Autumn does not deepen in a steady flow, but hesitantly, advancing and retreating like an incoming tide.

This morning was the occasion of another little rush forwards. We woke up to clear skies and a heavy dew and, suddenly, out of drawers and cupboards, came the little knits. They have been squirrelled away, tucked in, all summer, behind the socks and vests, but their time has come. October is the month for little knits – on go hats and mittens, scarves and socks – enough to keep that nip in the air at bay without recourse to a heavy coat.

Like autumn itself, though, the day will grow warmer before it is colder, and those same hats will be shoved down the sides of satchels on the journey home from school. Because of this, October is also the month of lost little knits. Gloves, discarded, cannot be found when the frost strikes a week later. I sewed Ilse’s mittens to a ribbon and ran it through the arms of her cardigan. The others are disdainfully too old for such precautions, but Ilse, at least, will still have two mitts by November.

Outside, I wished I’d put my new wool socks on. By the time I’d pulled out the shrinking cucumber vines my toes were numb. I found no fewer than twenty-six cucumbers, hiding from the cold in the remains of the lush tangle. The hens were sunbathing, snuggled together in a corner of their run. And happily, the slugs had not ventured near the windfalls.

Inside the house, a ladybird had come to share our warmth. She ambled along the white windowsill, unconscious of how conspicuous she was in her red and black jacket. I took her out to the bush where hundreds of her kind sleep each winter. There is still time for her to bed in.

In the warmth of the afternoon I knitted. At the bottom of my basket, beneath the sleeves and half-knit body of Fliss’ Foxgloves, is a half-finished scarf for Ben. I worked on this, today.

Most of my little knits are made in the summer months. I like to use up the odds and ends of wool – balls left over from cardigans, half a skein remaining from my nordic pullover, or from another little knit. There’s a rhythm to my knitting: cardigans for John and I in the spring and then little knits right through until late September, when I know the children won’t grow out of their new pullovers before they’ve worn them. These smaller knits are easy to take on the train, to the beach, and on a picnic. They don’t lie hot and heavy in my lap. By October, my wool basket is empty and the corners of everyone’s drawers are full of cosiness.

I looked at John in his new hat, and remembered the three evenings I spent knitting it: mid-August, the windows open, a serialisation of the latest Agatha Christie on the Home Service. My own oak leaf hat: a rainy week in July when we couldn’t get out of doors. Ilse’s mittens: the meandering train ride to my brother’s family in Devon, one either way.

When all the others had left, I watched Ilse from our bedroom window as she set off for school, exclaiming over jewelled webs with muffled claps of joy. Those mittens will remind her of dewy mornings, frosty gates and, hopefully, pushing carrots into snowmen’s faces. But they remind me, already, of telegraph poles oscillating by train windows, of the first glimpse of sailboats in Devon harbours, and of the promise of the summer ahead.

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— October 15, 1930

10 thoughts on “Little knits

  1. Hello Cecily
    Just came upon your blog via Miss Minimalist and this is the first post I chose to read. You transported me to your train trip and the knitting, with your carefully crafted words. Well done! I love knitting and train rides although we don’t have many passenger trains here now in South Island NZ. But you have got me inspired to get knitting again although it is Autumn here now but I may still get a jersey for my granddaughter onto the needles. And Heidi you had me giggling with your comment about needing to stay on the train until Inverness 🙂

    • Hi Adrienne,

      I’m delighted to think I may have inspired you to get knitting again! You’ve read this post just as I’ve finished my last jumper of the ‘winter’ (a little later than planned!) and am getting started on this year’s little knits.
      About the other comments: Heidi made me laugh, too. Fiona did send Ilse a really lovely pair of crocheted fingerless mittens – which she loves. And I wonder how Jennifer is getting on with those socks?

  2. I love the picture you create of Ilse looking at her mittens and remembering the joys of frosty mornings and snowman building, while you look at the same mittens and remember summer train rides and days by the sea. My mother always sewed a bunch of new clothes for my sister and I during the summer — she may have thought of long summer afternoons bent over her machine when she looked at us; while we always thought of the fun of having new clothes for school and our favorite dresses for church. How the same items can transport us to different places in our memories!

    • Yes! Ilse is wearing a dress today that was mine when I was a child. I remember the heat of the summer when I wore it, and running around in the long dry grass. I wonder whether she’ll remember this chilly spring, and all the hours she’s spending painting pictures in it.

  3. I wonder if Cecily might please be able to send a pattern for Wellington socks?!

    • Of course! It’ll be on its way shortly.

  4. I remember once when I was younger, I made a scarf for one of my stuffed toys. I managed to make a perfectly shaped “O” right in the middle of my scarf, although, to my mum’s dismay, as that was coincidently exactly what she was trying to do with her knitting, I had no idea how on earth I had done it. I’ve put it down to beginner’s luck, and, quitting while ahead, haven’t touched a knitting needle since.

  5. KR

    Little Knits takes me back to winter evenings. With children in bed, I would delve into my baskets of assorted yarns, leftovers of all colours and plys, and knit long into the evening. By morning, dolls would be dressed in new jackets and tucked up with a new multi coloured blanket.

  6. The girls used to call this time knitting mittens for kittens. Sadly they re all grown up now although I do crochet mittens for any who need them (Mary). Would any your little girls like some mittens for Christmas? Please let me know Heidi and Cecily, as I would be very happy to provide some. Lovely news Cecily, look forward to hearing from you, lots of love from Auntie xx

  7. I have taken that train ride in the reverse direction, travelling from Devon. Never did I consider knitting mittens, but I can see that’s an admirable endeavour for any season or era and will consider this next time. Although I may need to stay on until Inverness to even work out how to cast on.

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