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Dear Kay,

Wishywashy Washalong comes to a thrilling conclusion today. It’s ancestral sweater time! Mom’s sweaters are talking to me.


The handwashing goal this week: three cream-colored sweaters. Two were made by my beloved mom who departed this earth back in 1984 for the land of eternal sewing, knitting, and DIY asphalt driveway repair. She was not a daily knitter, but she was a quick study at everything except cooking. She often said she wished we could all just take a food pill and get on with the day. I totally get that (she said, biting into a LaraBar, as close to a food pill as possible without it being an actual pill).

There are lessons to be found in these motherly sweaters, in particular: daughter, you’ve got some learning to do.

One of her sweaters is at least fifty years old. I remember being very young and studying the yoke of this sweater.


Handwashing pride requires me to point out that the red didn’t bleed during my tender ablutions—the red yarn fuzzes into the white. The clear message from my mom: Ann, do not let the red yarn of life fuzz into the white.

Another lesson: Daughter, learn how to do this awesome crochet button band because it is so stinkin’ sturdy. Like a mat, this button band. A cardboard edging. A flange, I tell you. Why have you been slightly stretching those ridiculous button bands all these years?


Ann, while you’re at it, make your cuffs with twisted stitch ribbing. It’s just a distinctive way to go.


Daughter, when you hit a snag, fix it as best you can . . .


and nobody will probably even know.


Another lesson: When you knit a double cable, do it like this:


Not like this:


OUCH. This flurfed-up photo is my own deeply human knitting. This third cream-colored sweater is the infamous Eight Yarns/One Sweater that I finished last year. I’m not sure what to make of this portion of the sweater, except that another washing will probably turn it into straight-up felt.


The final lessons from my mother’s sweaters: Make sweaters using human-sized yarn, not gargantua yarn. And when you live in the South, daughter, don’t try to dry a sweater outside when the humidity is 98%. What were you thinking?



  • I have always, ALWAYS wished for a food pill so I could get on with my day. Glad to know I had good company. Usually people tell me I’m nuts. ❤

    • How sweet and loving your comments for each sweater! Wish my grown children felt the same way.

    • I thought of you when I read that, Cara!! xo

      • ❤❤❤

  • My Mum always twisted the knit stitches in her ribbing. I thought it was a Yorkshire (England ) thing. She also said twist the last stitch in every row to give a neat edging… non of this slip a stitch nonsense.

    • How is this stitch done?

      • Just knit into the b back of the knit stitches only. This will give you a much more clearly defined rib effect. I also twist the knit stitches in moss stitch if it is for a welt or cuff, again this gives a firmer fabric.

  • My mother did those crocheted button bands, also. I always thought of them as “old-fashioned” until I recently wanted a simple, sturdy button band and it was perfect!! Thanks for the memories!!! 😉

    • Please teach me how to do this wonderful stitch! Is it hard to transition? Is is done after the sweater is finished?

  • Thank you for sharing this. So sorry you lost your mother so young.

    My mother taught me to knit, but I haven’t managed yet to achieve her jaw-dropping level of proficiency. The greatest lesson she tried to teach me was finish what you start.

    Please allow me to share a special item of hers that brings back wonderful memories. She died at 92, in 2009, shortly after I first joined Ravelry. She had given up knitting by that time, but she would still help me wind yarn and would love to untangle snarled skeins.

    This is a sequin encrusted sweater done in fine lace-weight yarn, circa 1961. At the time, I would make Barbie skirts in garter stitch.

    • What a beautiful and timeless piece. You can’t go wrong with classic lines. Her grasp of fashion and exquisite craftsmanship make this a family heirloom! It’s like wearing a hug from her.

    • Nina, that sweater is phenomenal! And the details in your description on the rav page are wonderful. Thanks for sharing it 🙂

    • What a treasure!

    • Thank you so much for sharing this Beautiful, Amazing sequin encrusted sweater that your mother knit. It is a timeless beauty!

