Learning to knit with wood, sticks and branches

Men Knitting Learning to knit with wood, sticks and branches by Knittingdoc

My fifth birthday was quickly approaching. He kept calling them "knitting needles." Some were brown and tan. Others, gray, black and very long. But the only needles I knew were the ones from the Dr.’s office which hurt.

Ah, Grandpap was my hero! What fond memories I have. My family called me a toe-head who was energetic, highly motivated and self-driven. For several years, I had watched Grandpap sit by the hour and move those hands so fast using roving and yarn from the sheep he raised on the farm. Being the eager little kid who always was curious and wanting to learn new things, I begged him to teach me to knit. It was one of those eye opening moments. He looked at me and just smiled in delight.

He grew up in Germany where all the boys and girls in elementary school were taught to knit as part of the normal curriculum. "Well," he said. "I learned to knit when I was a boy so there’s no reason you shouldn’t learn how to do it too. It’s something that’ll help you and that you can do for the rest of your life. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. So, let’s go do some whittling!"

At the time, I obviously didn’t get the full gist of what he was saying — five year olds aren’t fully aware of stereotypes. I just knew Grandpap could do no wrong in my eyes. If he taught me how to milk cows, ‘slop’ the pigs, herd sheep, gather eggs and pull weeds, then knitting was no different.

Whittling? It all started to make sense. Grandpap whittled a lot. But Grandma said I was too young to be playing with a knife. I have vague memories of watching him whittle but never paid too much attention to it. Wow! When he said, "Let’s go do some whittling," it all clicked!!!! All that time he was making his own wooden knitting needles. Not from dowels, but from wood, sticks, branches, etc. I still have that vivid image of us going to look for some wood to make me my own pair of knitting needles. He said he would have to make them bigger than his so that I could learn better. Since, I wanted to have the same ones which he had, I threw a little temper tantrum…..yuk! He was so loving and patient. "You’ll understand some day but it’ll be harder for you to wrap that sheep hair around the needle if it is too small." And right he was!

Initially, Grandpap taught me to knit using the "throw" or English technique with very large needles in order to learn the mechanics and physics of knitting. Shortly, thereafter, I switched to Continental knitting so I could go "as fast as he could." I remember the thrill of staying up late night after night practicing the long tail cast on for hours. I now laugh whenever I think of how frayed that precious yarn became after unraveling for the 10th time.

Funny. I could relate to "sheep hair" as a kid. Roving and wool as more abstract terms came later. I had watched Grandma clean, card and spin the ‘sheep hair’ many times but it wasn’t all that exciting to me as a kid. Now I long for those peaceful, loving moments spent with two wonderful people. Working with nature. Watching the lambs grow to adulthood. Shearing. Preparing the wool. Then using it to complete a garment to wear.

Whittle As I think about it right now, I was learning about life cycles. Biology, nature, mathematics, etc., all the while just thinking I was having fun with yarn and needles.

Fifty six years later I am still passionately knitting every day. I’ve weathered through some of those awkward years of being teased as a young man knitting. That stopped rather quickly after the bullies learned that I could do other "guy" things. Eventually, some of them asked me to teach them. Be true to yourself!

I’ve gone through the gamut of knitting throughout the years. Except for lace. Over the past several months, I’ve finally decided to go for it. Now I’m addicted to it. I didn’t know any better when I learned to knit and ended up cutting my own hair and trying to spin it. Guess I just figured that if it can be done with sheep hair then any hair will do! Sadly, though, I must say that after repeated attempts at learning to spin, I have never been able to do it. And it bugs me trying to figure out why! It looks so simple and smooth. Grandpap used to say, "Now just don’t worry about it. God will give you other gifts down the road." How right he was.

It feels like Elizabeth Zimmerman and I were brother and sister. Having said that, "Knit on!"

Warmly………..David

5 Responses

  1. What an AWESOME story… you were fortunate to have your Gramps. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Beautiful story! I crochet and would love to pass the hobby down to a grandchild one day. Doing these things with our grandchildren and children help to preserve parts of our culture and heritage.

  3. David, you need to write that book. You write rivetingly well. Just do it.

    Louise

  4. More beautiful writing, and what a wonderful plug for knitting and for grandfathers!

    How much better for a small boy to have his grandfather teach him to knit than some of the expensive organised entertainment kids get these days. And how much more valuable a pair of hand whittled knitting needles than some for the expensive presents people buy for kids.

  5. Aw, David, wish you could come visit and teach all of us California knitters to whittle our own needles! (Hi Pam! hope you’re still knitting too!)

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