Fun Activity: Shop Your Closet

By Ann Shayne
February 9, 2021

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  • Funny you should ask — I’ve been thinking about the memories in my handknits a lot lately. I very much associate my knits with what was going on in my life as I knit them — the Solveig Hisdal sweater I was knitting when I got a big promotion and adopted kitty Lucy, The “Dark and Stormy” cardigan I was knitting when kitty Lucy died (and I have never worn), and the “Pomme de Pin” cardi I started as I adopted my kitty Loki. Et cetera. And most recently, the sweater I am knitting right now: the Hillswick Lumber fair isle cardi (from Ann Feitelson’s 1996 book). My father died last week and I know I will always associate this knit with his death and will likely never wear it. I’m still knitting along on it but I am of two minds whether to continue or to set it aside.

    • Oh, all the feelings get into the stitches, don’t they? I knit a sweater for my sister while I sat with my mother during her hospital stay for cancer treatments. She loves it. I can’t look at it.

      • Every sweater I make gets infused with joy, and then continue to wear it, or else donate it, so someone else can feel the joy! My Mom also received many joy infusions, as she took knitting lessons with me 50 years ago, and it never “stuck” ! And the few that I sold gave me joy back! What a win-win!

    • Continue.

    • Do continue. Let every stitch carry happy memories of your father..

    • Oh, Wendy. I am so sorry for the loss of your father. We do tie our lives and so many feelings in each of our precious stitches. xo

    • Sending you condolences at this sad time.

    • May your memories of your father be a blessing, and the sweater as well. I started a sweater as I sat in a room with my brother the day after he entered hospice. I worked on it everyday as he slowly slipped away and continued after returning home two weeks later. It was a reminder of a sad time so I gave it away after wearing it once. Six years later, I wish I had kept it so that I would think of him, the person he was and the good times we had. I would encourage you to finish it and keep it, even if you never wear it. Someday it will make you think of him without the sadness of his death.

    • Wendy, Condolences on the loss of your father. May you find peace and comfort in your memories.

    • I knit my father a beautiful naturally colored dark brown vest as he was dying and my mother gave it back to me after his death. Dad and I wore the same size sweater but I could never wear the vest. So sorry about your father.

    • I know how you must feel. I was working on an enormous needlepoint canvas when my mother went into the hospital, then passed. She had purchased the canvas and all the yarn for me… I couldn’t finish it then, and (20 years later) I am still not sure I can finish it now. But I may try, to honor her memory – she was a finisher, and had very few UFOs of any sort! Then there’s the question of whether I could frame/hang it…but there’s no harm in letting things “age” until the right time!

    • I’m Rory for your loss. I’d continue, knitting in memories of happier times. May you see it as a joy filled celebration of his life that embraces you with a hug every time you wear it.

    • Wendy, so sorry for your loss. I, too, was working on a sweater while sitting in the hospital when my father died. I remember thinking I would never want to see it again, let alone wear it. At the time holding it on my lap kept me warm as the hospital was FREEZING. I did finish it, and now I wear it and think of him, and I love it.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. Gentle suggestion: continue knitting it as you mourn your father, but decide who to give it to. They will love it, and it will help you through the next little time.

      I’m very sorry you are going through this.

  • I have a sweater that was knit for my aunt in the early 1950s when she spent a year in Norway as a home help. Her boyfriend’s mother made it for her. I fixed the zipper and the ragged cuff edges and have been wearing it for the past 25 years. It still looks great and I feel as if part of my aunt (who taught me to love to knit) is with me.

    • I am wearing the sweater my mother made me when my turtle died in 1977–it’s a dark green turtle beck (natch) with light green turtles and red strawberries (her favorite treat) marching across. I was in grad school and we were having another polar vortex, I think.

