Unlike Madame Defarge’s knitting that was ominous and sought to weave a revolution, mothers and grandmothers have generally been a blessed lot because of the glow of warmth in the sweaters they knit, with colourful crisscross patterns and intricate designs, worn with pride by those in the family.
My grandmother used to knit sweaters for me and my younger brother. Other women in the area would come to her for advice. They helped each other. New knitting techniques and designs would be shared. It would take great efforts to etch out a design, match colours and take measurements. My mother would say, “Usually, it takes around four days to knit a sweater.”
It was a leisure activity earlier. But machine-made sweaters have become popular now with the extremes of modern life having dulled the art of knitting. My grandmother, advanced in years now with weak eyesight, still tries to knit once in a while, but her accuracy and speed have declined.
While at work, it would feel wonderful to see her knit sweaters deftly, colourful woollen balls, carefully handpicked from the market, by her side. When I would ask my grandmother how she selected those needles and what was so special about the numbers on them, she would say, “It depends upon the thickness and thinness of the yarn. The number for thick yarn is small while for thin yarn, the number is big.”
With a change in lifestyle and the easy availability of a wide variety of apparels, knitting has lost its sheen. Very few pursue this passion now. I was lucky I had a big collection of handmade sweaters, many pairs of socks and gloves.
Sometimes, the handmade or knitted sweaters travel from one generation to another because of safekeeping. My collection of knitted sweaters was worn by my younger brother. He passed it on to the children of our relatives. But the practice, once time-honoured when extended families were the norm, is less in vogue now. Wearing hand-made sweaters also seems old-fashioned.
The love and affection of the elders in the form of hand-made garments is unforgettable. The warmth is everlasting. The energy and patience that knitting takes is huge. It was also an excuse for meeting acquaintances and friends. Discussing the designs over a cup of tea made the bonds stronger. Knitting still has a special place in the hearts of women like my grandmother and mother. You can open their closets and find yarns and needles kept securely. As my grandmother does not knit frequently anymore, her closet has a collection of old yarns, needles and some unfinished sweaters.
Handmade apparels give a sense of the power of touch. This makes knitted sweaters special, powerful and more everlasting than the machine-made ones.
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