Tonic & Cloth

'Monday Clothes that Feel Like Sunday'

Just a Little Bit Gammy

Jodie WoodsComment

There's something to be said for a moderate level of gaminess. It has an endearing quality. Think Cindy Crawford's mole, or David Beckham's gnarly recognizable vocals. Me? I knit gammy (or so I have been informed). Admittedly that's not my only gammy trait, but one that connects me to my heritage - so I'll wear it proud.

Apparently my gammy knitting has all to do with the kack-handed way I hold the yarn and then twist it around the needle. To the graceful knitter watching me clickety clack is terribly unappealing. But, I have it on good authority that I produce a beautiful stitch uncannily like that of my great grandmother (Oma). And that my friends, is the highest of compliments. She, was the master.

The where and when and why of her knitting were so very different from mine. She knitted through the icy European winters of World Wars and depressions. I imagine her scrounging for wool, undoing old jumpers to make new. Her skill increasing not by watching Youtube tutorials or downloading the latest patterns from 'Wool and the Gang' - but by knitting in the near dark of candlelit blackouts. She blocked out hunger pains of postwar famines by learning new stitches - her needles dancing in complicated rhythms - smashing out near perfect lacework before the wick ran out of wax.  There was no leisure or fun about it, it was survival. The family needed warmth. She knitted. She got them through. 

For me it's this connection to the past and to family that makes crafts so beguiling. While spending Saturday afternoons perusing 'Miss Maude Sewing', or considering the attributes of yet another box of 'Merchant and Mills' pins holds oodles of pleasure in and of itself. What is even more wonderful is feeling the closeness of my Oma as I knit, imagining her knobbly hands, hearing the gutteral tones of her Dutch - knit one purl one - the smell of dark chocolate, strong coffee, almonds and 4711...

When I sew it's different. That's my time with Oma's daughter, Nana. The smell of coffee replaced with cigarette smoke, and sweet strong black tea.  As knitting was survival for Oma, so was sewing for Nana. It gave her the wherewithal to immigrate from Holland to New Zealand in 1957. Armed with the skill of it she knew she could make it here. It insulated her somehow. Acted as padding between her and the bumpy unknown of a new life in a foreign country. Bolstered with the familiar language of darts, pin tucks and blind hems the foreign Kiwi tongue wouldn't set her asunder. Her and Grandad arrived with nothing. They built their own house from scratch while living in powerless army huts. Grandad powered a generator by peddling a stationary bike, so that Nana could sew. He, peddling madly - she, with perculiar pursed lips full of determination. Together they powered that sewing machine forward into a future they hoped would be easier for their children and grandchildren. 

And it is. This generation of our family has the privilege and joy of knitting and sewing for pleasure. Free from the constraints of keeping a family alive, or starting a new life in parts unknown, we enjoy what we have been taught - pleasure for pleasures sake. A privilege that would have astounded Oma.

Nana passed her sewing skills, her determination and those perculiar pursed lips first to my mother and then to me. That's how I sew now. Though I don't require the wherewithal my Nana did - I still must purse my lips. There is no sewing otherwise. It was a combo deal. The skill part and parcel with those pursed lips - that some might call just a little bit gammy.

 

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