Friday, January 09, 2009


When I was in grade 3, 1981, my favourite aunt, "Auntie Pat", acquired sheep. Actually, she may have acquired them before then, but the first lambs were to come that March Break (or Easter?). My brother and I often stayed with my aunt and uncle and cousin, but missed the first lambing. I do have photo evidence (notice the poncho I am wearing--handknit by someone; wish I knew who; and my cousin had one too in different colours): I don't know when Auntie Pat started to knit. Her mother, and mother-in-law both knitted. I do know that my aunt knitted with acrylic....I have a picture of me in a green sweater she knit, she made my mom a lacey green top, and there's this adorable red and white outfit for my little brother (click to make bigger, than back arrow to get back here):

It was coveralls, and there was a matching cardigan. He was adorable, but even more so because the only shirt my mother could find for him to wear underneath was a Strawberry Shortcake top with reddish pink stitching around the cuffs/collar and Strawberry Shortcake hiding behind the bib of the overalls :) The lower picture is my Auntie Pat, in her kitchen by the big wood cookstove, bottle feeding a lamb. These pictures were taken March 1986.
I have many memories of being at my cousin's 'farm' and helping with the sheep and learning how to card fleece, and hunting for moss and other plants for dyeing. I never managed to spin, but I did find in my stash a small ball of handspun yarn that I think I might have made. Auntie Pat sat for hours, spinning wool. She did just about everything with those sheep---the farm chores, research, breeding, all the fleece prep, etc. I don't know if she did the shearing, and if I remember, she wasn't allowed to drive the tractor after a little 'incident'. Everywhere we went, Auntie Pat had her knitting. And we went lots of places---if I recall, sometimes even with a sheep in the back seat once. She was involved in judging at fairs, and sometimes my cousin and I would have the delightful job of washing a sheep with Ivory Snow in the back yard. I even got to show a few times; once I participated in a day long contest at the "big" sheep show "Sheep Focus" where you get paired with someone and the two of you clean and trim the sheep and then show it. My partner was from Kincardine; a few years ago when I was in the Guelph concert band I carpooled from here with a student from Kincardine, but I couldn't remember the girl's name (and we had been penpals for a bit).

When my aunt gets into something, she really gets into it. I don't know how many sheep she ended up having, but it was a long way from the six half-breeds in the chicken coop! And then it stopped and she was on to breeding dogs--now award-winning, calendar-posing, fabulous Golden Retrievers.
This past December, my aunt turned 60. My cousin planned a surprise party, and although I knew that our presence was gift enough, I wanted to do more. One thing my aunt knit by the dozens was beautiful thrummed mittens. She even sold them to people my uncle worked with/for, and saw on business trips. Her's were usually done with natural yarns, naturally dyed colours, and with Fair Isle patterns built around the thrummed stitches. I decided I would purchase a thrummed mitten kit, from my local yarn shop. I had an appointment in Brampton early one morning, and took Meg. She was asleep on the way back, so I decided to go up to Camilla, knowing that the road would be bad. It was 3.6km of pure, utter, sheer fright. But my aunt is a fearless woman, and for her, I would do this, 100m at a time, at 35km/hour. Oh, was I scared! I chose a kit and headed back home, and wound it up that afternoon.
I picked this colour because my cousin said my aunt had a brown coat and a turquoise coat. What I didn't realize until opening it up, is that the yarn is an almost solid dark teal, and the roving is what changes colours.

Thanks to Ravelry, I opted to not use the mitten instructions from Fleece Artist, and used my regular pattern (although I wonder if I knit the next size up, or used larger needles? The yarn is listed as Aran, but the pattern called for 3.5mm I think; my pattern uses worsted and calls for 4mm!). I relied on the Yarn Harlot's instructions for placing the thrums. The roving had a natural divide up it's length, so I pulled from one half of the width, for the first mitten, and made the second to match with the remaining part of the roving.
The inside is a hoot!I really wish I had learned the two at once on one circular to do these! I practiced monogamous knitting for a change, and had the pair cranked out with DAYS to spare before the party!!!

I added a secret feature---a little 'buttonhole' for the index finger to pop out when you need it. I cast off 3 sts and then on the next round, cast 4 sts back on, then on the next round, dec. 1 st over that cast on. The thick fleece inside keeps the hole almost shut when all fingers are inside.
I was very excited to give these to my aunt. They might just appear to be a simple pair of mittens, perhaps with the added flair of the thrums, but to me, and I hope her, they have a deeper historical significance.
While at my mom's over Christmas, she gave me a box of knitting booklets and patterns that had been my aunt's mother-in-law's. Among it all was a stack of the Paton's mitt pattern I use, and a pattern for 'fleeced mittens', as well as notes on sheep husbandry, dyeing yarns, and other sheepy things which I assume was my aunts as her MIL lived in a town, LOL. I have memories of my cousin asking her grandma for something knitted, and it appearing the next week. Some of the booklets are old, and I imagine my uncle wearing the items, LOL. I had some of the booklets already, but from unknown sources---it is awesome to have some connection to them now. I don't know much about knitting in my family from a historical perspective, but I'm so thrilled to be able to make even these small connections!
How is it that on my other blog, you can click on pictures to make them bigger, but I can't seem to do that with this post?


smariek said...

beautiful mittens, i'm sure your aunt will love it. What are 'thrums'?

I had a crochet granny squares poncho as a kid. Hideous thing now that I think back on it. I think it scarred me for life and I just can't imagine wearing one again.

jan said...

hi-re gloves
I am not sure what is wrong with my hands my wrists ache and it hurts to move them form side to side
I find the lycra just helps to keep them warm and such am about to embellish them with beads
love your blog

Cindy G said...

The mittens are wonderful, and so is the story that goes with them. Your aunt sounds just super, what a lovely gift to celebrate the connection.

Lisa W. said...

oh what a great gift and wonderful memories your aunt has given you. My favorite aunt was also my "Aunt Pat", she didn't knit, but taught me how to smoke and swear and drink CuttySark, LOL! Anyway, love those thrummed mitts you made. Great job and that darling index finger is precious. Have a great day.