Nothing warms the soul like love at Christmas - and the lucky ones keep it all year round, year after year for 63 years and counting. They just don't make 'em like these two dear souls anymore. And few people knit 'em like Mickie does anymore either - Born To The Needle this woman is!
Here's some Knitspiration for you. Meet my 86 year-young client, expert knitter and friend, Mickie Diekmann, with the stunning sweater she finished recently (May, 2018) for one of her granddaughters. Before mailing the sweater off, Mickie wanted to display it in their retirement community art show. So - I helped Mickie finish sewing her beautiful sweater together and let her borrow “Jannequin the mannequin” so her sweater would display professionally. This is the third (count 'em - 3!) gorgeous sweater I have knitted with Micke in two years and the second one I have sewn together for her - and it's always a pleasure. With each stitch and each knitted piece meticulously and lovingly formed, her work practically sews itself together. A lovely, intelligent and talented artist, it seems all Mickie has to do is think the word "Sweater" and a perfect hand-knit sweater appears.
I was fortunate to meet 86 year-old Mickie Diekmann (and her delightful husband Ed) in December 2016 - two Christmas seasons ago now. Fortunate I slowed down - and looked down - and didn't pass right by her in my holidaze.
There's a quality born of many years of life experience that resides deep within older people. I'm always startled for a moment - when eyes meet eyes tender with age and it hits you - deep luminous pools of - everything - experience, joy, humor, sadness, caring, suffering, wisdom, life - and always the twinkle of love.
I felt an instant connection to this knitting sister.
I had dashed into my Local Yarn Store, David's Yarn, one day shortly before Christmas that year frantically picking up a few things to finish my own down-to-the-nth-hour gift knitting when Mickie ambled in, all gentle and smiling. She has one of those genuine, inquisitive auras that makes everything seem instantly more calm, more intelligent and more gracious. She made her way to the counter to ask a question and set her big blue bag on the floor as I was checking out. Nosey knitter that I am, of course, I couldn't help but sneak a little downward peek into the bag's open top. Inside was this luscious, creamy, cable-y jumble of goodness that instantly set me drooling and begging for her to spread it out for everyone to see. Santa hold the sleigh - I wasn't going anywhere! .
Mickie came into the knit shop that day seeking help finishing a sweater she had lovingly knitted for another of her granddaughters and I'm afraid I just muscled right in on the action. I couldn't help myself. Jaw-dropping hand-knit sweaters just don't walk in the door every day - especially intricately cabled ones knit in the traditional way - bottom-up, in separate pieces, with a front and a back and sleeves to be sewn together (versus more contemporary top-down, all-in-one-piece methods). Delicious! She had beautifully knit the sweater pieces from a vintage 1950ish pattern she hadn't used in quite a long time but which still bore her gorgeous, detailed handwritten notes. She needed advice on completing the neckline and collar and needed help blocking and sewing it together. With pieces that lovely - no need to ask me twice!
Speaking from experience: quality seaming is as much slow art as it is technique and is absolutely key to finished hand knit garments that look professional. It doesn't matter how perfectly knitted the pieces are, shoddy seaming will leave you with a garment that looks sloppy and homespun and who needs that kind of disappointment after hours and hours spent on otherwise beautiful knitting.
So Mickie and I sat and mattress-stitched the shoulder seams together carefully and neatly - reworking when necessary, matching horizontal edge to horizontal edge - so she could later pick up stitches and knit the collar. And she shared pieces of her story as the pieces of the sweater slowly took form - such a beautiful, intelligent and adventuresome woman.
Our special people won't last forever,but what they teach us gives us a piece of their spirit that flows from generation to generation.
The lucky among us, if we learned from a person, learned to knit from someone close to us - a mother, a grandmother, or (in my case) a special Aunt Barbara - who saw our interest and nurtured our passion. In these days of YouTube tutorials and Knitting on the Net, it was delightful, and a little surprising, to hear that Mickie learned to knit, not from her mother, but from her father. As Mickie described it later in an interview from a comfy chair in her living room, her father was an avid knitter who learned to knit from his blind grandmother. She recounts how her father would sit watching and learning while counting stitches for his grandmother as a child, and became a good knitter, himself, in the process.
