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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mother's Sweaters: Frugality and Art

By Mr. Dr. Frugal Scholar

My mother was an indefatigable and creative knitter. She grew up with the early notions of frugality, which emphasized making stuff one needed, rather than trying to find new, inexpensive things to buy. She made almost all of her clothes, though she let us buy ours, and she built all our brick walks and stone walls, among other things.

But one of her real passions was knitting. This was partly because she could do it while reading. She was a fast and voracious reader, but I think she always felt that she should be doing something else as well—that “just” reading wasn’t sufficiently productive. (She and Ben Franklin would have gotten along very well.) My father built her a beautiful book stand so that she could knit and read at the same time.

She mostly knit sweaters (though once she made a 35 foot scarf—“for a giraffe,” she insisted). Although she could and did execute complicated patterns, her real passion was for creative combinations of various textures and colors, and no two of her sweaters came out the same. She would hunt out balls of yarn that had been discounted because there were only a few left—not enough to make a sweater, and so not worth much to most knitters. (Dr. Frugal Scholar scouted for her in Louisiana, and we still have a box of yarn in our closet that we never brought her.) She would use these remnants to make sweaters that were real works of art.

She also made other objects of what I suppose one would call art clothing, including a jacket made from zippers that she got a great deal on, and another constructed from the dozens of silk ties no one claimed when a good friend of my father died.

But her real passion, as I said, was sweaters. I’m not sure how many she knit; I know that she donated about 30 to be auctioned off to raise money for the Bandon, Oregon library. Others were given away, or auctioned off to support other charitable enterprises. There were really many more than she could possibly wear, but I don’t think that “use” was the motivation; knitting satisfied needs beyond utility, even though this might have been her overt rationale, and probably appeased her frugal conscience.

I took photos of some of the ones that we still have, and I’d like to offer a sample here, as a record of what can be made with the orphaned balls of yarn no one else wanted. So when I try to use every bit of my Meyer lemons, in some way I’m following in the footsteps of my mother.


lei said...

PLEASE -- more photos of your Mother's creations!

Anonymous said...

Seconded ....

Duchesse said...

A loving reminiscence; I too would enjoy seeing more. A sidebar is that I've been to Bandon, and my mother, also a master knitter, pondered retiring there (but chose Florida).

Frugal Scholar said...

Never fear, ladies, more to come.

@Duchesse--We'd love to hear about your time in Bandon. My mother- and father-in-law spent summers there for 20 years--in very elegant rusticity, without indoor plumbing. Mr DFS will be posting about this idyllic place in future. Plus more sweaters too.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Lei--Just discovered you are a textile artist. Could you elaborate on what you do? We're thrilled that you like Virginia's sweaters.

Chance said...

Wow -- I love your mother's artistic vision. What a great sweater...second the motion, please post more.

lei said...

To answer your question, I design and make one-of-a-kind wearable art with the emphasis on "wearable". My primary materials are vintage fabrics and I am particularly fond of vintage kimono silk. I also teach wearable art and sewing.

However, give me any fabric, needle and thread, and I am as liable to make an unusual pillow, a hat or a wall hanging--right now I'm transforming vintage linens into small valentine "pillows".

Thank you for asking!

Marilyn said...

Yes, yes, please post more sweaters! And maybe some close-ups of their unusual features?

Frugal Scholar said...

@Lei--It means a lot that a bona fide artist likes the sweater.

@Marilyn--If you click on the picture, it should enlarge--at least it does for me.

More to come, all.