Posted on 24th Jul 2018
We all have different ideas about what makes any item an 'heirloom'. An heirloom, to me, is something that is so special it cannot be replaced. It holds such a significant emotional connection to your past that it is a treasure beyond words. My Great Aunt Connie's silver, my grandma's stemware, the christening dress hand-made for my grandfather at the turn of the century and then used to bless another 30+ babies into this world. Your grandma's wedding ring. Those things are heirlooms, you can't go to the W-place and purchase those pieces of your history.
The whole concept of an 'heirloom' item that has been knitted or crocheted, or smocked or sewn has me intrigued and in awe. Many of you have seen the sweet little peach sweater in the shop that was knitted by my Grandma Fugina for me to wear home from the hospital. I was a February baby, it was Wisconsin and in those days, women of wisdom wrapped the small humans they loved in the warmth and comfort of wool. (They hadn't heard about 'wool allergies'...)
When I talked with my mom one day, long ago, after opening the yarn shop she said "You will never guess what I found...." my response..... "Not a clue mom."
I am the last of five kids, there was not a baby book to chronicle the milestones of my life. My mom was busy caring for a whole passel of children. I was fed, I was clean, I was loved. That's what life is as the fifth child. There wasn't the hoopla of being the first, there is very little hoopla attached to being the fifth.
But somewhere out there my Grandma Fugina knitted the tiny peach sweater, a pattern she knitted for nearly all of her grandchildren. And it was knitted Just.For.Me. It was not a hand-me-down. Nobody else wore that sweet peach sweater. It was knitted for me, grandkid number a zillion and not for anyone else.
And it was worn, a lot, and washed by hand, a lot, and gently blocked to a bigger size several times. Small puke stains remain on the sleeves. The peach sweater was not a 'one and done' item. It was a source of warmth and comfort for small human me, and it was used. And it was treated with care, because to my mom it mattered that her mom had knitted this sweet little sweater for grandkid number a zillion. It mattered so much that when I was no longer able to fit into that sweet sweater, my mom washed it a final time, wrapped it up in tissue, tucked it into the cedar chest and it was saved.
I'm thinking mom might have hoped, 'If Jeanne has a baby, her little human could wear this.' I kaboshed that plan when I failed to have small humans. I adopted dogs, and I'm pretty sure there was no chance of the dogs wearing the tiny peach sweater. But it was saved, tucked into tissue paper and saved in the cedar chest. An heirloom.
I have no memory of the peach sweater from my childhood. It was far earlier than where my memories start. But it was mine, and made for me, and it mattered enough to my mom to save it when I could no longer be warmed by those tiny perfect stitches. An heirloom. When it arrived in the mail, wrapped in tissue with a note that said 'for the shop' I was in awe. Such a treasure to arrive in my mailbox.
Many of you have knitted or crocheted special things for the special small people in your life. Blankets, christening dresses, tiny sweaters, things that were made with love and a million stitches and you hoped they would be treasured. I love to hear about when that beautifully made item becomes a treasure. The christening dress that was saved and the next small human was blessed into this world in it. The sweater that was passed to the next family member. Those amazing things that become an heirloom.
I did not think I was in the realm of knitting heirlooms. It is a different age and time. The world we live in is so disposable that making 'an heirloom' just doesn't strike our minds. You likely do not walk through the shop thinking "heirloom, heirloom, heirloom" - I NEED to knit or crochet and heirloom.
A couple centuries ago, (ok, it wasn't THAT long ago...) when my Grandma knitted that tiny peach sweater for me, I'm pretty sure she had not set to the task to make 'an heirloom'. She was knitting, a favorite pattern for a new small human, and I was the blessed recipient. My mom is the person who made it become an heirloom. It meant enough to her that her mother had knitted this tiny sweater on size 0000000000 needles for her last small human. And she saved it and washed it a final time and stored it with love in the cedar chest of memories.
A couple years ago I was blessed by becoming a Great Aunt. I thought I was pretty cool as an aunt, but when your nieces and nephews usher new small humans into the world, you end up, by default, becoming a Great Aunt. When the 'great' small humans arrived, I knitted small things.
One blast was 'Jerry the Monkey' (Rebecca Danger pattern). The first two 'greats' got them, then the next 'great' in the same family came along and was possessed by Jerry the Monkey. Older brother was NOT going to share, so I bartered with Sister Beth to knit another monkey for her most recent granddaughter. Kiddos loved the monkeys, I have silly pics of them all mugging with monkeys.
