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Heirloom Knitting: Knitting for the Generations to Come

It sits in the corner of our family room, a veteran of our many moves. Often there are magazines piled high on top of it, sometimes covering the deep scratches. If a sleepover has just taken place, blankets and pillows might be laid to rest there also. Crafted from mahogany and lined with cedar, this hope chest once belonged to Sis Gessner, the mother-in-law I never got to meet. She died years before I married her son. Still taped to the inside lid is a treasured slip of paper, and on it, in Sis's rounded cursive writing is the list of its former contents; linens, monogrammed tablecloths and engraved silver. Nowadays her hope chest is filled with tiny white shoes, little hand knit sweaters, small blankets and tiny hats that were once used by the grandchildren she never got to know.

What makes an heirloom?

Saved in our scarred and battered hope chest is a little alpaca cardigan I knit in 17 colors, patterned with South American motifs. Made for Lelia, my youngest daughter, when she was three, it has tiny, cat face buttons, hand cast in pewter. Folded carefully and tucked away, it waits to be called into service again. Is it an heirloom? I sure hope so. Is it the pattern, difficult and memorable, that will make this piece of my handwork become our family treasure? Can a simple garter stitch cardigan achieve heirloom status? Must it be knit in cashmere, angora, alpaca, merino or lambs wools? What about acrylics?

My oldest daughter, Meera, adores a simple ribbed watch cap she found at Goodwill. Cute and perky in bright red and navy blue acrylic, the hat was probably knit 30 years ago. And when she wears it, I can’t help but marvel how great it looks. The color is still vibrant and stitches still sturdy. No pilling, no holes.

Will Meera's hat become an heirloom? Must an heirloom be made for someone we love and care about, a part of our family, extended, or adopted? Or can an heirloom be a hand knit treasure for the lucky finder: proof that there once lived a knitter who moved yards of yarn around two sticks to create a gift. There's room in our family's hearts for synthetic riches made by anonymous knitters.

When Sis Gessner wrote her list and taped it to the lid of her hope chest, I doubt she could imagine it would remain there, a graphic glimpse of her. Only time will tells us what will treasured and what be lost forever.

For now, in easy and complex patterns, in wools and acrylics, our needles and hooks craft sweaters and hats, mittens and blankets to keep this generation warm. Made with love, perhaps they will be saved with hope for the next generation.

In honor of all of us who put our hands to work creating warmth and memories, Lion Brand offers an assortment of downloadable cards to tuck in with your heirloom knit. Inside the card, jot down a few words about what you have made and why. Tell who it is for. Share a story. Include the date. And to help the recipient be a good steward of your work, you might want to include yarn information and fabric care instructions.

New Holiday Card
by Michelle Edwards
Downloadable or E-Card versions

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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