy the fabric and make it herself. Her skills were impressive then; but, I am even more in awe of her now that I understand just what goes into making one’s own clothes without a pattern. She was incredible.
But, her real artistry and talent was most visible in her needlepoint. From the very large Christmas stockings with images and scenes matching the passions and personalities of each family member she made one year to the various throw pillows around the house and pictures of idyllic scenes on the walls of every family member’s home, the woman was absolutely gifted. Her work was impeccably perfect and each viewing reveals further details that were all of her own design. Needlepoint mesh was her canvas, and she painted with passion through her needles and thread.
The image of her sitting serenely in her love seat surrounded by the tools of her craft with a look of utter solace and complete focus and joy as she worked is forever burned into my consciousness. Zen and the Art of Needlecraft, I say. And, it’s master is and always shall be Grandma.
Whilst I wish that I could share my projects with her now, it comforts me to feel as though I’m carrying on her legacy. (I’d say big shoes to fill, but the woman had incredibly tiny feet!) It may be a different type of needle and thread (although she did knit and crochet as well), I know she’d be proud and it gives me no small measure of joy to know that at least some of her talent seems to have made its way to me.
She’d also find all those various dropped stitches, and totally understand and relate to my quest for perfection in everything I knit or craft.
Knitting has given me infinitely more than I ever expected. I can’t imagine a day that didn’t include some form of crafting even if for a few stolen moments. From knitting to crochet to quilting or sewing, each stitch reminds me of the friends it has brought my way as well as how it connects me to my beloved grandmother. As if all of that wasn’t enough, it has also brought me an unusual form of mediation and a few lovely pairs of socks, scarves, hats and blankets to ward off the winter chill.
For all of this and infinitely more, I am immeasurably grateful. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, Brad and all the Helsinki Knittas!)
*k2, p3 refers to ‘knit 2 stitches, purl 3 stitches’, for those not in the know. 😉