It’s interesting to me that over all these years, I still can’t predict with any real accuracy what points in a post will provoke questions or ideas amongst you guys. The comments are a constant source of interest to me.  I’ll post about sweaters and how I don’t want the pockets to be too "pouch like" and instead of the expected conversation about pockets and how to make them flat, I’ll dial into the comments and discover that you’re all debating kangaroo care for newborns.  You’re a total wildcard to me, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when I made what I thought was an offhand, unimportant comment, and it turned out to be interesting.

I said this "I have in my mind a traditional layette.  A sweater, bonnet, bootees and blanket, all heirloom quality, all beautiful, all unisex, because I have no idea what flavour of relation is set to arrive."

and then I went up to a friends cottage and had a good swim in the lake and a spectacular cuddle with a few little kids and found some amazing caterpillars and skinny dipped under the stars and then I came back, and read the comments and found out that there some interesting ideas about the word "heirloom" and its definition in the comments, and in my email.  (Before you read these, keep in mind that I love this sort of debate.  I adore that we all have different definitions, and I think it’s pretty spectacular that it’s possible to talk about differences of opinion without getting all hot and bothered. As long as everybody is civil about it, these kinds of conversations are cool.  There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with each other, or with me.)

"What makes something "heirloom quality"? Isn’t everything you (or any one of us) make the same quality? How do you change the "quality" of your knitting?"

"…if you have to ask what Heirloom Quality knitting is, you don’t knit heirloom patterns. (so difficult and complex that most of us attempt only one in a lifetime…)"

"Knit baby blankets, for certain. I loved covering with them myself when nursing or falling asleep and then they can stay with the child. But I prefer the ones that get well-loved, not heirloom quality. Two of my sons have cotton ones that softened so nicely, and my third has acrylic ones that are scratchy but snuggly for him. A soft hand-knit blankey is precious, for mama and child (and probably many more people)."

"My understanding of it is that heirloom is anything made with good quality material, classic design and workmanship, all of which will stand the test of time. A beautifully knit merino baby surprise cardigan is likely to become an heirloom, a colorful fun fur cardi or an acrylic sweater, no matter how intricate, probably not."

"Not to be snarky, but to me anything that a baby receives that is handmade with care is heirloom quality. I’ve crocheted many a baby layette and it still amazes me how few babies get handmade gifts anymore."

That’s a lot of different opinions, and… here’s the shocker. I don’t think that when I said "heirloom quality" I meant it any of those ways – I didn’t have a particular item in mind, or any specific criteria about what makes something an heirloom. In my head, an heirloom could be acrylic, or fun fur (although I admit that the fun fur thing seems like a bit of a leap, but maybe I could be convinced.)  When Amanda was born 24 years ago all I could afford was acrylic, and that’s what her blanket is made of, and you bet I think it’s an heirloom.  When I say "heirloom quality" I don’t mean that it has to be a crazy pattern, or that you have to weep while you make it, but I do mean that in my head, it’s special.

To my way of thinking, an heirloom is something that you’re hoping will be passed down, generation to generation, cared for and loved for a long, long time.  I imagine it going on this new baby, then that baby’s baby, and that means it can be made of anything that will last that long, although I do think that for something that significant, you’d use the best you could afford. 

When I say heirloom quality, I think of someone unfolding something I knit 100 years from now, and I imagine what I would like that to be. Not everything I make is meant to make that trip. There are sweaters that I know will get trashed in the park, hats that I know will be left on a streetcar, mittens that will be lost in the snow. There are blankets that are meant to be cozy, warm, outstanding utility, things that get worn to death until they’re holey, ragged and spent.  I love that sort of stuff, and I knit tons of it and you can’t stop me, but I don’t think of them as heirlooms. They’re important in the day-to-day, but not the long run.  (For example, It’s hard to imagine a pair of "heirloom socks". Most of them work too hard to make the trip, and they don’t fit everyone, and you see what I mean.)

Instead, when I decide to make an heirloom, I think about my great-grandchild unfolding the thing ages from now. I imagine them taking it out, and showing their spouse, and folding it into the soft pile of beautiful things for their new child. I imagine that I am  long gone, and that the only way they have to represent me in this family is to hold up the thing I made and say "Your great, great, grandmother made this. She was a wonderful knitter." 

"Heirloom quality" means that I put my best foot forward. That I want the thing to be the best I can make, so that it represents my commitment and love to my family a long way down the line. I want it to be represent enough of my skill that it has staying power and resonance for my family. I want them to look at it, and know who I was, and what I wanted them to see and feel.

That, my knitter friends, means that it can never be the same thing for me and you, and that I can’t decide what heirloom should be for everyone. We all have different resources, tastes, skills and family traditions. I could never tell you what you would knit that would represent who you are to your family. You’re the only one who knows that, and I guess this is the long way around saying that if you tell me you’re making a fun fur jacket with sequins for your impending grandbaby, and and then you tell me it’s heirloom quality – I might not ever make it, but I’m totally going to believe you.

PS. I’m getting ready to announce something wonderful.  This November, I’m planning to gather in Port Ludlow with a few of my friends, and we’re going to have an amazing retreat and it’s going to be all about lace.   Judith MacKenzie will be there to teach spinning, Nancy Bush (Yeah, that’s who I said.) will teach some fancy stuff, and I’ll do my best to deserve to teach alongside.  Debbi Stone will give us a hand. I’m delighted to have found a way to do this, so let this be your official Save The Date.  We’re all set to meet up there the evening of Friday November 15th, the classes will be the 16th, 17th and 18th.  More information and registration coming soon. (If you know for sure you want in, feel free to drop me a line.)
If you’d like to follow along as this fledgling business takes a little flight, our new Twitter handle is @StrungAlongLLC, we’ll update there, here, and on Debbi’s blog.
Here’s hoping we don’t fall out of the nest.