    • So beautiful, and takes me right back to my grandmother’s FOs. My mom made things, too, and still quilts at 87, but her handiwork was more about getting things made for 4 kids. Quick, assembly line sewing. It was my grandmother who was the consummate maker of gorgeous haute couture type stuff. She could make anything, and was a very good teacher.
      Thanks for sharing that gorgeous jacket!

    • That sequined sweater is AMAZING!

    • That’s an amazing piece of work!

  • Your mom and my grandma had a lot in common. I hope they’re having a good chuckle over their food pills in the land of eternal knitting and sewing.

  • I too treasure the memories of my mom and knitting mentor. She was the daughter of an amazing gifted Hungarian tailor. When he came to this country he worked for some of the finest dress couture designers in New York City. She, my mom had his gift of perfect finishing. I do miss her, just wish I would have tried to learn more from her instead of sometimes giving her my finished knitting to put together for me. We are truly blessed when we have a history of crafts handed down to us.

  • This was a lovely, heartwarming post. Could you please give references for the twisted ribbing and crochet button band? Both a beautiful.

    • 1. Use a crochet hook the same size as the needle you used for the knitted garment. Measure both of them with a needle gauge to be sure.

      2. You need to be able to single crochet and make a swatch. Here’s a YouTube Video:
      Don’t worry about the tail; on a sweater you can just weave the tail in.

      3. After swatching for several rows, practice making the buttonhole like this:

      4. Determine your crochet gauge, measuring in the center of the row on your swatch; be sure to count partial stitches.

      5. Now take your (blocked) sweater front or a knitted practice swatch approximately the same height as the width of your crochet swatch. Lay it on a flat hard surface and measure the edge where you want to do the button band stitches. Figure out from the crochet gauge how many crochet stitches you will need to fit this many inches or cm.

      6. Count the number of rows in the sweater front. For example, if your sweater front contains 80 rows and your calculation in #5 tells you that you need 64 single crochet stitches then 64/80 = 8/10 = 4/5.
      This means that you need 4 single crochets in each 5 rows.

      7. Now, on your knitted edge, work the required number of single crochets directly into the knitted piece, crocheting over one full stitch rather than into the chain as you did to set up the practice swatch. If the edge puckers or waves, you will need to add or subtract the number of single crochets until you have a band that lies perfectly flat.

      8. If working on a sweater front, work the single crochet rows, 4 sc’s skip one row in example above, on the button side first. Work as many rows as you want in your final sample. Now you can determine and mark the placement of buttons, with the first button 1-1.5″, 2.5-7 cm, from top and bottom edge. Mark the spots where the center of buttons will be sewn on.

      9. Now you have a decision to make. a. If you want the buttonholes to look like Ann’s mom’s with the buttonhole adjacent to the first row of sc, make the buttonhole in the next row just as in the video and your practice swatch. Then work 2 more rows of sc. b. If you prefer to have the buttonholes centered in your button band, then work them where they look best to you. Crocheter’s choice. Bear in mind that to prevent gaping, it’s better to have the buttonholes farther from the edge rather than closer; when Ann’s mom knit that sweater, the modern gaping look was most definitely not in!

      10. Once you have done the straight edges, you should be able to figure out how to determine the correct number of sc’s to fit a curved edge like the neckline if you haven’t worked a knitted neckband first.

      Sorry Ann, long comment.

      • Wow! Just goes to show – it’s worth reading through all these comments even two years later! Many belated thanks, Diane!

      • I’m so relieved someone came through with this! Thanks, Diane 🙂

      • Diane! This is amazing! Thank you so much–I really was curious about how to do this. With absolutely no crochet experience, this will be a great way to learn.

    • Agree! What a nice way to start my day, reading these wonderful tips from your mother. I would also love to know how she did that buttonhole band. It’s got such a nice look about it.

    • Ribbing I can twist – just knit into the back of the knit stitches instead of the front. But I must learn that button band! Can it possible be as simple as 3 rows of single crochet?

