Knitting in Newark

by Barbara L. Rothschild


Within the last several years, the time honored craft of knitting and the creation of often beautiful and wearable clothing items of art, has once again been revived. Knitting today, has yet once more attained heightened popularity and interest. Yet once more, one can find many craft shops in numerous shopping centers and beyond, where knitting club groups regularly congregate for instruction and conviviality, perhaps meeting and garnering new friendships, while working on a project. These are also the locales where a head spinning variety of knitting yarns and supplies may be purchased. Cost of yarns and other supplies, such as knitting needles of diverse types, shapes and sizes , may be modestly priced, or reaching perhaps to the most exotic and costliest of yarn materials: wools, acrylics and synthetics, mohair, angora, alpaca, vicuna, llama, silk, and so forth. It all depends on the whim or desire, expertise... In addition to the financial ability of the crafter, whose wish is to create items of beauty, perhaps for oneself, for gifting, or even for creating useful articles to beautify home decor.

Many persons learn the craft of knitting, some maybe even from the hands of their mothers, and learn for many purposes and reasons: perhaps for relaxation, or for the sole pleasure of creating beautifully hand made items, lovingly and painstakingly worked, to be presented as gifts for family and/or friends. There are those who might even take up knitting to disrupt an undesirable habit, such as smoking, nail biting, etc. Many people who knit, report that they experience self satisfaction and enjoyment in the creation of something beautiful, and perhaps even lasting and unique, that hopefully might one day become a cherished "family heirloom."...and yet, others claim that concentrating the mind on a knitting project, focusing and following correct stitch patterns, gives them a respite from everyday worries, cares or problems which fall into everyone's life, from time to time. The anticipation of completing a project is also quite exciting, at best! Additionally, some people say that "giving their hands something to keep busy with," makes good use of idle time, and may even at times perhaps prevent or successfully avoid a nerve wrackingly, embarrassing, or a painfully awkward situation!

There are people who enjoy knitting layette items for newborn infants, and especially and typically sweaters, caps and the like, for small and maybe not-so-small children and grandchildren! Most people believe that giving (and receiving) a gift with a "home made" character, gives it a special appeal and a lasting appreciation, notwithstanding a timeless recollection!

Perhaps a knitted article, no longer worn, or even one frequently well worn, evokes and recalls kind thoughts of friends and family yet alive, but foremost, may also trigger memories of loved ones long passed, and who the original crafters of the items. At times, knitted articles can often also be reminders of age old times and events, both happy and sad, but long gone in one's past and life history. Needless to say, the successful culmination and completion of a knitting project begun, even gives a boost to one's determination, one's ego, self satisfaction, and sense of pride and achievement!

......Knitting was always stereotypically associated wholly or at least by and large in part, believed as a craft of women, especially older "Mother Hubbard" types,or effeminate men, as said in "old wives tales." Today, however, that myth has been finally shattered. There are now high school groups, clubs and organizations, consisting of both sexes, who participate and enjoy knitting and other hand made crafts. There are currently public and private community service school group projects conducted, involving the knitting of sweaters, blankets, afghans, scarves, socks and gloves, to help and give some warmth and comfort to the chronic homeless; also made are cozy and warm articles for our brave and loyal United States military service people and troops in war torn lands overseas; frequently completed are even knitted caps and garments for newborn or prematurely fragile infants who must remain in hospital; cancer victims, the old and infirm,... and the list could endlessly go on!

Good will projects performed by individuals, especially young people, gives a sense of community pride and unity, compassion and sympathy for others less fortunate, than personal circumstances might dictate, even in our present weak economy, focusing especially on kindness to strangers!

On occasion, there are even knitting "competitions" today, held for prizes/ awards, or simply for the sole sake of charity. Sponsorship of a supposed "probable winner" for speed and accuracy in the completion of identical useful projects, also raise funds for donation to various charitable causes.

Not surprisingly, there are now, contemporarily, many men, even professional athletes, such as well known football players and other sportsmen, who entertain and truly enjoy crafting in their leisure time: crafts such as knitting, crocheting, and other diverse needlework!

So now, with an explanation of the functions of the craft of knitting, I will reach back into the 1940's, when I was a toddler child growing up and living in Newark.....

