Sunday, March 02, 2008

Danke, Frau Huber!

When I was 6
our housekeeper in Zurich, Switzerland taught me to knit. This is me (with the bird) at 6 and my terrified sister, Allida, 3 1/2, in St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy in the early 60's.

Frau Huber was of the opinion that my upbringing was lacking because no one (meaning my mother) had taught me to knit at 3, which was the custom in Switzerland then. I was behind! She taught me at once. Frau Huber did not speak english and I spoke Swiss German with a 6-year-old vocabulary. None-the-less, knitting was taught and learned hand to hand, one stitch at a time.

This is one of my original needles, the other one was lost eons ago. (My little drawings with the Swiss words above them was how I learned Swiss in school.) My first bit of knitting was a giant white wool blob (as my daughter calls it) with a gaping 8" hole in the middle of a 12" square. Although that piece was filled with every mistake a new knitter could possibly make, short rows, dropped stitches, tangled yarn, increases and eyelets, it didn't bother me a bit.

It was all about the process, which I found fascinating then and still do. There was something about the way I felt as I manipulated that yarn through each loop. I felt like I was doing something important. I still can't quite put my finger on why I felt this way at 6, but I've resolved myself--I was meant to knit.

Garter stitch was what I knew and I knit scarves for every one of my dolls. Chatty Cathy was the first to recieve a navy scarf to go with her red wool coat with the white fur collar. Chatty is pictured here in a perfectly adorable dress and kerchief made by my mother, she made me a matching dress, too. That's me on my 3rd birthday. Sadly, Chatty's knitted navy blue scarf was long ago lost (as was one of her two front teeth). I hadn't noticed before, but we both had matching bangs, too.

Sears & Roebuck department store knitting school was where I learned to purl. We returned home to California after living abroad and I begged my mother to enroll me. Once I knew how to knit and purl, I taught the rest to myself through books and lots of mistakes.

My strategy was to never read a pattern all the way through when I started a project. That way, when something came up that I didn't know, I'd have to ask, look it up or make it up and move on. All these years later, that lack of fear (of knitting, that is) has definitely worked for me. It has led me to some wonderfully unusual places in my knitwear designing career.

Thank you, Frau Huber, for the gift of knitting you gave to a very young American girl.

And thank you, mom, for teaching me to sew and embroider and draw and see the world like an artist.

Knit fearlessly, dear knitters! And don't forget to thank your Frau Huber and your mother!


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