When I was twelve my grandmother taught me to knit Continental. Her parents were the children of Welsh and English immigrants, and her mother knitted English-style. However, Grandma Helen had seen a woman in her small Wyoming hometown of Afton knitting Continental and asked to be taught because it seemed so much faster than the way her mother had taught her.
I knitted a grey wool handkerchief for my uncle, who was very complimentary about it and used it for a beer coaster. I knitted a green wool scarf, which was very scratchy and surprised me by shrinking when it was washed. I still have it but couldn't find it to photograph. As I got older I lost interest in knitting and forgot how.
While my husband was in medical school in Denver we spent some time house-sitting for Grandma's sister, Eva. Great-Aunt Eva had wonderful Christmas stockings hung by her fireplace. I was very impressed that she had knitted them herself, and even knew how to turn the heel. I was brought up on The Golden Book of Elves and Fairies, in which book knowing how to turn the heel of a stocking was made to sound like a great accomplishment (which it is). Aunt Eva showed me how to knit again. Her version of the Continental knitting story was that Helen had learned it just to spite Eva and show her up by knitting faster. Eva had found the same knitter Grandma learned from and taken lessons herself, she told me smugly. A sad commentary on Aunt Eva's personality, I think.
As it turned out, Aunt Eva didn't have time to teach me to turn a heel before we left Colorado for Louisiana. Our New Orleans suburb of Metairie did have a knit shop, Connie's Sit'n'Knit, but my one foray there was unsuccessful. The women were so busy sitting and knitting that they didn't have time to discuss Aran yarn with me. Eventually they found some, but had no suggestions for an Aran sweater pattern, so the yarn collected dust (and probably roaches) until finally a dog destroyed it.
I knitted lots of mittens, flat on straight needles, each time the weather grew cold. But to be honest, life in the Deep South is more conducive to heirloom sewing than wool sock knitting, so I smocked and pleated and tucked and forgot about knitting yet again.
Then we moved to Utah. My husband bought a bargain sweater with a naturally rolled stockinette edge. He wanted ribbing on it, and insisted I could apply this. I found a knitting store, The Wooly West. The ladies there helped me find a contrast yarn and taught me how to knit on double-point needles. The light went on inside my head. This was how Aunt Eva had knitted those Christmas stockings!
The next September the mailman brought a class list from The Wooly West. Wonder of wonders, they were offering a sock class! However, it was the same day as the Mackay Barbecue which we never miss. No matter how hard I try to get out of it each year, my city-boy husband can't resist heading for Mackay, Idaho to stand in line and get pit-barbecued sandwiches while listening to the locals sing country music.
I stopped by The Wooly West and explained that I wanted to knit socks, but couldn't come to the class. Did they have any instructions for socks? The nice, curly-haired lady at the shop assured me that she did. I bought Happy Trails yarn in Bandanna (a wonderful red), bamboo needles, and a copy of Folk Socks. Since the basic sock in that book is written for fine yarn, the nice lady gave me a copy of the class pattern, which was the same sock rewritten for sport weight yarn. Then she asked me if I wanted the book autographed. I looked at the picture on the back of the book, then looked at the nice lady. I had met Nancy Bush!
Over the past ten years I've knitted a few sweaters and some baby things, but I mostly knit socks. I like the shaping, the versatility, the charm, the yarns--I just like socks. I'm not organized enough to keep track of how many pairs of socks I've knitted. Let's just say lots.
Nowadays I knit most of my socks from the toe up. However, my first project for Sock September is going to be the Welsh socks from Folk Socks. I've knitted them before and given them away, but I think I'll keep these. I'm going to use grey JaWoll as the main color, with cream heel, toe, and top. And I'm going to knit them top down because, as Nancy said recently, it's the way women of my heritage have knitted them for hundreds of years, and I can feel a link to them while I knit.
What are you going to knit?