Friday, December 2, 2011

Knitting for the Holidays



Kiwi Knitting Shop

The holidays always bring memories of friends, family and past times. Knitting is usually part of the holidays too. We are either knitting for gifts, knitting decorations or knitting just to relax and enjoy the music and movies of the season. We would love to post any holiday knitting stories you are willing to share.

Here is one from Kendra, a Kiwi teacher:
My family, since we reached "adulthood", have gotten a little more relaxed about holiday deadlines. We often give a photo of an intended gift, cleverly disquised by being wrapped in a nice box with pretty paper and ribbons. Sometimes we even indulge in picture-grams. More particular to knitting projects, we have given a partially completed project with a certificate that promises to complete the project. The idea is that you can double your gift giving pleasure and your gift recipient's delight by letting them know you are working on a special project for them and delivering the project later. It may help to reduce that holiday angst that comes from having taken on too much. Even the Yarn Harlot doesn't finish everything on her list on time.

A Bit of History: Grace Coolidge and her Knitting by Carolyn Webb, Kiwi Staff





I have long been interested in the history of knitting (and other textiles), and over the past few years have developed a power point talk with several tables of vintage tools, knitted and crocheted vintage pieces, magazines and books, pictures, and other items. It is a fascinating history, one mixed with our own social history throughout. There are many interesting books on the history of knitting in America, especially Susan Strawn's excellent Knitting America, a wonderful collection of historical information, pictures, patterns, and much more. Another very interesting book is No Idle Hands, The Social History of American Knitting, by Anne L. Macdonald.

Piecework Magazine, published by Interweave Press, is another wonderful resource for interesting historical articles on knitting and other needlearts. One knitter Piecework has featured is Grace Coolidge, the wife of President Coolidge. (See: Piecework, issues July/August 1999 and January/February 2011).

Grace Coolidge was an excellent knitter and needleworker, including petit-point, needlepoint, and crochet. The Coolidges were from Vermont, and later lived in western Massachusetts, and Grace could be seen knitting on the porch. Like many knitters of her era, she entered her knitting in fairs, and won prizes for her beautiful work. Grace learned to knit and sew when she was five. To quote her autobiography: "In the sitting room my workbasket fitted with its tiny thimble and round-pointed scissors had a place beside my mother's. I have heard her say that I sewed on buttons before I could walk."

Grace graduated from the University of Vermont in 1902, and moved to Northampton, Massachusetts to teach at the Clarke School for the Deaf (now called Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech). It was in Northampton that she met Calvin Coolidge, who was then Mayor of Northampton. There is a funny story of Grace working outside in the yard, looking up at a boarding house window across the street. In the window she saw Calvin Coolidge in his long underwear and hat, shaving in front of a mirror. She laughed out loud, he noticed, and that was the beginning of their courtship. Grace and Calvin Coolidge married in 1905. Coolidge went on to be a Massachusetts state representative, lieutenant governor, governor, and Vice President, and then President of the U.S. from 1923 - 1929. Throughout her life, Grace continued to knit,crochet and create beautiful needlework. She also loved baseball, and even after she had a TV, she preferred to listen to games on the radio, using her imagination to see the game. And, she knit while listening! She knit while riding on trains, traveling with her husband, and, it seems, every chance she could.

The January/February 2011 issue of Piecework focuses on a beautiful knitted counterpane she made, after receiving a fragment of an earlier one. Grace wrote an article accompanying the pattern in the November 21, 1926 New York Harold Tribune, explaining how she happened upon the pattern. Another article accompanying Grace's stated "it was falling to pieces and only an expert like Mrs. Coolidge could copy its intricate design, for hers is no mechanical occupation, but the skill of an artist." The Piecework issue also has the counterpane pattern included. Grace's pattern called for needles that are no longer made. They would have been between a size 0000 and 00000.

The other Piecework article (July/August 1999) has other examples of Grace's work, including a petit-point pillow and a wonderful needlepointed carpetbag. It also shows the Official White house portrait of Grace Coolidge with her dog, a beautiful portrait of Grace in a red velvet dress. After retiring from the White House, she wrote: "Every girl should be taught to sew, not merely
for the sake of making something but as an accomplishment which may prove a stabilizer in time of perplexity or distress. Many a time when I have needed to hold myself firmly, I have taken my needle, it might be a sewing needle, some knitting needles, or a crochet hook; whatever its form or purpose it often proved to be as the needle of the compass, keeping me to the course."

"Grace's needlework undoubtedlyserved to keep her to the course’ in 1924 when her sixteen-year-old son, Calvin, Jr., died of blood poisoning from an infected blister sustained while playing tennis on the white House lawn. To distract herself, Grace undertook a new project: to design a filet crochet coverlet for the Lincoln bed in the White House. She experimented, crocheting bit by bit until she was satisfied with a motif." She finished the coverlet in 1927, and wrote, "This coverlet for the Lincoln bed has been made by the wife of the thirtieth President of the United States, stitch by stitch and square by square, with the hope that each mistress of the President's House will leave there some token which shall go down through the ages to serve as a definite and visible link connecting the present and the past."

Grace Coolidge was elegant and charming, and knew that "needlework was a valuable skill, not only for its practical purpose but also for its ability to beautify and soothe life." I know all of us knitters and needleworkers couldn't agree with her more.

Carolyn Webb

All of us knitters, no doubt, can relate to this. Knitting is always there, always a comfort at hand.

2 comments:

lilheart17 said...

Thank you so much for writing this blog. I look forward to reading the books you recommended.

Katia Cook said...

What an inspiring and beautifully written piece. Thank you.