Tag Archives: pay it backwards

Paying It Backwards

HatPile2

Lots of sample knitting for fall and winter hat releases going on in the studio these days. Many of these hats were inspired by vintage hat styles (more on this in a future blog post – I’m so excited about these hats!!), but thinking about knitting in the past got me thinking about my personal knitting past.

We’ve all heard the phrase “pay it forward” for years now, and it is a philosophy that I have long tried to incorporate into my daily life. But I have been thinking a lot lately of the philosophy of paying it backwards, of thinking about, and acknowledging with gratitude, those who have brought us to where we are; those who add or have added to our lives. I have long made it a habit to try to think about gratitude in my personal life, but recently turned that thought to my professional life.

If you have read my bio somewhere online you probably know that I first really learned to knit (after a childhood attempt) in 1977 from the mother of my then boyfriend. When he and I went our separate ways in 1986 I lost touch with his mother, something I have thought of with some regret in the years since, more and more as the skills she taught me became what I do for a living.

Eileen in 1985

Eileen, summer 1985

Last month, 38 years after those first wobbly stitches, my family and I spent 3 days with my old boyfriend when he came to the area I now live in because his son’s band was playing here. The visit was fun in a number of ways, but it was especially good for me to hear about how his mother was doing, and to share with him how grateful I was for the skills she had shared with me that had truly changed my life; for the patience she showed as she helped my awkward hands find the rhythm they needed, the humor with which she greeted my look of disbelief the first time she demonstrated the long tail cast on to me, and the encouragement she (and her mother – another excellent knitter) showed as my projects began to roll off my needles. “Look how beautiful and even your stitches are!” “Look at the beautiful colors you chose!” In truth knitting and I fell madly in love from the first stitch Eileen demonstrated, but the support and encouragement that she showed me definitely contributed to the confidence that created a fearless knitter in me from day 1 (I never knew until I began teaching knitting years later that a complex sweater wasn’t a good first project).

As our visit came to an end and my friend got ready to travel home I found myself sorting through my bins, wanting to send something back to her, to acknowledge and thank her for pointing me in a direction that has brought me so much joy. Always a stylish and elegant woman, I wanted to find something that she would enjoy having, and maybe something that she wouldn’t knit for herself. I remembered giving her a woven shawl as a gift way-back-when that she had enjoyed, and thought that a lace shawl might be a good choice. After touching many and imagining her wearing them I finally settled on a soft merino burgundy lace shawl I had knit a few years back; a shawl I had enjoyed knitting and wearing, but that would, I hoped, be appreciated by the recipient, and also in some small way say thank you for all she had given me.

Eileens Shawl

I hope she can feel my gratitude when she wraps it around her shoulders on a chilly afternoon, or uses it to keep her neck warm under a coat when New York City snow falls. I hope she will think of me when she wears it, and know that she did a good thing when she first put those needles in my hands. I think of her often, as yarn slips through my fingers, as my needles click and designs make their way from my head and my heart off of my needles and out into the world. And she, alongside the other women who shared their knitting skills with me over the years, are beside me when I teach someone new to knit, or encourage them to push themselves to be a fearless knitter.

So thank you, Eileen! I hope you are well and happy, and I am forever grateful – especially for the fact that you taught me to knit continental style right from the start!

Who have you paid it backwards to? Who taught you to knit or crochet, or changed your life in some other way? Did you let them know? Let me hear from you!

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