  • That reminds me- I inherited a cardigan my grandmother almost finished back when 100% alpaca yarn cost $1.25/ball. It has lace insets, which are probably decorative as well as for ventilation, since she lived in eastern NC since the early 60s, and I doubt it ever truly got cold back then, either. Anyway, the pattern calls for a crochet button band, and she never learned how to crochet. I think that was the only thing she couldn’t do! Anyway, I should finish the cardigan – after all, it has sleeves plenty long enough for us tall gals in my family. I’d need to lose (mumble mumble) pounds for it to fit, though. And wear it as a outerwear, since VA isn’t so cold, either.

  • My mom believed in DIY everything. There was not a craft of decorating technique that she didn’t try. The results were uneven, to say the least. Her cooking was awful, we would have been grateful for the pill, but she taught em to fearlessly try anything and that was the best legacy of all, better than the heritage cookbook that we didn’t get.

    I’ve used crocheted button bands a lot in my lifetime: no knitted buttonhole technique will look as good as the crocheted button hole, and its easy o work them to fit any size button. I noticed a few years back that the hand knitted Peruvian Connection sweaters, which retail for hundreds and hundreds of dollars all have them, so why not?

  • I wonder how many of us here had mothers that knit? and taught us?

    I, too, hae some sweaters made by my mother … including a beautiful Aran cardigan she made for my father; and a 50s jackets and a 60s mohair …

    I wonder how many of us here had mothers who knit and who taught us to knit?

    I know mine did, and I have several sweaters that she made for herself, my father and one made for me when I was an adult. Only one mind you, because “I knew how to knit.” My sister didn’t. My sons came home from the hospital in sweaters she made them. All are treasured.

  • Your reminiscence was sweet and tender. I particularly liked your pointing out the miss-crossed cable, as she brought you up to be honest and modest. The asphalt driveway repair was a nice touch.

    My own mother knit herself moss stitch suits on size two needles. They were beautiful and so suited to wearing with white gloves. One was chartreuse, and I have gone on to host the Chartreuse group on Ravelry, Now she is 95 and can no longer walk or knit. When it cools off some I will crochet her some mitts per her request as her hands are always cold. Naturally they will be in fingering weight yarn

    • I just joined your group. I love chartreuse too!

      Thanks for sharing another motherly memory.

      • Thanks!

  • I learned to knit in 1963 from a pattern book and a colleague’s guidance. I never had the wonderful opportunity to bond with a mom or grandmother over knitting. I think those would be memories to treasure.I loved this post for many reasons but the main one is that, back in the day when we were trying to keep PDS/USN going, I knew your mom. Also even before that in 1965, I knit a sweater with a Fair Isle design and now, trying to pick up knitting again after 40 years, I’m in awe that I was able to do it…it was my third knitting project I think. I wore it often and then outgrew it and stupidly donated it. Aaaaack. Sure wish I had it now just for memories and to pass on to my granddaughters.

  • We’re just one step beyond a food pill at our house. We long for dog food: scoop and pour into bowls. My husband reminds me “that’s cereal!” So cereal for dinner it is sometimes! Because then we can get on with the day as one wise woman once said. Love the lessons from your mother’s sweaters. Knitting provides is a lifetime of learning.

    • You all should read the new Anne Tyler novel, Vinegar Girl. It’s a modern-day take on The Taming of the Shrew. Apropos of this column, the family is motherless, so they eat the same bean concoction every day, adding a little meat, and calling it Meat Mash.

      I listened to the audio book version while knitting!

  • OMG – my mother knit the same sweater with crochet button band! She passed it on to me long ago. The body is pale avocado, with red and dark green. It’s Christmassy in a mid century modern sort of way,

    In high school I knit an Aran sweater with twisted ribbing. The directions called for it.

    Re the snag : it looks to me like she changed to a new ball of yarn.

  • Awww. Love this post. What a treasure those sweaters are! Also, I am totally lifting that crochet band idea.

