Thursday, July 3, 2008

Needled by Two Grandmothers

Lola Nanay (mother's side) taught me how to crochet, and Lola Mama (father's side) taught me how to knit. I think I was around 12 or 13 at the time. I started showing interest at the precise age when I was captured by the beauty of the finished products and had the manual dexterity for it. Of course, my vision was 20:20 then.

One summer three cousins and myself attempted a very basic white grid crochet curtain (one panel for each of us). I was the youngest in the group. Needless to say, it took the whole summer, and the curtains were left behind in Lola Nanay's old house in Negros, and I have never seen them since. Because of that I never quite attempted such a large project again, but would occasionally knit odd granny squares,asymmetrical flowers and lopsided doilies. I even made doily skirts for my Barbie doll Francie. (Come to think of it I never actually played house with the hand-me-down Barbies. My play consisted of making them clothes from scrap cloth from the dressmaker. I think that's where the fiber and fabric arts interest began.)

Lola Mama lived with us in Quezon City when I was in high school. She was quite pleased when I asked her if she knew how to knit, and whether she could teach me. An Ilocana who lived most of her married life in Baguio City since the 1930s, she was exposed to American-style needlecrafts and took to knitting quite naturally. Apparently, I was the only grandchild who ever showed interest.

For 16 years our family lived in a 1950s style house in UP Diliman, which we rented from a Chinese mathematician who had immigrated to Maryland. On rainy Saturday afternoons I would open the cabinet Dr. Lin left behind, and inside were some of my childhood treasures: a
stained white silk short dress with lace overlay, a vintage green-and-gold chocolate bonbon tin filled with fancy jewelry, a wooden cigar box filled with unsharpened pencils and old fountain pens, a real corncob pipe, and postwar Sears and Jaeger catalogues. Not to mention a pair of US size 3 metal knitting needles that had begun to rust.

The Sears catalogues had really pretty feminine clothes and sexy shoes in them, as Christian Dior's influence on postwar fashions had just begun to emerge. There were lots of glamorous fitted twin-set knits, to fit women wearing the pointy bras popular at the time. All the models looked like Elizabeth Taylor or Grace Kelly. And all the men were pictured with martinis lounging in cashmere cardigans, or playing golf in Argyle vests. The Jaeger catalogues showed more of the same, only with instructions for making everything from socks to shawls to separates. I was fascinated. (The catalogues didn't survive our moving house.)

I have knitted on and off through the years. My fiber arts bible was the Reader's Digest Book of Needlecraft, a hardcover compendium of stitches and projects which must be around 20 years old now. I have knitted drawstring purses, scarves that fell short of yarn, and teddy-bear sized garments. Last year while I was spring-cleaning my bedroom I discovered a horseshoe-lace scarf in a fine cream yarn in a plastic bag. SHETLAND LACE! IN WOOL, NOT ACRYLIC! I was amazed that I had reached a certain level of experience. How sad it would be if I didn't use that! I was galvanized. Of course I had to relearn EVERYTHING from that point on.

Fortunately today there are more sources for yarn, and needles, and patterns. Fortunately I read my friend Amy's knitting blog, because now I have someone to share all this craziness with. None of my other friends seem to have any interest in fiber arts and crafts, apart from wearing the results. They prefer to cook, or bake, or maybe scrapbook for their children. Fortunately I have my little niece Lilo who inspires me to make REAL garments, not teddy-bear ones.

I have recently finished knitting Lilo a coral-colored mercerized cotton babydoll halter top! It took me a week of knitting a few hours a night in front of the tv, plus some time for assembly. It is currently being embellished with crocheted shell borders by my sister Joy. Pictures later.

Things made by hand (and eye and mind) are precious. Special. One day I'll make something beautiful enough to sell or swap in the online handmade crafts market Etsy.com.

1 comment:

greenzebrastudio said...

I love the catalogs fropm that time! I saved my mom's old ones and all her old Seventeen magazines from the 60s and 70s.

She also has this wonderful crochet book with the kind of fashions you described that made me want to learn how to crochet.

Sadly, I'm not even skilled enough for glass coasters! I'll try and scan a few pages to show you.