Lydia Jane Hall with "make-work" on her lap, around 1900

Lydia Jane Hall with “make-work” on her lap, around 1900

Monday, July 25, 1921 – “A very warm day – men busy working at hay in Peterland. Agnes helping out of doors most of the time – going to town looking after the children, making cookies, bread, etc…As for myself cannot do much but knit or sew make-work, etc.” – Lydia Jane Hall

The dictionary defines “make-work” as – work, usually of little importance, created to keep a person from being idle or unemployed.

I take umbrage with that sentence, because I never think of the things created by hand – not to earn money necessarily, but to add to the richness of life – as being of little importance.

Saturday, August 13, 1921 – “Nice day – all hustling to get the work done. Men gathering the apples. Agnes going to town. Emily going to dentist, the children going also. I am left alone with my knitting…Francis’ sweater keeps me busy – should be lonely without something to do.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921 - Francis holding a chicken and wearing a hand-knit sweater

Janet, Francis, and Lydia Hall, 1921 – Francis holding a chicken and wearing a hand-knit sweater

My daughter and I, like my great-grandmother  and her great-great-grandmother, enjoy knitting. The repetitive motion of the needles calms me down when I’m waiting for an airplane to take off. It gives my daughter a creative focus when her busy children threaten to upset the equilibrium of the day.

Right now I’m working on an afghan like the one given to me in 1968 by my grandmother Agnes’ Whirlwind Hill neighbor and friend Lena Schneider. Lena always had knitting on her lap, and made many blankets like the one she gave me years ago.

Our afghan traveled with us from Connecticut to California and then to Alaska. My children cuddled under it, and the cats slept on top of it. But a few years ago the holes in the lacy pattern began to get bigger. The yarn grew so thin I decided it was time to knit another one like it.

Lena's afghan in 2013 with extra holes

Lena’s afghan in 2013 with extra holes

After about a year of searching, I found a similar pattern and knitted a new one. Now I’m working on a second one for my daughter and her family.

The new afghan

The new afghan

My daughter has taken knitting to another level. She creates colorful and intricate things to wear and to love. She shows them off at her Instagram page, where she goes by the name “orangeknits.” And she has done this presentation of her work so humbly and quietly I didn’t know about her public persona until a few days ago.

Like my great-grandmother Lydia, who did her sewing and knitting despite painful arthritis, my daughter uses her skill to keep her hands limber and active and to cheer us all up. She makes beautiful hats, shawls, socks, mittens, and tiny animals. They are labors of love, and she gives many of them, like this tiny chicken she made for me, to family and friends.

Tiny chicken, knitted by Mara Bryner

Tiny chicken, knitted by Mara Bryner

One day when I was wearing a pair of orange socks she made me, I told her, “When you wear something made by someone you love, you think about them all day.”

My orange socks

My orange socks

Lydia reported that after several months – “I have finished the sweater at last, which seems to please Francis. It is nice and warm.”

I’m grateful for this kind of work – the doing and the receiving, especially when it’s made with  care and thoughtfulness. It pleases me, keeps me warm, and makes me smile.

Henry and Mara keeping warm

Henry and Mara keeping warm

On Wednesday:  Skating on the Cow Pond

12 thoughts on ““Make-work”

  1. Margaret Campion

    Wowza! I jus tent to Mara’s Instagram site (does one say that or us that redundant?) … ANYhoo … went there and am now following her and oh, maan! I’m so glad to know about that and her! The artists continue in your line. Delicious colors, such cool, creative use of yarn and needles. Oh, how I wish Betty could admire those photos. Cause she sure would. She was a great knitter. Taught me (the European method 🙂 when I was about 8 and “bored” one day. I have got to get my knitting out!!!

    Yeah!!! Make-work .. schmake-work!!!
    Hand work of beauty, caring and holding one’s time and love is worthy.

    Thank you, CCB … for the post and for this new connection with Mara. She’s gonna have 50 more followers by the end of today!!

    Love to everyone. XO

    1. Carol Post author

      Thanks Margy. Yes – I remember well your mother knitting socks and mittens. Her hands were always busy, and she would definitely have admired the photos.

  2. Rebecca Norton

    Dearest Carol,
    Your posts make me cry. I drove from Maine to New York and am having a surprise visit with my 91 year old mother (and my father) for a few days, and she is knitting another sweater for one of her 9 little great grandchildren. All of the things you said about handmade things are true for some of us. Teenagers don’t seem to appreciate not having a brand name of their clothing, but the little ones don’t seem to mind. And how wonderful to share kitting art with Mara and be surprised by her gift treasures. My sister gave my mother a poem gift before she left to visit her little grandson and I would like to share it with you.

    To my family

    For the most part, we are strangers,
    and awkward with each other.
    We work hard to hide
    the longings we have
    for something good to go on
    among us.
    And within all this
    there is the deepest love
    of the purest kind.

    ,Thank you for writing once again and Jeff and I hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas. Love, Becky and Jeff

    1. Carol Post author

      Thank you for sharing the lovely poem. You’re so lucky to be able to go visit your mom who is still knitting at 91! My mother-in-law, who will soon be 93, likes to embroider tea towels and other little gifts to give us all.

  3. Margaret Norton Campion

    Oh! And meant to say: “Henry and Mara Keeping Warm” is such a gorgeous photo.
    Such colors, warmth and enjoyment of each other. LOVE THAT.

  4. Karen Dederick Kowalski

    I am happy that the artistic talent and been passed down, but I would not expect less. We grew up in a time and culture where your hands and brain were used to create something useful and beautiful. There are the few hand made items that are still in my home and I treasure each and every one: quilt made by my grandmother, bedspreads knitted and crocheted and the canopy for the 4 poster made by my mother. I don’t have any of my mother’s braided or hooked rugs, which she made many in her lifetime. The smallest items are the pillowcase edgings, which will outlast me. I am happy to say that my daughter has a talent for knitting and cross-stitch, but has had to put that aside for a few years now that that she has three little ones.

    1. Carol Post author

      I had forgotten about the hooked rugs and braided rugs. My great aunts used to make them, but I don’t think any of them were passed down to us. It’s hard to keep at some of these things when you have little ones demanding so much of your time.


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