15 November 2006

The Exception That Proves the Rule

EDITED: to add PICTURES because Hubbster came home and gave me permission to post them!
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First, the third YARNIVAL is out. It rocks all over the place. Really, this thing is getting cooler and cooler with every issue, probably because more people are becoming aware of it and contributing (or even writing for it). Do your part!

Anyway, even though there are a million other things I should be doing right now, I wanted to respond at length to one of the awesome posts from Yarnival. (I thought I'd do it here instead of leaving one of my patented long-ass comments, because I'm always timing out and losing those long-ass comments because I forgot to copy it to the clipboard before hitting 'send'.)

There are several rockin' posts about the Boyfriend Curse. Kirstin's got an entry in which she posits the theory that these infamous boyfriends, upon receiving the handknitted sweater, suddenly flashback to the most hideous christmas present they ever received, a monstrosity courtesy of someone like an Aunt Myrtle, and no matter how beautiful the sweater you knitted might be, they suddenly see you morphing into Aunt Myrtle (who else is picturing certain scenes from Vanilla Sky here?), and so they cut and run. Without even giving back the @^@%&#$% sweater, which if you ask me is really the worst part, since obviously this is not the sort of person worth keeping around anyway, and after the initial pain wears off, you might be grateful to him for showing his ugly colors early, you know? But that YARN - it could've been frogged into something fab for you!

So I've got an exception that proves Kirstin's rule. (Warning: This post may also be a blatant attempt to nominate Hubbster for hunk of the month.) Anyway.

So...I think Hubbster may have actually married me for the handknits. That's how much he loves them. And he doesn't just love what I make for him (though he loves those items with a fiery passion). He oohs and aahs over everything else I make, too, because he knows that this keeps me productive, and as long as I'm knitting productively, he knows he'll be on the receiving end of a fair portion of the goods (actually a totally unfair portion; I'm ashamed to say that Mom hasn't been getting as much as she deserves ever since Hubbster showed up - she's been very understanding about it since I finally finished her second and long belated sweater, though). Hubbster even accompanies me to yarn stores and likes it. He gets all excited about any undyed, natural fiber. He spends as much time as I do petting the pretty hanks (though he's of course over on the earth tones wall, while I'm wading in the reds and pinks). I get all kinds of murderous looks from the other young women in the store.

Maybe you've been one of those young women -- and so you ask, where did I find this guy? Like everything else (ahem), you have to understand the historical context or you'll never get it. So - I'm sure almost all of us can picture all too clearly the Aunt Myrtle experience that Kirstin describes. Many of us may have had an Aunt Myrtle of our own. In any event, all of us who were youngish in the 70s have certain dark memories of unpleasant acrylic color schemes. This all makes sense.

Hubbster has a different background. He grew up in Moscow, in the last years of the Soviet Union. Like many Soviet kids, he was an only child and both his parents worked, and then spent most of their after-work time waiting in line in several different stores to get groceries. So, like nearly everyone else, he spent most of the week while he wasn't in school being watched over by his grandmother. His grandmother's name is Anna and she's a Knitter (sadly, she's no longer a lower-case knitter because her eyesight is going, but she'll always be a Knitter).


(This is Babushka Anna knitting what appears to be the sleeve of a child-size sweater.)

The thing is, in the Soviet Union, even though most people's grandmothers probably did know how to knit, there was very rarely any yarn available, or if you happened to come across some it was probably itchy and ugly. Being a Knitter, and having the extreme good fortune of living in Moscow, where supplies were a bit less scarce than anywhere else in the Soviet Union, Anna did sometimes find decent yarn, and when she did, she made excellent use of it. Hubbster was wearing one of three major items she knitted him in almost every picture taken of him in his childhood years. One was a warm, bright blue and grey ear-flap hat. We brought that hat back from our last trip to Moscow, and I did my best to re-create it in his adult size, using the half-Russian half-American Peace Fleece yarn. It was a clever and adorable-looking design (I don't know whether she made it up or followed a pattern), made out of a yarn that feels like a blend, maybe of cotton and wool, or wool and a synthetic. She also made him a pair of bright-red ribbed snow pants, which he wore on top of what looks like about 10 other layers whenever he played outside. In the oldest pictures, the snow pants have huge folded cuffs, which gradually become smaller and then disappear, straightening out to make longer legs as he grew.


(With his grandmother, wearing the snow pants.)

