Tag Archives: make-work


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