A stitch in time

Aug 29, 2014 | 3 comments |

My mom was a knitter. The gentle click of her knitting needles was as much a part of my childhood as the books we shared, her chocolate chip cookies and the touch of her hand soothing all manner of ailments. 

She was descended from a long line of knitters and crafters too. Women who made lace like cobwebs edging pillowcases, who knit bed socks for cold Canadian winter nights and who gathered for quilting bees, stitching family and community together with fabric.

The crafting gene missed me. Wool snarled in a tangled heap. The obligatory junior high home economics apron had lopsided pockets and meandering seams. I had my head in a book or fingers curled around a pen, reading and writing stories. 

Recently, though, I’ve noted an unexpected parallel between myself and those indomitable women who came before me.

When in Canada last week, I found a box of Mom’s knitting patterns. From those she’d inherited from her mother and other relatives, through to the last sweater she made for English Rose, those patterns are a record of her life.

Many are inscribed with her maiden name, a young woman making gifts for family and friends. Others date from her nursing training and early working life as friends started families of their own. Still more come from my childhood, later adapted for English Rose.

What that overflowing box showed me is Mom told stories through her knitting.

The items she made marked connections with family and friends, rooted in the small Ontario town she left but never forgot. Stories of Canada too with patterns ranging from her mother-in-law’s Red Cross wartime knitting instructions to modern maple leaf mittens. Not least, she commemorated her ethnic heritage, drawing on traditional Irish patterns and using an alphabet of stitches to symbolize landscape and identity, home and work, memories and faith.

Although my stories differ from my mother’s, they have a similar genesis, bonds of family, community and love represented in fiction instead of fabric. Tapping on my laptop, I craft words instead of stitches, books instead of sweaters.

As for English Rose, she’s inherited the crafting gene in spades, spending much of her time in Canada knitting a blanket for a local animal shelter.

The click of knitting needles – and the stories –continue.


  1. Jean Bull

    I think that your mom’s knitting patterns would make a perfect structure for a novel; each one forming the basis for a chapter i.e. what a woman’s hopes and thoughts were whilst she knitted and how her life was measuring up to them.
    Just an idea!

    • Jen Gilroy

      What an intriguing idea, Jean. It’s given me food for thought. Thanks for visiting and sharing.

  2. Sue Bavin

    What a lovely blog, Jen. I’m a crafter – I do lots of needlework and rug-making and I’m an occasional knitter. Every piece of craft has a story and memories behind it, even if it’s just remembering where you lived when you made something.

    Glad to hear English Rose enjoys crafting. It will be a lifelong pleasure to her.


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