And then there was the sweater. It was a fairly plain sockinette crewneck pullover, made in several different shades of brown, probably because Anna couldn't get enough of any one color for a whole sweater. At first, it was plain with a small pattern across the chest. As he grew, she modified the sweater, adding different-colored cuffs and a body hem, and then, it seems, ripping the whole thing out and knitting it again in with the several yarns in different-sized stripes, though all of them in shades of brown (possibly undyed wool brought in to Moscow markets occasionally from the countryside??).

My husband was very proud of these items. Not everyone had a grandmother who could do this, and no one had very much clothing at all, much less custom-made clothing. You had your school uniform, and a few other items. Often, all the kids would have pretty much the same clothes and shoes, because the Soviet supply problems meant that certain items would flood the market all at once, and then disappear just as suddenly, not to be seen again for a long time. So, when a necessary everyday item appeared, like kids' jackets, everyone bought the same one, or the same type, as long as supplies lasted. My husband's hand-knitted clothes were his alone, completely unique, and made with love (and considerably more effort than we go through today) by one of the people who most meant security to him in his youngest years. Anna made them to fit him, and she made them to last. They were plain, but skillfully made with the best materials available at the time.


(Hubbster thinks this sweater was probably also made by Anna, but we're not sure.)

When I first started dating my husband, a few weeks passed before I was brave enough to admit to my, er, little knitting fixation. Most American guys I knew acted just like Kirstin describes in her post - they didn't exactly mind it, and thought it was kind of cool in a way, but it was a little...disconcerting. And anything that wasn't a hip project - like a skullcap - well...most American guys wanted to change the subject. So, when I met the man who became Hubbster, I knew from the start that I really, really liked him, and I didn't want anything to screw it up. I figured I better introduce the knitting gradually, and I sure as heck wasn't going to knit anything for him for a minimum of 20 years, and only with a marriage certificate and several children for collateral. After those first few weeks, I casually brought along to his place a very hip pink scarf I was making for myself. It was my first official test of the waters, and I was very nervous. I said, half-laughing (so I could pretend it was a joke if necessary??), "so...you know, I know how to knit." Then I added quickly that I learned how in Norway, to replace any initial green acryclic associations with ski sweater associations.

But it wasn't necessary - before I'd even finished my sentence, he had brightened up like a light bulb and said, "REALLY??!!! You know how to KNIT??? That is SO cool!!! Would you know how to knit me a scarf??" I mumbled something about how easy it was, really, and changed the subject. I didn't want to test my luck too far. Then he kept asking about what I was knitting, and, gradually, since we were spending almost all our time together anyway, I started bringing my knitting along and regularly knitting when we were together. And he kept mentioning how much he'd love a real, proper scarf. The one he was wearing was not only synthetic, but the pain 1x1 rib pattern was finished off on each end with a line of serger sewing!! Horrors! And then he kept saying that he'd like to see a yarn shop some time, to see what they had. This finally did me in...for our first Valentine's day together, I made him a little card with a coupon promising him a scarf in the cashmere yarn of his choice. I took him to Purl Soho. He walked in, and almost immediately zeroed in on an undyed 100% alpaca so soft that I want to spend the rest of my days wallowing in it. To be sure we were getting the best possible yarn, I examine every other skein in the store, and Hubbster-then-boyfriend followed along, but we kept coming back to the alpaca. What I've since learned is that Hubbster has absolutely infallible yarn instinct. He can walk into any store and instantly gravitate straight toward the best yarn there. I bought one of the huge hanks, and made him a scarf in twisted rib. Fast-forward a year or so, we got engaged, and Hubbster-then-fiance begged: can I pretty please have a sweater now because we're getting married and the curse no longer applies??? Since he was a lawyer at the time, I made him promise to draw up an agreement stating that in the event of any breakup, sweater ownership would instantly revert to me.

And there you have it - he couldn't divorce me even if he wanted to, because he'd have to give up his favorite sweater. It was made entirely to his specifications, which meant endless rib on tiny needles in a size several times too big for him (that's how he likes 'em) in that same undyed alpaca. It's not at all what I would have picked out for a yarn for this sweater, and I would certainly have made it several sizes smaller, but he utterly adores it. It took me all of our engagement period and a couple months after our wedding to finish, and I frogged and re-knit the collar the last and final time just one day before I left the country for a long research trip in Russia, while Hubbster had to stay behind because he was taking coursework at the time. As I was frantically finishing that huge sweater, part of me was wondering what had possessed me to even contemplate a project like this - I wouldn't do it for myself or anyone else on the planet - but the other part of me was so glad to know that if I had to leave my newlywed Hubbster home alone for months at a time, that at least I knew he'd be warm and cuddly, wrapped up in miles of lovingly stitched alpaca. He called me every night while I was away, often while wearing the sweater and telling me yet again how much he loved it. We survived the time apart, and have been happily wallowing in handknits ever since.