Where I lived, just a short block away, on Belmont Avenue, there was a weekly or bi-weekly womens' knitting circle. The women met for instruction and also camaraderie, of course. Back in those times, it was indeed primarily women in the knitting group, but on rare occasion, a male or two might have been present, perhaps a person who was handicapped/disabled in some way, and unable to work. In those days, it was custom, as everyone knows, for men to work and be family providers, and mothers, if they could, took charge of the children and household by remaining home. So the group met in "Irene's Knitting Shop."

Irene's shop was on the first floor of a three family home, of which Irene and her family owned. I recall she had several grown, probably teenaged sons, (whose names I cannot recall), since this was circa 1947 or 1948, and so I was a mere three or four years old at the time. However...I do recall Irene and her shop, and her knitting expertise....

I recall Irene's physical appearance as that of a very pretty lady of Italian-American extraction, with long, flowing and gorgeous jet black hair, each side of which was rolled up "'40's style", and the hair in back of her head remained hanging free. Ladies of a certain age on Old Newark, will most probably recall or recognize the then very popular hairstyle that it was! I recall she was very kind, fairly tall, (everyone is tall in the eyes of a three or four year old!), with large, very expressive eyes and facial features. I do recall what a master of her craft she was, and the many, many cubicles completing lining the walls with yarns for sale, of every color and shade imaginable of the spectrum and beyond!

My late mother was very devoted to knitting, and always turned to Irene for advice, usually demonstrating the "completed homework" Irene had "assigned" for that week's lesson. Irene was very exacting; the women chatted but Irene told them to focus largely on their work during the session, I recall my mother becoming agitated having to rip out a week's worth of stitch work, because Irene only strove to teach for perfection, and not meeting her satisfaction, she insisted for "work" to be redone, for she had the reputation for mastery and perfection. After all, her teaching skills were her reputation and business! It was always most frustrating for much of the women to have to sometimes even start from scratch, redo work on on a project, sometimes more than twice! A lot of the women threw down their work at times in anger, insisting they had done the correct stitching, without mistakes, but Irene could not be swayed. Eventually, however, everyone calmed down and work resumed, at least for that day and lesson! Happily, as I recall it, most women completed their chosen project, despite often high emotions, with perhaps a few "cuss words" thrown in at times...(luckily, I was too young to remember THOSE, some which of were probably not very ladylike!!)

As I write this memory, I am looking at a sepia colored photograph of myself, circa 1947 again. I am staring straight into the camera, and wearing one of mother's many sweater creations, along with a little hat. Sleeve length was usually the bane of my mother, and I recall many sleeves being too long, mother probably figuring I would grow into the sweater, and have it for a while, after her long, hard efforts for it to be made. I am certain mother must have endured many negative commentaries from Irene, with regard to sleeves! I actually recall the sweater being emerald green, with brown edge bottom wool trimming, also on the sleeves edges, which were, of course, way too long, folded and rolled up on my tiny arms. I am also wearing a matching "Mickey Mouse" eared little hat in the same shade of green...and I do not look so very happy, as the sweater probably was extremely very bulky, uncomfortable, and more than likely "itchy," as well! I am not wearing a winter jacket in this photograph, just the sweater set, so I will assume the season was mid autumn, on a fairly colder day. I am wearing "leggings" as well, a clothing item no longer in vogue for children, since those many, many years past...and probably, they also gave me somewhat discomfort, with the little straps which attached to the bottoms of a child's shoes.

Ironically, to this very day, my favorite color is emerald green, and my favorite hobby...can you guess? knitting! I often "wonder" if this is by "heredity" (!) as well, and correlating that vivid and lovely shade of green of that little sweater set, to my present day color preferences? ...Hmm-m, I wonder, I just wonder!..

Today, as I reminisce, that little green sweater set and many others that mother lovingly made for me, are all long since gone,... as is my beloved mother. However, I STILL have that one "famous" little photo, which recalls those days back then.... and mother, too, of course. Although as a small child, like many other children, I could not appreciate the many efforts and sacrifices mother made for me in those days so very long ago, I can look back at the passage of time, with fondness and smiles, (despite the discomfort of that little sweater set!), and in cherished memory of mother.....and Irene's Belmont Avenue Knitting Shop!

I think I will go now to finish the sweater I am making for my granddaughter...but I STILL cannot get the sleeves done correctly!!


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