As Mickie and I continued to meet and work, more stories came out - beautiful ones - about the sacrifices of their generation and what it took to raise self-reliant children and about her cherished grandchildren. And fun ones - about meeting her lover Ed on a blind date courtesy of one of her sorority girlfriends at the University of Iowa and her vow to knit one pair of socks a month for him when he deployed to the Korean War (she laughs and admits she only made one pair) and about his unconventional and charming post-war proposal (he sent a proposal letter in the mail with engagement ring enclosed). But my favorite one is about her prophetic former Italian neighbor.
Born to the Needle
Early in their married life in California, Mickie and Ed had moved from a Berkeley apartment to their first small house in El Cerrito with their two-and-a-half year-old daughter, Debbie, and a new baby on the way. Ed had given Mickie a Singer Sewing Machine for Christmas that year and she was "sewing up a storm" for her child, soon-to-be child and for herself. Her next-door neighbor was roughly a decade older and of Italian descent. There is an old Italian expression that describes women who are gifted in the needle arts - sewing, knitting, embroidery, needlepoint and such. When her neighbor saw all the beautiful things Mickie was making she declared that Mickie surely was "born to the needle". What a delightful expression.
Says Mickie; "I guess the many sweaters I've knit and outfits I've made for our three daughters and our grandchildren over the years bear witness to that. I still use that Singer machine. In fact I plan to get it out tomorrow to make a curtain for our cabin".
Pictured below is a small, charming sample of Mickie's vast family-gift repertoire on her daughter Laurie (2nd from left) and three of her granddaughters. This picture just makes me smile.
Here is the stunning finished sweater that first walked into the knit shop in pieces and sparked our friendship. So lovely. Mickie proudly boxed it up that Christmas 2016 in her beautiful signature style and sent it to her lucky granddaughter, Grace (pictured in it above) - a gorgeous piece of her spirit and a treasured legacy.
And the adventure continues...
True to the maker-spirit that she is, Mickie wanted to learn something new and decided last spring to knit a sweater using the contiguous top down method that has become wildly popular - a departure from her normal style.
This is a method whereby the sweater is knit from the neckline down largely (if not entirely) in one piece. One big advantage of this method is the ability to try on the sweater while in progress making fitting and adjustments much easier. And - when the sweater comes off the needles at the bottom edges, you weave in the ends, block it and < POOF > wear it. No seaming!
So Mickie joined my beginning top-down sweater workshop (conducted using Heidi Kirrmeier's fun Tea With Jam and Bread Pattern) along with eight other adventurous women. I'm proud, but not surprised, to report that this spunky woman was the first one of the group to finish ( even before me ) and - there I was - bragging about another of her gorgeous creations (pictured below). This beautiful masterpiece of her spirit, once again, made its way to one of her beloved - and lucky - daughters.
So here we are - two-and-a-half years down the road of friendship and knitting sisterhood. After getting “Jannequin" settled in at the Epworth Villa Retirement Community art fair, I had the pleasure of walking around the small show and met some of the artists as they were getting their displays ready. Very impressive. Among them, a master woodworker with his miniature replicas of actual boats he designed and manufactured in his career as a young man which have been owned and raced all over the world and a nationally known quilt artist whose quilt scenes look like detailed paintings. In addition to Mickie's beautiful knitwear and quilts, I saw paintings and needlepoint and so many other wonderful pieces of artwork and their creators. Considering the average age of Epworth Villa residents, I couldn’t help but think about how much expertise was present in that room - and how much courage in face of the challenges of aging. As one of the artists said; “I had better health and more energy for my art when I was younger but I have more insights and a greater level of freedom now" - and it shows in their work. It’s apparent that their artwork - like themselves - is courageous, interesting, growing and thoroughly engaging. Such inspiration!
Over dinner one evening, a glass of wine or two, and a delicious piece of Mickie's homemade pumpkin pie, Chuck and I learned that Mickie and Ed venture to their cabin in the cool mountain air near Lake Tahoe, California every summer to escape the Oklahoma summer heat as they have done for many years. Mickie tells me she plans to knit another detailed, cabled cardigan sweater using her preferred, beautifully traditional technique. The lucky recipient will likely be her grandson and I know we'll be sewing that sweater together as another Christmas season approaches. I get a little giddy thinking about the stories we'll share as yet another special sweater comes to life. A pleasure to work with and a treasure to know - this wonderful woman, Mickie Diekmann, truly IS Born To The Needle.