And when I re-organized my stash a little while ago? I told him I'd got rid of two shopping bags of acrylics. He cheered the banishment of synthetics and said...."so now you have room for more yarn, right?"

And I didn't even have to train him to get him that way. Thanks, Anna.


(Hubbster was too young at the time to remember what was going on, so we totally can't explain this.)


(This is his second sweater made by me, deliberately reminiscent of the one his grandmother made for him in various shades of brown. The third will be a Dutch fisherman's sweater, like the ones my ancestors wore.)

23 comments:

jess said...

aw! now that is cute! :) Love the way that transpired. :)

My DH grew up in the US but his parents and g'parents grew up in the Soviet Union, and I think part of the reason he is interested and welcomes my knitting is because his grandma used to knit (his mom never really did, apparently) and it reminds him of her. :)

Hub's mom actually told me a story about how after they escaped the gulags and came to the US, her mom used to go to the thrift store and get sweaters, unravel them, and make them socks! :)

Dharmafey said...

Thank you so much for that wonderful post! I mean, I always enjoy lurking and reading your blog, but today especially.

Specs said...

That is so sweet. And he's cute, too!

My boyfriend is indifferent to the knitting, but very tolerant of the hobby and appreciative of the knits he receives. I actually love that we're both creative people (he's a musician) and that our creativity manifests itself in different hobbies. It's great to see him excited about finishing a song and recognize the same way I get excited about finishing a garment.

I can't think of a good way to end this, so I'll just say: we're lucky ladies, aren't we? :)

Laura said...

wow. what an awesome post. i got seriously choked up. you *must* submit this to julie for the next yarnival.

you are very, very lucky. that's all i can say. :)

hege said...

What a great story! I love the old pictures, and the new one too! The whole time I was reading, I was thinking I want to see the old pictures, and then I refreshed the screen and there they were! The sweater you made him is gorgeous! He has very good taste, and so do you!

Marianne said...

Yes, a wonderful story, sweet, touching, and ever so endearing. You have done well, and so has he, what a truly lucky couple of people, bless those grandmas, eh? I seriously believe this is one of the very best post I've ever read. Thanks, Kate.

Meg said...

Ahhhh, what a lovely story. Yes, it's all in the historical context, isn't it!

Marie said...

it's a beautiful story, and you've made some wonderful sweaters for him!

Bliss said...

That is a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it. (And thanks to Hubbster for allowing us to see the photos as well.)

Kat with a K said...

Aww, what a wonderful story. And yes, the pre-training thing is definitely good - my ex and I had plenty of other issues (obviously), but his mother is a knitter and he was always very understanding and supportive about it.

Shar said...

What a great story, I think he should be nominated for hubby of the month.

Sarah said...

Nice story and beautiful sweaters both by you and Anna!

Kirsten said...

Oh Kate, that is a wonderful story!!!! Your hubbster is absolutley getting my vote for Man of the Year!! The thing that struck me the most was the way that a little boy was made to feel special, loved and protected in a time and place where people had so little - as a result he has grown into a wonderful man.

Opal said...

I followed your link from Kirstin's post and boy am I glad I did. This is one sweet story! I can only hope that I find a man as sweet on handknits as yours.

Kit Is Knitting said...

That is a BEAUTIFUL story. Thank you so much for sharing it. One of my theories in life is that there are always exceptions to any rule and way to go in finding one!

--Deb said...

Oh, that really is a wonderful story! I think I may now have a little crush on your hubbster.... just a little one, though, I promise!

aija said...

Hubbster is hunk of the YEAR after this tribute. Thanks for sharing, I admit I teared up a little bit even :)

The Purloined Letter said...

What a lovely post! He definitely deserves all the beautiful knits you make for him!

Stacy said...

That's a lovely story; thanks for sharing it with us.

Bezzie said...

That's a great story. Every man should be so lucky to have a grandma like Anna!

Mandy said...

that was so fun to read! woohoo for yarnival!

robin said...

yeah for Yarnival - what a wonderful story. Alas (hmm - maybe not) my sweetie is not a sweater guy but I'm planning a pair of handknit socks that I'm hopin' he'll fall in love with.

Dorothy said...

That's a beautiful story. You are a very lucky woman. My Mr. has been hinting around about a sweater like the one his Mother made for him when he was little. I think I may have to cast on after Christmas and hope he loves his as much as yours did.