“This Is Not Your Grandma’s Knitting”

It’s coming around again, as it has probably for time immemorial — the thing where someone who doesn’t knit discovers that there are people who do knit, and some of them are apparently under the age of 90, and then the next thing we know, someone is writing articles or spouting this line on TV or social media or something:

“This is not your grandmother’s knitting.”

Every time someone says this, picture the knitters of the developed world all crying out in unison as they slam their heads into their keyboards, tablets, smartphones, countertops covered in a newspaper, airplane tray tables beneath a magazine… you get the picture. Seriously. Just imagine us all casting our eyes upwards and beseeching the heavens for some sort of answer as to why THIS of all things is the line we’re saddled with hearing from the news media and our non-yarnish friends.

So I just thought I’d take a moment to say this:

Actually, this IS my grandmother’s knitting.

And these are some of her knitting needles. My uncle was kind enough to give them to me right away when my grandmother passed on last year.


My grandmother Rachel was a painter, potter, weaver, spinner, dyer, knitter, crocheter, sewer, embroiderer, cook, and countless other things. I cannot remember a time before she put yarn and yarn activities in my hands, and there was never a time growing up when I didn’t have plenty of clothes she made for me, in lots of ways. I have many of them to this day, and certainly, lots of household textiles that she made.

My grandmother was also a woman who spent most of her elder years living in Montana, part of the time fairly rurally. Letters from her often started with lines like “Today I saw a mountain lion and her cub out the kitchen window…” or “While I was gathering clay from the banks of the stream out in back of the house…” or “I had a few weaver friends over today, and we’ll spending next weekend at the mall demonstrating spinning and weaving! I hope we get to teach lots of new people!”

Right now, I’m also looking at what my mother told me had been my grandmother’s “summer house loom” — the small loom she kept for weaving with when spending summers on a remote island in the Great Lakes. She gave the loom to her new son-in-law, my father, in 1970, when he became interested in learning to weave. I should probably note the “small loom” is a floor loom with a 36″ weaving width.

Oh and by the way… the folded up pieces of paper in that photo? Among them are receipts for the interchangeable needle set and add-on parts ordered, and for $70 of yarn in 1983, with a note in her handwriting that says “Family heirloom.”

My grandmother and my mother, in my grandma's yard, wearing handknit hats

My grandmother and my mother, in my grandma’s yard, wearing handknit hats

So yeah. I’m pretty sure that what I do today IS my grandma’s knitting. In lots of ways, in fact. And of course, it’s also my mother’s knitting.


Lots of things may not be obvious in this photo of my mother holding a 16th century icon, but the only stuff I really want to point out is that my mother sewed that dress (and had me practice embroidery on part of it), and she spun the yarn for the cabled sweater draped around her neck, which of course she knit. So yeah, it looks like this is also my mother’s knitting.

And actually, it’s my father’s knitting, too. It’s too sad for me to take a picture, but I have a small bag that I sometimes open and look at, and think about the contents. It was the bag in which he carried around his last knitting project, which he didn’t finish. They were gloves he was making for me when he succumbed to the cancer that killed him — colorwork gloves with a reinterpretation of one of my favourite Chinchero weaving patterns.

You know what else? It’s lots of people’s knitting all over the world. They look all kinds of ways and might be anybody. Like these gentlemen knitting while watching a presentation at the 2010 Tinkuy de Tejedores in Urubamba, Peru:


It’s also my great-grandmother’s knitting, by the way, as I was reminded when that same uncle passed on to me a pair of socks that were knit for him by my great-grandmother in the 1960s. And you know, that brings me to the next major point of peevishness about this whole “not your grandma’s knitting” shtick:


Seriously, I know a lot of grandmas, and lots of ’em are really quite cool. Some of my best friends are grandmas. And just yesterday I was thinking about my great-grandmother, who died while my mother was pregnant with me. I never met her, but I grew up on stories about her, and the ever-diminishing number of my relatives who did know her never seem to run out of those stories.