  • What a marvelous post, and that you have these sweaters in your own hands is a wonder to me.
    I have photos of many of my mothers and a few small garments that she knit for my fortunate Barbie.
    That’s a beautiful tubular cast on in the bottom image, and when we ever get together for more than a few minutes, I will teach you to do that crocheted border.

  • Such a gorgeous post. Opens up a well of love and memories of my grandmother and great- grandmother, who were both skilled makers. And reminds me to have more patience and love for my mom, who is still with us (and occasionally, quilting) at 87.

  • Deeply human sweaters. I love this. And I have made several myself.

  • Great topic! My Mom made mittens which didn’t stay around for me to worship. But I have a Christmas stocking someone made for me that is a wonder. I always loved it and it has my name knit into it along the top. When I was learning to knit I would figure out something new about it every year. The top was knit flat and then the bottom foot part knit in the round. I suspect it was a kit because of the amazing colors and yarn choices. Santa’s beard is a soft fuzzy yarn! Knowing what I do now and I am still only an advanced beginner knitter, what a tremendous gift of love to a baby. The work in it makes me tear up every year as I study it and hang it up.

  • Ann, I wish your mom was in my knitting circle! I love the way you write your memories of her. I know you miss her. I miss mine, too. Thankfully, the heart has memories to carry us through. ❤

  • Great post. Gorgeous sweaters. Clearly you come by your talents naturally.

  • What a beautiful tribute to great knitting – and to your mother’s influence on you.

  • This post brought back great memories of my own mom’s knitting, and the sweaters she knit that I still have. I’m going to bring the fisherman knit cardigan (over 50 years old too) out, and give it a good wash. As soon as the humidity in this part of the world leaves. Thank you.

  • What a beautiful post! No knitting history in the family here. Just something I decided I wanted to do. Thank you for sharing these memories and inspiring others to share their memories and nuggets of wisdom.

  • Oh, Ann, I’ll be right there in your Mom’s group someday. That would be a perfect epitaph for me! My daughter just laughed when I read it to her. Thank you SO much for sharing with us. My Mom taught me to sew and bake and I treasure that immensely.

  • Excellent. I wish I’d listen to more Things, the way you do.

  • Ann, I love every bit of this post. Every word and every picture. Your mom’s knitting is impressive, and I love that buttonband. But I feel a special fondness for the join – I assume it’s a join? – shown back and front. Perfection in such a foundation of knitting is the mark of a true master, I think.

  • I am just like your mom–quick study except for cooking. I can bake though! I have often said to my husband I wish I could take a meal pill. I will be happy in the old folks home when it comes time for the feeding tube. More time to contemplate knits!

  • Thanks so much for this. Since I began knitting two years ago, I’ve been on the quest to make the perfect knitted cardigan. I’ve experimented with a variety of patterns and techniques, with mediocre results, mainly disliking every type of buttonband I’ve tried. They have all lacked enough structure, but this crochet buttonband looks promising and I’m in the process of finishing my current sweater project with it. I don’t love to crochet, but I do love the structure and feel of this buttonband. Thanks again!

  • Oh I had to laugh at the pill story! It sounds SO familiar, I’m sure most knitter, seamstresses & crocheters have been there.
    I loved reading what everyone has to say & took me down my own memory lane. I used to sit & watch my mum do the most intricate & fine crochet & knitting work for nights on end as there were 5 of us youngsters, & time during the day was well nigh impossible to find. She would sit & try to finish her knitting & crochet entries for the local Agricultural Shows, & a very tired Mum would beam when she brought home the trophies!
    Its so sad that youngsters today admire the handwork but don’t actually get physically involved.
    I think I would have gone stark crazy if I didn’t have my handwork to keep me sane.
    Thank you for these lovely stories which only crazies like me understand & enjoy.

  • Omg, I, too, wish for a good food pill. Your mom sounds like my people.

  • So much love and honesty, I just wanted to ply you with whiskey tea and biscuits!

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