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All That Yarn - Yarn Stories Part 1

Updated on July 26, 2017

Crochet Panda and knit puppet

Crocheted panda from Annie's Attic pattern, knit dog puppet and sewn mouse pillow. All from my pre-1985 craft era.
Crocheted panda from Annie's Attic pattern, knit dog puppet and sewn mouse pillow. All from my pre-1985 craft era.

The Early Crochet Days

I was about 8 years old when I bugged my Mom to teach me how to crochet or knit. I had found the old plastic knitting needles, crochet hooks, and patterns in her hope chest. I was curious and I liked to create. She taught me the basic chain stitch and the single crochet stitch. So my crocheting career started when I made halters and bridles for my toy horses out of pastel baby yarn, and horse blankets using rug yarn.

I tried making a purse out of pink rug yarn. That’s when I discovered that missing the end stitch in crochet creates a triangle not a square. I either asked her or figured out how to increase and ended up with an hourglass shape that folded into a not-square simple purse.

I knew that Mom knew how to crochet but she didn’t do much of it since she had to cook, clean, take care of two kids and a husband. Later on, after we kids were older, she started making baby afghans for friends, and then for charity. She pretty much stuck to afghans and simple things. I don’t remember her doing much that she kept for herself other than the occasional afghan. My Grandma knit and crocheted hats, scarves, mittens, and afghans for all the relatives that didn’t make their own. Since Grandma lived on a farm, she had a lot of spare time in the winter to work on the various gifts we received over the years.

My main source of yarn at my early age was leftover baby yarn from Mom and purchased rug yarn at twenty-five cents per skein at the Gibson’s store. There are not a lot of things you can make with those two very different yarns, especially when you don’t have a pattern to use. I tended to make up my own patterns, until much later when I used the ones from The Workbasket Magazine. They had a lot of little projects to make as well as the bigger ones like sweaters and afghans. It was a treasure trove of ideas, and each book had at least one pattern each month for knitting, crochet, tatting, and embroidery. I still have a lot of the old issues that we kept, and I refer to them once in a while when I need a tatting pattern since those are harder to come by these days.

Failed Sweater becomes Orange and Brown Afghan

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Snowflake pattern in former sweater's yarn colors.Another snowflake and unique square pattern. Note big granny squares are the original sweater colors.
Snowflake pattern in former sweater's yarn colors.
Snowflake pattern in former sweater's yarn colors.
Another snowflake and unique square pattern. Note big granny squares are the original sweater colors.
Another snowflake and unique square pattern. Note big granny squares are the original sweater colors.

The Early Knitting Days

I was in my senior year of high school when I decided that I wanted to learn how to knit. I had been crocheting for about 10 years and wanted more skills. I managed to teach myself the knit stitch but was totally lost when it came to the purl stitch. I was in a “creative” home ec class that allowed handcrafts as part of the lessons. I asked my home ec teacher if she knew how to knit and could she teach me how to purl. Well, she knew how and the rest is history.

For my first project I got ambitious and started a sweater pattern that was in a teen magazine. It worked from side to side instead of bottom to top. For those who don’t know how to knit, most sweaters start at the bottom ribbing and work up to the arm holes and neck.

I picked out a brown/orange ombre yarn, a matching dark brown and an orange to make the stripes in my sweater. I started with the front which had a V neck to adjust for when I got closer to the middle of the piece.

I tried my best, but not knowing about the gauge and how important it is, I knitted along blindly on the piece. When I was almost done with the front, I held it up to me and realized the V was not going to be in the middle because the piece was too narrow and wouldn’t fit. I had to figure out how to add on to the cast on edge in order to widen it. It looked awful!

I finally decided to take it all out and I made the yarn into squares for an afghan. I created the afghan from various patterns for small squares along both ends, and put six bigger granny squares to make up the middle. I had to buy a little extra yarn since I ran out of the sweater’s yarn stash part way through. I still have it and it is a reminder that gauge is important if making something to wear, but not so much in an afghan.

