I never had any children of my own. This was my own choice (for personal reasons that I will never bore you with), but I have been incredibly fortunate to accumulate a small collection of step-kids throughout my life via past and present romantic pairings.
Two of these are a couple of girls (well, they’re women in their twenties now, actually) I will forever think of and refer to as “my girls”. They are two of my favourite humans of all time. They’re lovely. You might think I’m biased when I say that, but in reality, it’s the general consensus among all the people who know them.
The girls’ grandmother (hereafter I’ll call her Mrs. K) was an avid knitter before Alzheimer’s robbed her of her ability to knit. (Just writing that sentence makes my heart hurt.)
While Mrs. K was still able to knit, she created a gorgeous cardigan for the older granddaughter (for the sake of this story, we’ll call her B), and then started on a pullover for the younger one (let’s call her RG).
The sweater was nearing completion when Mrs. K ran into difficulty. She just couldn’t figure out the pattern anymore, or how to put all the pieces together.
I’m not sure how much time went by between the moment Mrs. K gave up and put the unfinished sweater into a cloth grocery bag, and the moment the girls’ mom (M) contacted me by email and asked if I would consider taking a look at the knitting to see if I would be able to finish it.
I felt incredibly honoured to be asked, and didn’t even hesitate to say I would take a look at it and see what I could do. But after sending my reply, I remembered that cardigan Mrs. K had made for B, and how amazed I had been by her skill. That cardie was a work of art! Maybe I had spoken too soon. Maybe this was going to be way over my head. What had I gotten myself into? What if I let M and RG and, maybe worst of all, Mrs. K down?
The day I got the sweater, I took it home, cradling the bag in my arms like a baby. I took the pieces out, careful not to drop any stitches. One of the sleeves, and both the front and back pieces were still on the needles, but nearly completed.
The sides of the body had been partially sewn up. This was my first clue that Mrs. K had grown confused by the project. Knitters know this, but for those readers who don’t knit, you don’t generally start sewing up the pieces until they are all complete.
Anyway, M emailed me a link to the pattern Mrs. K had been following. (It’s free at allfreeknitting.com, if you’re interested). This was the pattern RG had chosen. And to my great relief, it was well within my skill level. I was going to be able to help after all!
Looking closely at the sweater pieces and comparing them to the pattern, I could see in a couple of places where Mrs. K had lost her way. These were not obvious mistakes, though, so I left them as they were. I wanted the finished sweater to be her work as much as possible, so I didn’t want to re-do anything I didn’t absolutely have to. As it turned out, I only had to tink (that’s knit backwards, btw) back two or three rows at the top of one of the body pieces before finishing up and binding off.
I put the pieces together, leaving the partial seams that Mrs. K had done, and just continuing where she had left off.
Before blocking, I tried the sweater on, keeping in mind that RG is a couple inches taller than me, has longer arms, and is, um, well… more ample in the chest region than I am. This prompted me to add a bit of length to the body and sleeves by way of a garter-stitch border.
I blocked the finished sweater and tried it on again. It was a little loose around my chest, and a little long in the arms, so I had high hopes that it would be perfect for RG.
I met up with M so I could show her the finished sweater, then I packed it up and sent it off to the UK, where the girls are currently living. It wasn’t long before RG emailed me a picture of herself wearing the sweater and looking absolutely gorgeous in it!
The thing about this project that still chokes me up whenever I think about it is that an elderly woman, a mother, a grandmother, and a highly skilled knitter, can’t remember how to knit anymore. I think about how much she adores her wonderful granddaughters, how much love went into every stitch, and the frustration she must have felt when she was unable to complete this uncomplicated sweater.
That’s why I didn’t want to undo any of what Mrs. K had done, even if there was a mistake or two. No one would ever notice the minor errors anyway. If anything, they add to the beauty of this sweater. This was her work. Her last work. I was just finishing it for her. And it was an honour and a privilege to be the one to pick up where she’d left off.
This was, to date, one of the most memorable knitting projects I’ve been lucky enough to work on. Here are a couple of photos…