But those silly monkeys will not become heirlooms. They have been loved and snuggled, dragged around, tucked under a pillow, or snuggled at night, but they will certainly NOT become 'heirlooms'. The silly monkeys shouted Love me! Play with me! And that is a wonderful thing. I knitted silly monkeys, for my silly monkeys and they have loved the stuff right out of them. Not an heirloom. You can't pass down a partially stuffed, much loved, slightly mis-shapen stuffie and anticipate it will hit heirloom status.
But then there was the sweater. Great number 4 was in progress and I just NEEDED to knit some thing so sweet and so special for this tiny human. She was such a special blessing. I found a vintage pattern I loved, but the actual instructions were mind-numbing. I fudged the pattern some, and the sweater knitted for tiny human Hannah Beth was adorable. I wrapped it in tissue and wrote a note and sent it off to the wilds of Wisconsin. A thank you note followed shortly after. But the real treat was when a picture of sweet Hannah Beth showed up in my inbox. Sweet squishy small human in the sweater I knitted. My heart exploded a thousand times. I printed the picture and tortured everyone who didn't run with the sublime cuteness that was my great niece Hannah Beth in a sweater I knitted for her.
A couple years have passed, my sweet Hannah Beth is no longer a tiny human, she is a walking, talking, tell you how it is, medium human. I had no idea what happened to the sweet sweater I knitted. Mommas with 2 small humans, who work and do stuff, likely do not preserve hand-knit sweaters as something special.
And along comes grand number 5, cooking along in the momma oven. A shower is planned, presents are shared, blessings are said. But I'm not there, I'm here, 600 miles away. I don't see the great anticipation of pretty things to adorn new small human.
And then, my sweet Charity is ushered into this world at the end of January. Oh. my. she is a beautiful small human. Mocha skin, a tuft of black hair and the most amazing big brown eyes. My sweet sister-in-love makes sure to send me pictures as my sweet Charity is starting to find her own face, and smile her own smile.
And then one day I open an email from my sister-in-love and it is the most adorable picture of our sweet Charity in the cutest sweater I have ever seen. Her big brown eyes are bright, she has a giant smile on. And all that captivates me. Beautiful new small human, now a part of our crazy, mixed up tribe. We are blessed. And then I have that moment where I'm really looking at all the details of the picture and the sweater is SO adorable. I look and look, and it hits me that the sweater is SO familiar. I know that yolk, I love those buttons..... golly gosh jeepers, that is a super cute sweater!! It isn't until I turn around and look at my magnet board that it hits me..... I knitted that sweater. That was the crazy, funky, vintage pattern I reworked for Hannah Beth. And then my face started to leak. A.Lot.
The sweater I knitted for our Hannah Beth was just a sweater. It was cute, it was a fun knit, it stretched my brain. It was knitted with love, but it was just a sweater. The yarn was Dreambaby, the buttons made me smile. I was honored that it was put to use to keep our Hannah Beth warm. But there it was, on another great niece, saved by the first niece, to hand down to the next small human, who ended up being her cousin's new human.
I talked with my sister-in-love, Mary, the grandma to our sweet Charity and thanked her for sending me a picture of tiny human in the sweater I knitted. I talked to Sister Beth about the sweater being saved and then shared in the family. I thanked Hannah Beth's momma for saving the sweater and sharing it. I was assured by Mary that this sweet sweater, knitted from a funny, funky pattern was, indeed, an heirloom. Mary assured me that when our sweet Charity no longer fits this sweater it will be washed a final time, tucked into tissue paper, and the next tiny human to grace our crazy tribe will wear this same sweater.
My face leaked, a lot. It has leaked through writing most of this. A cute sweater, out of everyday yarn was saved for the next tiny human to be snuggled into. All those stitches, knitted with love and prayers to usher our Hannah Beth into this world was saved. And now our sweet Charity is wearing the sweater, with all that love knitted into every stitch. I knitted an heirloom, y'all. And maybe you are knitting or crocheting an heirloom right now.
Isn't that cool. I'm connected. I'm connected to my niece Bonnie, Hannah Beth's momma, I'm connected to my niece, Katie, Charity's mom, I might even be connected to the momma and the next tiny human to join this crazy tribe. That y'all. That. That is why we do what we do. Because maybe the sweater or dress or blanket will be washed a final time, wrapped in tissue and saved for the next tiny human. Maybe you will have knitted or crocheted something so special that it gets saved to grace the next tiny human with all the love and prayers that were worked into the piece for the first tiny human. An heirloom. It isn't Great Aunt Connie's silver, it is not my grandma's wedding ring, but that little sweater is being treasured just the same.
In hooks and sticks and string-