Knitted Barbie Clothes

My Grandma used to make knitted Barbie clothes for the three girls (myself, my sister, and my cousin). My Mom bought her a Barbie doll of her own so that she had something to try the outfits on before we got them as gifts. I guess because it was hard for Grandma to “borrow” a Barbie doll from one of us without us questioning the reason for that action.

After my Grandma passed away and we (Mom, sister, and me) were going through her closet and came across this Barbie doll (it is from the late 1950/1960 era with black bubble hairdo). That’s when my Mom told us the story behind Grandma having her own Barbie doll.

I know that my great grandmother also had a Barbie doll and she made knitted clothes for the great granddaughters with Barbies. I still have the knitted Barbie clothes tucked away in the closet. There is a blue “sweater” coat and skirt set, a green top and short pants set, and I remember looking at them after I learned to crochet and not being able to figure out how they were made (they are knitted). Years later I came across the knitted Barbie clothes pattern book and finally got to see how my Grandma and great Grandma made these pretty little items for their cherished relatives.

These are the Barbie Clothes they made for me.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The "Greta" set my Grandma made in light and medium green yarns.The blue set is close to what my Great Grandma made for me (and one for my sister in the same blue).
The "Greta" set my Grandma made in light and medium green yarns.
The "Greta" set my Grandma made in light and medium green yarns.
The blue set is close to what my Great Grandma made for me (and one for my sister in the same blue).
The blue set is close to what my Great Grandma made for me (and one for my sister in the same blue).

Special Projects - Found Pattern!

When I was teaching the beginning crochet/knitting at Casper College, I had a student that gave me an interesting project to figure out. She had some old “antimacassar” doilies that had belonged to either her mother or grandmother (it has been a while so I don’t remember which).

Well, she wanted to make new ones as the one she gave me was falling apart from age and use. She didn’t know if there was a patter for it or not (again, pre-internet days so no searching online for it). She gave me the piece and said I could take it apart if needed to see how it was made and maybe re-create it.

Well, I did figure it out and wrote out a pattern for her. I kept a copy for myself of my scribbles and notes on how to make it. (see below) The pattern was unique as you could not tell from looking at the surface how much crochet work was done under the other stitches.

In her honor I named the pattern Katherine’s AntiMacassar. It is still in a little bag in my stash of projects that I worked on years and years ago.

My Draft of Katherine's Anti-Macassar pattern

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Old Baby Afghan

This is the pattern I found so I could finish the baby afghan from Grandma which was pink and white.
This is the pattern I found so I could finish the baby afghan from Grandma which was pink and white.

Finishing what Grandma started

After Grandma passed away, someone found a pink and white ripple baby afghan that she had been working on at some point before she ended up in the nursing home. I have no clue about who she was making it for, or if it was just being made to donate to her church’s layette program. The yarn and the one quarter started afghan were all that came in the IGA bag. There was no pattern or crochet hook so that I could start working on it.

I counted the stitches and looked at thinking I had the pattern figured out. The ends of the rows were hard to decipher so I ended up making mistakes and had to take out a lot of what I tried to add. I was able to figure out the hook size by finding a hook that fit into the stitches on the top row.

I tried to get my Mom to work on it, as I had other projects lined up that needed my attention first. She tried, but it was too tricky without a pattern and only my written notes to go by. She passed away a couple of years ago, so I was left with the baby afghan again.

It was finally a couple years ago that I was able to search for a similar pattern on the internet and found a vintage one that was the exact one Grandma may have used for this baby afghan. I was able to finish the afghan and then was not sure who in the family should get it. No one was having a baby, and pink was a particular gender color that I couldn’t just ship off to the next pregnant relative. I finally decided that my youngest cousin’s little girl (about 3 or 4 years old at the time) could use it as a doll blanket since she was crazy about her “babies”. I shipped off the baby afghan with a letter about how Grandma had started it, my Mom had worked on it, and I managed to finish it. My cousin wrote back that his daughter was thrilled with the “blankie” and took it with her for naps.

So Grandma’s project was finally finished, and I found it a home, mistakes and all, where it is loved by the great granddaughter that was born long after she was gone.

© 2015 Nancy Pawlowski


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