  • Right now I’m wearing one of the first sweaters I ever knit. The yarn came from a trip to London with my sister. We walked into Patricia Roberts shop in Covent Garden and I was blown away by her designs. I bought a sweater quantity of her yarn, deep purple, woolly, fingering weight and worked on the sweater for a long, long long, long time, I used a Phildar design, an 80s riff on a gansey so all over knit purl texture stitches. I had no clue about gauge or picking up stitches so it’s big and wonky, a sampler of what not to do. I still love the color and light weight so this fall I visibly mended it with pink Shetland wool I found at a yard sale. I’ve been wearing it constantly since—though only inside the house.

  • While not necessarily the one with the most memories in general, my Young, Scrappy, and Cozy Cowl brings up the most vivid memory of Before Times. I knit it as part of a knit along while I was waiting for the Hamilton touring lottery to go live. I got tickets and wore it that night. When we were leaving the theatre, several cast members saw us on the street and asked if we had any recommendations for dinner places. One of them noticed my cowl and they were all so tickled that I was wearing it. It was a wonderful evening and I go back there in my mind every time I see the cowl.

  • In Dec. 2019, I walked into a shop in Bergen, Norway and fell in love with a sample knit . I loved the pattern and the color and I asked the sales woman to help me get everything I’d need to make it. She gathered the yarn and needles and printed out the pattern, then looked at me a bit dubiously.”Madam, do you speak Norwegian?” Well, no….. but I learned a bit and translated line by line and knit and I am inordinately proud of it. And it reminds me of a Norwegian winter cruise, back when going anywhere, like Norway in December, was a beautiful possibility!

    • I love Norway any time of year. Took a cruise around the North Cape in February a few years ago. Brrr but so beautiful.

    • I did nearly the same thing in Norway, except i bought the pattern, then went to stay with my cousin in Denmark. She helped me buy the wool,which cost a fortune., and I lugged it all around Europe..It was in Norwegian, but it was in garter stitch….how hard could that be ? It was a disaster ! I had the pattern translated halfway through making it. Still didn’t work ! I since realised that probably my tension is the problem. Funnily enough, it’s my next project – to undo and remake

  • For me knitting is similar to cooking, where each item contains an assortment of ingredients. I will often stare at a finished project and say something like, “this sweater is filled with 25 trips to NJ to visit my dad, 52 reruns of Law & Order, 1 ferry trip to Martha’s Vineyard, and 3 snow days. I wish someone would sell labels for listing such “ingredients” (to be sewed inside each finished project.).

    • That is a great idea ToBayB!

  • What a lovely post! And the comments are so inspiring and heartfelt. I haven’t been knitting long enough to have such memories, but someday I hope to. I better get cracking, I’m not a spring chicken any more!

  • i had back surgery in September and am still taking physical therapy twice a week. Of course, i take my knitting in the event i have to wait. The young receptionist told me that she was learning to knit. So i decided to wear one of my handknits every time i went. She has enjoyed it, as have I. Today, i’m wearing almost the last of the woolies. Some of them are at least 20 years old and maybe older (from the third knit shop back). i wore one of the older ones to the grocery store yesterday and a young man stocking shelves complimented me on it. I hope it lasts another 20 years (and that i do, too!)
    i have thought of myself as “mining” my closet. i sincerely hope that i won’t still be going to PT in the summer, but if I am, i have lots of cotton and linen yet to dig out (Alabama encourages me to have these in abundance as well.)
    Thanks, Ann, for the encouragement!

    • I wore a handknit sweater to my radiation appointment on Monday and both the NP and the doctor recognized it as a handknit and both are knitters, the secret language! I am making a shawl that I thought would be my project to keep myself cozy while I was getting chemo, but it turned out to be hard to knit at that moment, and I was NOT cozy, and now I don’t know how I feel about it. Maybe happy to move on to something else. I guess another sign that all the emotions get knitted in.

  • Oooh, I spy my favorite in there! Absolutely beautiful.

  • I know that I’m going to cry when I finally can be in that fabulous space surrounded by the incredible music of the Nashville Symphony.

    • We’re all going to be going to joyous spaces and crying our eyes out.