May Preston Jenkins, President, Women's Suffrage League

May Preston Jenkins, President, Women’s Suffrage League, 100 years ago

College educated, the eldest of 9 kids, a cigar-smoking, bloomer-wearing Suffragist, my great-grandmother is among the reasons I can do stuff today like “vote” and “own property and even a business in my own name,” things that she did AT THE SAME TIME AS SHE WAS KNITTING. Heck, you know what? My grandmother told me she remembered her mother taking her to see Red Sox games when she was a teenager… and both of them knitting on the T. That sure sounds like the knitting scene I know today.

So yeah. Not my grandma’s knitting? All I’ve got to say is, dude, you obviously know neither my grandma, nor her knitting. In fact, I’m willing to bet you don’t know anyone’s knitting, and the number one indicator that’s the case? It was when you said “this isn’t your grandma’s knitting.”

Next up, perhaps: I’m going to teach a yoga teacher to knit, so we can conclusively speak to the question of whether or not it’s “the new yoga.”

36 thoughts on ““This Is Not Your Grandma’s Knitting”

  1. I’m now the grandmother teaching a granddaughter. Some of my most prized possessions are needle work items, some knitting, some tatting, some rug hooking, some crocheting created by long dead great grandmothers. Not a single item from a great grandfather – amazing.

  2. My favorite Grandma, Grandma Miller, taught me to knit when I was 6. I still have the booties I made for my brother who was 6 years younger than me. I also have some of her needles. They are aluminum, but I remember using them. I stopped knitting as a child and picked it up again when I was 20. I’ve been knitting since. My Grandma Miller was so special to me. She loved me in a way that I didn’t experience at home. I don’t care what people think of me knitting. Knitting has been with me through the very best of times and the very worst of times. Last week I taught my just-turned 5 year old granddaughter how to knit. She likes the purl stitch and is making her Momma a purl-stitch scarf. I am grateful for knitting.

  3. My grandmother crocheted many afghans that I still have and use. I gave my grandson a blanket that she crocheted for my son that still looks like new. That grandson is now 3 and sits and watches me knit, picks up needles and yarn and tries to ‘knit like Nonna’. I will teach him how in a few years.

  4. Love it! People always assume it was my mother or grandmother that were the makers of the family. Not really. It was my dad and his grandmother. My dad was the knitter (and sewer). I also had a bag of his unfinished knitting after he died. He is essentially who taught me to knit socks, because his unfinished knitting was a pair of socks for my mom that was 3/4 of the way done. He was at the heel turn on the second sock. So, I learned how to turn a heel so I could finish them for my mom. I knew when I could do this I too was turning a corner after his death. Thanks for reminding me why I do what I do. My goal with my spinning is to make the yarn he wanted to knit. He was forever complaining about not being able to find “good wool yarn.”

  5. What a nice article, Abby!!!
    My Nana taught me how to knit. During a trip home, to France, she gave me all her knitting needles as she is slowly losing her eye sight. Some are bent, old plastic, some of the pairs have a different gauge–I see her teeth mark on some and remember her biting on the end while trying to figure out patterns. Her knitting needles are a comfort during sad and difficult times. I treasure them.

    I hope to see you in Taos, NM again some day.


  6. one of my grandmas learned to crochet late in life, and she enjoyed it so much her scarves were never-endingly long. My mother died about a year ago. I was able to knit a shawlette for her that she started but could not finish, and I put the fringe on a blanket she knitted, her last project, so she could see it completed. It is a good feeling to have collaborated with her, and I know she appreciated it.

  7. Pingback: This is my Grandmother’s Knitting | the eye of the beholder

  8. Pingback: Currently…February | Amy Artisan

  9. CurvyLou sent me your way with her blog post https://curvylouise.wordpress.com/2015/02/25/ …between the two of you, I am fascinated. Loved the post about your grandmother; I have similar memories of my grandmother (she did needlework of all kinds–rugs, counted cross stitch, crochet, you name it). Unfortunately, we moved cross-country when I was 4 and saw her only a couple times a year…then she passed away when I was 8, so I never had a chance to learn from her. We’ve been pretty busy the last four years (we adopted two children) but things are starting to settle a bit…perhaps it’s time to learn to knit. 🙂

Comments are closed.