Cordova Gansey Project: The Long Story #8B

# 8 b where the trail had taken me

When I was growing up, my mother had a tall mahogany chest of drawers in her closet.  Built into the bottom drawer was an intriguing cedar lined chest with a special round inset brass latch.  When opened,  inside were stacks of hand knit skirts and matching tops that she had made, alongside several neatly wrapped and arranged bags of yarn, and an array of cables and needles. Tucked beneath, were these little boxes filled with what I thought were especially "interesting looking things".  These were her needlework tools and accessories, and I found these especially inviting, especially because I wasn't supposed to get into them.

The skirts and tops were my mother's way to afford the fashionable knit suits of the era. Her art and various forms of needlework permeated my childhood and immediate surroundings, and creativity was considered as integral of a component of life as eating and drinking.

I asked her this morning whatever happened to those knit suits and this afternoon she brought out a cardboard box where they had been been in safe keeping. I tried them on, and though slightly creased, we were amazed at the good condition and fit from these archived knits from fifty years past.

I then asked her the most logical question a knitter would ask.  Do you think you still have the patttern for that?  She directed me to a small plastic tub in the closet and after digging through the leaflets, we found the booklet of suits  amidst decades of patterns ranging from argyle socks to infant layettes.

Packed with the suits, we even found a fitted pullover in her signature wedgewood blue color, that I remember her wearing often.

At some point, I must have asked to be taught to knit, probably about the same time that she had felt it was time for me to learn. Unfortunately, my childhood handwork's only byproduct was a bright red uneven and irregular garter stitch scarf laced with gaping holes, and so I decided and determined right then and there that obviously  I was not "a knitter" and went on my way  to other needlework pursuits with materials provided by my mother.

In her eyes,  as long as I had busy hands it didn’t matter to her what particular handcraft I chose.  There were plenty of other needlework options, and so off I went pursuing various forms of needlework and embroidery which kept my idle hands pleasantly well occupied as my mother steadily stitched her way through the ups and downs of life. Her example even today continues to  provide a model for me to follow and has led me to many wonderful passing moments behind the needle in her good company, and as I have written before, has provided a means to settle and process the ebbs and flows of life . We stitch on...

Years passed by and I was content to do cross stitch and a mixture of other needlework until my friend Joan offered to teach me to knit. Despite my obvious lack of confidence, Joan was convinced she could teach me. No fanfare,  no formal instruction, just a simple, "I'll show you how", and, I have to admit,  I was surprised to see what better dexterity I had in my “older” age, and excited that my own predestination of myself as a "never to be knitter" was overthrown as she patiently guided my hands. 

Herein lies a good reason why I encourage many I see at the shop to give it a try, even perhaps after an unsuccessful previous attempt, when they feel insecure and underconfident at the prospect of becoming a knitter. I find it interesting that there are even those who already knit, who will meekly say that they aren't a "real" knitter, as if there was some rite of passage that makes one go from unreal to real, thus they be called "a knitter". I generally ask them, "Do you knit?"  to which they reply, "Yes". and then I say, "Then, you are a knitter..."  in the way one would make a proclamation of sorts, akin to knighthood. Maybe I should just call it "knithood"....with a knitting needle tapped from one shoulder to the next,  " I now pronounce you.... A Knitter!  Go forth!"

This long story would have ended long ago if not for those elbow to elbow hand guiding moments with Joan.  One cannot always know the effect that the time that we take to be with someone and share something of ourselves with them may have and the value of what may lay ahead  for them in the big picture of their lives as their lifetime story unfolds. And so, to my friend Joan who helped me make that leap,  I will be forever grateful for opening up a world where friendship and  solitude intertwine, and  continue to provide that special quality in handcraft  that has brought me a sense of order, rest, and relaxation in the midst of my often chaotic life. Though living far apart at this time, I was also so happy that I could tell my mom I was now knitting, and felt it to be a special common tie that brought us closer together despite the physical distance between us.

This was the winter of 1985, and very shortly after my lesson with Joan, our family was off to spend a few months venturing in a long time scheduled trip to New Zealand. It wasn't planned this way that I should learn to knit before I left, but it was where the trail led, and so timely looking back on it, for New Zealand was the perfect place for a new knitter to wander.

I was immersed in a world of wool.  All along the way I had the opportunity as we traveled to be exposed to a variety of fiber related activities, as well as connect with what would become life long fiber friends.

My eyes were opened and they opened WIDE. Hardly knowing much of anything in this realm, and a fresh knitter just out of the gate, I asked a trillion questions, and excitedly purchased yarn and fleeces first hand from several of those I came in contact with, and who so kindly spent time with me sharing and educating me with their knowledge and wisdom. Being in this environment was contagious and although new in this realm,  in a deep down sense, I felt as if something inside of me was connecting with something ancient and ingrained within.


Thanks to a network of fiber friends shared with me through a friend of a friend back in the states, we went from town to town meeting and visiting with a web of weavers, spinners and knitters throughout the islands.

What is so interesting is that this list had come to me several weeks before our trip, before I had even learned to knit, and only shared because we were going to New Zealand, as this one friend had this other friend who happened to be a knitter and spinner who had been there, and felt compelled to connect us with one another.  It was all orchestrated through letters and written correspondence, across many miles and between people who had never met.

As it turned out, that list was the most valuable and instrumental asset and means for connecting with those who took over where Joan, my knitting mentor, had left off.  I look back at that trail of people and events and the expansive view brought into sight, and, once again, so much of it was simply where the trail had taken me, and I, in my youthful adventurous spirit was just willing to follow it along.



onward...Blogpost 8C



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Thank you for your comments. I will check with my mom when see her next and see if I can get the pattern name for the turtleneck sweater. So glad to have you join us for a read.
Kind regards,


Just found my way to your blog (via Fringe Association post this morning). Really enjoying the Long Story of the Cordova Gansey Project. In this post, really love the Pullover that you found of your mother’s (wedgewood blue). Is there any way you have more information or a pattern name for it? It’s gorgeous!

Thanks for the beautiful and enlightening story!


Hi Dotty,
You are such an expressive writer. I love reading the stories of your past that you share—all of which, woven together, helped make you the extraordinary woman that you are. Thank you for sharing and for all the you are and do for the women in Cordova and wherever your path takes you.


This youtube is so touching. Thank you for the link. Such a worthwhile watch. I appreciate you sharing it with us.
Thanks for following along with our knitting fishing story. What a legacy we follow behind and draw inspiration from, those fisher lassies and gansey girls of that era.


Have you seen the Bridlington gansey girl statue? It’s wonderful, and has really cool details like names of local fishing families on fish that were cast from real fish!

Kathy Burgess

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