In Praise of Knit Wits

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]

I’m a sweater girl. Oh, I’m devoted to my sturdy, throw-it-on, functional fleece. But there’s nothing like thick wool or supersoft cashmere to make me feel warm, cozy — and something extra. Classic, maybe? Distinct? Stylin’? Many of my sweaters were knit by my gifted late mom, adding a whole extra meaning to “warm-and-fuzzy.”

What I really like about hand-knits: Their personality! Nobody else has a sweater, scarf, vest, etc. just like it. And when the knitter goes that extra level beyond basic to create something with a story — it’s magic!

So now that the weather’s cold and I’ve hauled out the woolies, it seems like a fitting time to share some standouts from my Witty Knit Hall of Fame:

Hand-knit sweater with kitten face on front

Animal faces!

The above sweater was knit for my daughter when she was in a big kitty-lovin’ phase (we don’t have any – I’m allergic!). It reminds me of the sweater I had in high school that featured the face of our dog, Butch. Mom used rabbit-hair-angora yarn for Butch’s face, making it more realistic. My sister and I used to fight over that sweater. She must have won, because I can’t find it anywhere! What a great way to commemorate a friend’s favorite pet or horse!

Margaret's purple sweater with buttons across the midsection

Cropped in on the Margaret buttons


Don’t know if you can really see, but the little decorative buttons in the above sweater actually spell out “Margaret,” my daughter’s name. Made it a little tough to hand down to her younger sister, but on the other hand, Margaret has a pristine keepsake.

Page in her matching sweater and hat

Matching sets!

Working in that same purple yarn, Grandma knit a matching sweater and hat for Margaret’s little sister Page. One of the last sweaters Mom made for me, a big fuzzy blue pullover, had a long matching scarf. Her other trademark: mitten-hat-scarf sets. You could spend a fortune buying such a thing, and it probably still wouldn’t coordinate with your coat as well. (Excellent Christmas present idea, o similarly talented farmgirls!)

Dad's knit socks


My mom knit these argyle socks for my dad when they were courting. The story goes that she knit him socks and a matching tie, I think for Christmas, and he promptly proposed. (Tie has vanished.) What man in 1949 could resist a woman who can knit argyle socks?! Snazzy!



Pardon the pose, but it’s the only snap I could find of one of Mom’s strokes of genius: My going-away outfit (1987), a cotton sweater adorned with flowers from the chintz that my countrified bridesmaids’ dresses with a skirt of same fabric.

What I love about this is that the possibilities are endless in terms of what you can appliqué (or as mom also did, cross-stitch, embroider, or knit) on a plain surface to individualize it.

Poncho laid out on a rocker

Clever shapes!

Before there was a Snuggie, there was this poncho-style wrap (above) Mom knit for me using this gorgeous yarn. I like to pop it on and wrap it around me when I sit and work in my chilly office.

Brown and white argyle vest sweater

Snazzy patterns!

Believe it or not, this argyle vest dates to my college days! If you’re an advanced knitter, why not show it off?! What amazes me about people who knit (or make anything, really) is how they can pour themselves into it for so many hours, and then just give it away!! My mom was famous for making sweaters or afghans to thank nurses in my grandmother’s nursing home or the nice lady who helped them lease a car or neighbors or friends — or anybody!

Luckily, I managed to save a few!

Okay, here’s where I have to admit…that I can’t knit myself. I grew up among women who had needles clicking as they watched TV, played Scrabble, sat in the car, or just visited one another, and I confess I never paid one bit of close attention. Learning is on the top of my To Do list. Is it a hard skill to pick up? Has anybody taken it up late in life? Should I start with crochet and stick to bulky afghans? I appeal to your collective experience – and if you have a witty-knit Hall of Famer of your possession, please share a description of it: We’re all ears! Click, click, click…

Handmade tag: Hand Made by Sleanore D. Palyk

  1. What a great article! And yes, i took up knitting late in life and am having a ball! My suggestion is to start with big needles and make small projects (hats, scarves)…love that instant gratification :)! MJF Hugs, Di

  2. LisaRae says:

    I just learned to knit about three weeks ago at age 41. I am in love with it! I was a crocheter as a kid but haven’t done it for years. The great thing about knitting is – like you said – it’s a one of a kind. It’s the same reason I sew. Take is up! It is so much fun. Give yourself a Christmas present and learn – you won’t regret it!

  3. Heather says:

    I never thought that I would end up thinking this….I really want to learn to knit! I grew up also around ladies that could knit with their eyes closed and every new baby had the sweetest sweater set to keep warm in. My Aunt even has angora rabbits and cashmere goats. Yes, She spins , dyes, then knits the most gorgeous hats. That’s is what I would like to do long term, but for now, my 11 daughter might just teach me!

  4. Tammy says:

    Well I for one don’t know how to knit but I think it is a wonderful thing to do. I taught myself to quilt a few years ago and love it. I am not sure I would have the patience to knit. Loved your pictures. HOpe you are able to learn and share with us.


