old angora
Tuesday September 19th 2006, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Knit,To dye for

I once won a small cone of 100% angora yarn off Ebay for ten bucks, in a perfect shade of green. It was something I could never normally afford, given that 100% angora usually sells for about a dollar a gram in these tiny 27-yard balls, and yet–something more than just a chance at a good bargain called to me, on more levels than I quite understood, when it first popped up on my screen. All that softness, and no repeating yarn ends to have to work in, I was thinking.

When my mom had me on the way, in 1958, she and Dad went on a trip to France. France at the time was the worldwide center of angora yarn production, and Mom was a knitter, so she bought two boxes as a souvenir of the trip. It had been fairly inexpensive; had she had any idea what it was going for in the States, she later said more than once, she’d have bought more. She had two daughters at that point, and bought 20 10g balls of soft green and 20 of a rather bright sunflower yellow. She may have been thinking baby blankets or sweaters and had someone later talk her out of knitting angora for babies; I don’t know. What I do know, is, ten years later, Mom finally knit the green up into a sweater for my oldest sister, who had started high school. At ten, I was a brand new knitter, but Mom made it clear that that yellow had been bought for my other sister, it had been promised to her, and not to even think about it. Sorry there wasn’t a stockpile set aside for me, too, I hadn’t been born yet.

Well darn.

But my oldest sister was allergic to that sweater, it turned out, and couldn’t stand the itchy eyes and running nose; it stayed in a drawer for a few years till I hit high school, at which point I begged for it–and they gave it to me! AlRIGHT! I looked like a walking furball, with a massive floating halo around me as I walked, but there I was with something so cool and so soft and so unique and so handknit and nobody else had one like it. Nobody else could tell the story of their mother knitting in the round a la Elizabeth Zimmerman, and then finding they’d been knitting a mobius strip in unfroggable angora. Part of the mystique. (But then Mom, being Mom, had managed to frog it anyway and reknit it right. They let you be Mom when they know you can fix anything and take care of everything, right?)

That sweater came in handy the winter the school district decided to save money for a few weeks by turning off the heat to the buildings. Despite the snow. Other people wore jackets all day; I couldn’t, not with that sweater on, too, that was just way too much.

By high school, I should add, I was knitting passionately myself. I came across that yellow angora in the box inside another box in the basement. Put that back! It was just waiting for the right project for my next big sister. Still.

Well darn.

The unfortunate green sweater died of a massive moth attack one summer while I was in college; it’s been how many years, and I still wince at it. Although, it did serve the purpose of teaching me to guard handknits with a vengeance. Guilt does that.

Green angora via ebay–not the same shade of green, no subdued quietness, rather, a more vibrant color of living and growing leaves. Nobody bid against me. It was mine. And so it became a lace stole in a leaf pattern for the mother of a friend, at a time of unfathomable grief; a hope of sharing what comfort I knew how to offer, to wrap around her when things just felt too hard. I was told she loved it, that I’d somehow picked just her favorite color, and I’ve forever since been grateful for that.

My parents just finished boxing up their 6-bedroom house, giving away tons of stuff accumulated over 44 years of raising six kids and living in one place, downsizing, down down down. I couldn’t quite believe it though I knew it, being 3000 miles away and unable to come help pack up. The photos of the moving van helped make it seem a little more real; one of the movers was a woman, and, I was later told, she was a knitter! Somehow, in a way that knitters everywhere can relate to, somehow…that made having the homebase of my life be gone feel a little better. A little. There are worse things to go through, certainly.

A box arrived in the mail. Barbara Walker’s stitch treasuries, the Schoolhouse Press editions that I’d given Mom for Christmas when they’d come back in print. Mom was letting go of her knitting now, mentioning her arthritis only enough to explain why; at least, though, she had quilting as her creative passion now. She’d hung on to her yarn stash for years, but she’d finally given it over to a neighbor who’d really wanted it. My daughters might want copies of those treasuries, though; so, here they were back, with thanks for the years they’d been useful.

I can’t imagine not knitting. And with all my jokes about my stash being at STABLE levels: Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy. But I was glad to have those books come back here; my oldest has started knitting a little, and those books are the knitters’ bible of stitch patterns.

And then, to my complete surprise, last week another box showed up. A very thin, very old one, with the lid secured to the bottom and a completely unfamiliar address handwritten at the top left; the bottom was punched in and taped back together by the post office.

With yellow fluff on the tape and trying to break through the sides as well, like chicks pecking out of their eggshells, curious to see the world.

Of all the things I never ever ever expected in my life to be given.

It took me way more hours than it should have; there were bug bites and partial holes and complete holes and places where I had to spit splice (note to my sisters: yes, that is exactly what you think that means) just about every row till I finally frogged that part and searched for a more whole segment of the ball and reknit it. That yarn had waited too long, I wasn’t about to let an insect defeat me now. And I can frog angora. I’m a Mom. I finally realized the only thing to be done was to pick up a ball, put it on the floor, and wind it up into a new ball, so that the weight of the thing would help pull apart any weak points in that 48-year-old yarn and make them obvious to my eyes.

But I did it. My second-older sister has a lace scarf coming. I did it! I’m taking a break from the hassle of working with the stuff to go write this. Tomorrow I’ll start another scarf–for my little sister. Then one for Mom. Then maybe one for me. Four balls down, sixteen to go.

But that bright yellow is just really not the color I think any of us would ever wear. Maybe that’s part of the reason Mom’s second angora sweater project never came to be–that, plus, I think Mom was always wishing she could divide it evenly somehow among her four daughters, or at least the three that could wear it. Or the two who hadn’t ever gotten anything. Well hey. With something as warm as angora, a lace scarf is just the thing: warmth where you want warmth, decoration where you want decoration, without its being a snowsuit unto itself.

First, though, that scarf I just finished has got a dyepot session ahead of it. I think I’ll dye this one green.

7 Comments so far
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What a wonderful story and a wonderful gift. I envy you and the BW books. They are a wonderful treasure to have, especially since they belonged to your mother. Good luck with the yarn.

Comment by Lisa 09.20.06 @ 6:21 am

So glad you started a Blog. I always enjoy your stories on the knit groups. Don’t forget to post a picture of those sunflower yellow scarfs. Sounds like a color that I would really like. What a wonderful story, sad and sweet. My Mom recently quit knitting because of eye problems. I took her this week for laser surgery on one eye next week the other. Then she can do her needlework again. Yeah. At 85 she really needs to keep her hands and mind busy.

Comment by Ahrisha 09.20.06 @ 7:27 am

I’m glad to see your blog, too! Great stories about such soft yarn! (I joined late and had to catch up on the past entries.)

Comment by Lynn 09.20.06 @ 8:06 am

Thank you all! And Ahrisha, give my best wishes to your mom with her surgery.

One other reason to dye the scarf, and the ones after: if there are any insect eggs left in there anywhere, there won’t be when I’m done. The waterbath is heating up as I type.

Comment by AlisonH 09.20.06 @ 12:01 pm

Heyyyyyyyyyyy, look how is a part of blog land. Yay! I am going to hook you up with a link right now, Missy. People will be beating a path to your door, Alison. Yay!

Comment by Lisa S 09.20.06 @ 4:31 pm

Ooo…it sounds soft and cuddly and oh-so-pretty. :)And as always, the stories are the best part.

Yay. 🙂

Comment by Kristine 09.20.06 @ 10:56 pm

Hi! I love your stories. They are always so touching and uplifting. I’m happy you started a blog.

Comment by LisaK 09.21.06 @ 8:54 am

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