  • In 1974 my husband and our 2 toddlers moved from Canada to Australia for a year. It was a wonderful time for the most part but I found myself feeling very lonely for my friends and family. So I decided to learn to knit to pass the time while the babies napped. My Granny had taught me the very basics, but I stepped way out of my comfort zone by trying to make socks! I got some help from the nameless lady who came to the bus stop in front of our house daily. One very wonky sock was finally made before my Mom and her cousin Olive (both amazing knitters) came for a visit. They took over the second sock, still on the needles, just before launching off on an adventure through much of the South Pacific and then back home to Edmonton, Canada. I finally got it back, many years later to find that both had contributed to the lovely creation. I guess this was Mom and Olive’s memory, but it is mine too as I remember their fearless, fun, amazing attitude to life and travel. They knew how to laugh!! The socks are long gone (I am 74), but the wonderful memories this post evokes lives on. Thank You!

    • What lovely memories!!!

  • How I loved reading this and the comments! I recently had a small closet made that is devoted to my hand knits. The shelves are arranged by shawls and sweaters. I didn’t know I had so many until I had space to actually organize them after being stuffed in various dresser drawers over the years. There are all sorts of styles and yarn weights. When I want a pleasant trip down memory lane, I now just open the closet door and stare at each one, now artfully folded and displayed. They are all beautiful to me and contain the many joys, worries, anticipations, fears, losses, gains, confusions experienced and endured along the way. Each stitch is full of me and my life story. I can tell you what was going on during that time of knitting each one. A good writer could make this a collection of short stores along 45 years of knitting. They are treasures and to single out just one would be unfair to the rest. I love them and I am so grateful I know how to make such lovely things.

  • Just a couple of weeks ago, I jumped on a bandwagon I believe was started by Kristy Glass on her instagram/youtube. I purchased a glass curio and put it right out in my main living space. In the bottom are my quilts, then there is a shelf of knitted shawls, then the remaining shelves house all my hand knit sweaters. Included in there are two sweaters knit by my mother in the 60’s/70’s before she passed away in 1976. I am really loving seeing all of those things, readily visible. And I’m reaching in and grabbing a different sweater each day.

  • Lovely story that brought me back to one of mine. 25 years ago, I embarked on adopting a baby from China. A very difficult road! After many trial and tribulations we had a baby photo and tentative travel date. As I had some idea of her size, I started to knit a stunning Debby Bliss fisherman style sweater in shell pink Marino cashmere blend. Alas difficulties mounted and just before boarding the plane to China – the adoption was cancelled! With all the heartbreak, I continued to knit the sweater. Finally months later, and imploring our Consulate to help, we received our “invitation to travel”. I finished that sweater, in the lobby of the hotel in central China, on the day my beautiful daughter was placed in my forever arms. She is 26 now.

  • Thank you for this!!! I’ve been doing some thinking about my handknits. My brother wants to move in with me, and was shocked to see my yarn stash (called me a hoarder!!). I did need to do a good cleanout, and i’ve packed away some yarn and donated 1/2 of my books. But he’s a minimalist, and he doesn’t understand why i would own any books (this is a battle I’ve fought my entire life), or more than one wool sweater. So I got to thinking about why I knit – and wear – so many sweaters. I own 15 handmade sweaters. I’m not cold. Yet I have 5 sweaters “on deck” and I’m always looking for more. In your case, your sweaters are carrying memories. I think mine have identities. I’m wearing the vest that I copied from Miss Marple, and it makes me feel like I’m living in 1950’s England. Or it could be a thick pullover – very Norwegian. My sweaters let me decide who I want to be today! I don’t think my brother will ever understand that, though…

    • Who is moving into whose house? Will living with your brother affect your ability to live comfortably and happily in your own home?

      • He is moving into my house, but we wanted it to belong to us both. But he called last night and said he didn’t think it would work! i feel guilty but I’m also very relieved! Now i can knit as many sweaters as I want and I can keep all my books!!! He’s not in need, just lonely. So he’s going to get a condo near me…

  • Many years ago when I was 25yo I backpacked across Europe for 6 weeks. In a small seaside village in Spain I bought several skeins of gray mohair yarn. This was stuffed down to the bottom of my large backpack and carried across Europe with me. When I returned home, I added a beautiful pink Merino wool and knitted what is forever known in my house as “The Sweater.” After that summer I started college and then on to Medical School. I retired this year and have renewed my love of knitting. That was 37 years ago and each time I see this beautiful sweater it takes me right back to that wonderful carefree summer in Europe and being 25yo again.