  5. sue says:

    I came into knitting late. My grandmother taught me to sew, crochet and many other handicrafts. Unfortunately she developed severe arthritis in her hands before she could teach me to knit. I let it ride for many years then decided out of the blue to teach myself, I wasn’t very successful. So again I put it aside. Then when I became a living history interpreter, I met a lovely older lady who had the patience and the kindness to show me how. Now when I knit I have lots of wonderful memories to associate with knitting. I think learning later gave me a true appreciation of the art.

  6. TJ Wierenga says:

    I learned how to knit last year – actually knit with needles, as opposed to "cheat knitting" on my Knifty Knitter loom. I may never progress to argyle and fancy stitches, but at least I can whip out some decent washcloths and hats, tea cozies and scarves!! I love knitting during long car rides – eases my soul while I keep peace and interest going among my preschoolers in the back seat!!

  7. Sandy says:

    Learn to crochet and knit! Then decide if you want to do only one. Personally, I do both, but I prefer to crochet. I am the world’s slowest knitter!

    What wonderful things your mother made! I am so glad that yu treasure them.

  8. Erica says:

    I know how to knit, but I don’t. My mother took up knitting late in her life and made afghans for her 3 daughters and (at the time) 5 grandchildren. I still have mine, as well as the 2 baby blankets and tiny cap she made for my children when they were born. She didn’t do more than that because her arthritis made it too painful, but now that’s she’s no longer with us, I treasure these mementos. I think when she was younger she did a lot of crocheting, as in tablecloths, with the string. I did a little knitting and crocheting in my teens, but now have no patience for it. I sure appreciate others’ efforts, though!

  9. suzy says:

    What a fantastic article! Your mom was a knitting whiz! I started knitting a few years ago but haven’t gotten into really complicated items yet….but knitting….like quilting on baby quilts and things….is so soothing….who needs nerve pills when you can sit quietly and knit or sew a while! Thanks again for a great article and great photos!

  10. carol branum says:

    hi,wonderfulbueatiful work,you need to keep forever…love the childs one,I learned to knit a poncho in 4H years ago, but,I have forgotton a lot,need to start over you know, you forget over the years if you don,t use your skills but I can crochet some,have a great day,carol branum,lamar mo

  11. Laurel says:

    My grandmother taught me to knit as a teen. I am not very good, would do better with someone to help. I taught my daughter to knit. She only knits with BIG needles. It goes fast. She does nothing complicated. We heard of a store that has a knitting class that is more like a group. They sit around and knit each helping those who want to learn a next step. We hope to get there after the holidays (busiest time of the year).
    Go ahead and start to learn. Use big needles make a scarf, or use regular size needles and make a washcloth. You will be proud of your accomplishment.
    One more thought take your daughter and this learning adventure. Maybe this will be her hidden talent.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Laurel

  12. I love sweaters too (and vintage coats). My favorite spot to find them are 2nd hand stores and sometimes you can find the greatest vintage goodies…handmade in Ireland etc. I found a lovely cashmere coat for my dad years ago, the tags were still on it. Had it been new in a store, it would have been VERY expensive. He loved it. Great article.

  13. Megan says:

    I taught myself how to knit five years ago and I love it! (so do my kids!)
    The nice thing about learning to knit now is that you have the internet at your fingertips! All you have to do is run a search for video tutorials on whatever technique you want to learn or practice and there it is at your fingertips! (I suggest for a starting point)
    I took on socks for the first time and I am loving it
    Good Luck!

  14. Denise says:

    I enjoy knitting – weirdly enough it co- insides around the time of the month – sorry for some reason I have the need to create around then – cook, sew or knit and then it usually passes. I was taught basic knitting as a child but was never very interested in it – wanted to play outside instead. I have made a patchwork doona cover for my oldest son – he loves it and doesn’t want me to replace it – and am knitting squares – not sure what I will do with them, apparently I can do them and send them somewhere and they are made into blankets etc and sent to families in impoverished countries – thought I might continue along that vein. The satisfaction of seeing something that you have created being enjoyed by another is wonderful. Have a go and start off slow, you will work out which one is "more you".
    PS What about a memory quilt of pictures of your family including family members that have passed on sewen together. I know that you can have photos put onto material somewhere over here, so should have that available to you in the USA.
    All the best and enjoy.
    PSS I’m thinking of doing this and including funny quotes of things my children said when they were small – individual to them.

  15. Carolyn says:

    I would encourage all those who want to learn to knit to ask at your local private yarn shop about lessons. Once you know how to knit and purl, you can join a Knitting Guild or Club in your area. They promote a love of knitting with social gatherings (called meetings) usually with a featured guest speaker or demonstration, charitable projects for nursing homes, women’s shelters, hats for premies and chemo patients etc… Most groups have 15-30 members and meet once a month. Friendships are abundant.

  16. Melodye says:

    What a lovely legacy your mother left to you! It’s good to see that you enjoy her work. I taught myself to knit when I was eight years old and have now been knitting for 44 years. I do cross-stitch, sew, embroider, and other crafts, but I always come back to knitting. This past Christmas, I knitted something for each member of my family. I would start with small projects, and learn something new with each new article you make. Above all, have fun!

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