  • Whenever I go on a backpacking trip I usually take socks to knit—-they weigh less than a book and can keep you occupied in a tent while it’s pouring rain outside. But when we hiked the John Muir trail in the Sierra Nevada I took a shawl—Wheaten by Anne Hanson. It was white, which made it easier to see in the evening, and probably weighed even less than socks. I got about halfway through it by the end of the three weeks we were hiking. I love that piece of knitting and the memories of grubby old me sitting in camp in the evening, knitting away.

  • If I had a Starmore sweater lurking in my closet, I’d be wearing it every day and maybe even sleeping in it! Is that a Donegal sleeve? Gorgeous!

  • Thank you for sharing your experiences with your father’s passing. I spent time at my favorite knitting store and worked on a project during the time my father was so ill and dying. I remember how comforting it was to spend time knitting and talking with the women in the small intimate knit shop where we shared our experiences of loved ones lost. I recall those moments as shared friendship and therapy. It helped me get through such a difficult time. Everyone feels differently about the items they’ve knit. I think of these projects as stitches of love. Keep the sweater to help you remember the love you shared.

  • I’m thoroughly enjoying never having to think about what to wear. Don’t really store my memories in my clothes.

  • I have found that I’m able to experiment with combinations I hadn’t tried before, which has been fantastic. I also generally try to “get dressed” everyday (although not always to my before-pandemic standards) and when I have a Zoom class or meeting, I dress as though we’re meeting in person. Part of it is that getting dressed is a creative process for me, which is also why I knit and sew. It hasn’t diminished by staying at home, and I’m glad.

  • The knitted items that mean the most to me are the socks I learned to knit while were were staying in Edinburgh Scotland. Completely by chance I went into a charity shop in Stockbridge and there was a pile of all kinds of Rowan yarns and a bin of DPN needles and other knitting tools. Some of the Rowan yarn was their beautiful Fine Art. And there I was. Off the the races. Joining without twisting. Heh! Making the heel flap and discovering Sl1, K1. The magic of turning a heel. Figuring out to keep track of gusset stitches. And many unsuccessful attempts at the Kitchener stitch. I knit several pairs over the course of several months and I still wear them padding around the house here. They may be a little wonky, but they bear wonderful memories of Scotland and knitting serendipity.

  • I lost my closest knitting Buddy November 27. It’s my job (and my honor) to distribute his non-estate belongings.

    Tony stood a full foot taller than me, and his feet truly measured 4” longer than mine. He was a giant gentle bear of a man… as if a normal-sized man had been blown up 15-20% larger. I made him masks for the pandemic and they were too small so I made bigger ones (they fit my husband and myself). He could barely fit a normal baseball hat on his head at the largest expansion possible.

    Tony rarely finished large projects. I have been alternating wearing the shawls he left behind. But he did finish one sweater I have found. I helped him finish it, by being his hiccup-fixer as he worked.

    His raglan sweater fit him fine. Now that he is gone, I have been wearing it to feel his presence. It goes all the way to my knees, and I must roll up the sleeves several times.

    Definitely my most precious sweater, right now.

  • I have a hand knit shawl I made. I was standing in the lobby of this amazing place we were staying at in Ireland. This shawl is a beautiful lace pattern that was knit with a striking blue wool lace yarn that has the right amount of halo to the yarn. While standing in the lobby this woman comes up to me and asks me if she could buy it from me. I was flattered and dumbfounded at the same time. She absolutely loved it! I thanked her profusely but said I am sorry it is not for sale and probably would never knit another one as it took forever to complete. I told her the name of the pattern, it is called Sleeves in your Pi and the yarn I used. She had a friend who knew how to knit. So I hope her friend was able to make her one as I knew she loved it as much as I do. This is as close to a sweater story I have, but I will always remember it…