A Birthday Tribute for My Mother: Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash

Knitting and cooking were two activities Mom and I enjoyed doing together. It had been that way since I was a child.

A birthday card for Mom in heaven:
In December, I discovered, by looking at the photos in my Instagram feed, that sometimes the colors in a knitted swatch looked very similar to the shots of food I had cooked or grown. I went through my photos and pulled out pictures of knitted fabric that matched up with pictures of food, colorwise, and sent them to my son, Andrew. He created a slideshow. Since today is my mother’s birthday, this is my birthday card for her to let her know I’m carrying on her legacy.

 

Mom loved color and texture and there were always plenty of both to be found in yarn and food. She could not resist a gorgeous hank of smooth, hand-dyed wool any more than she could resist a shiny, plump eggplant. Accordingly, her refrigerator was a palette of colorful vegetables and her art studio shelves were overflowing with skein after skein of yarn.

When she died, as the only daughter of her seven children, I inherited her yarn stash. It was an extraordinary stash, filled with gorgeous single balls of unlabeled wool as well as multiple skeins of labeled yarn. The possibilities were endless — a knitter’s dream — and a gift to her daughter.

Among her yarn collection were ten knitted squares, part of a quilt I started her on when she was in rehab after her brain tumor recurred. To say the squares were not uniform is being gracious. Had she not died within the year of knitting them, I would most certainly have unraveled them. Instead, they became a memorial to her. Morose, I know, but it was the last thing she had knit before she died and I am sentimental and there’s a thing called a grief journey and I’ve been on it. Having said all that, my mother was a beautiful woman who never left the house without looking her best; she would never have wanted to be remembered by those tangled-up squares.

Homebound while recuperating from the flu in October, I went through Mom’s stash to look for yarn to knit a sweater for my grandson. I came across The Squares. I looked at them for awhile trying to decide what to do with them. Thanksgiving, Christmas, her birthday — all food and family days that she loved to celebrate — were around the corner. The last two holiday seasons without her had left me blue by the time her birthday rolled around in January. Mom would have told me to move on. She was always my friend and coach.

I unraveled the squares. I ended up with a colorful ball of heavy worsted-weight cotton and wool blend called “Nobori” by Noro Yarns. I found the matching skeins in Mom’s stash.

I used them to knit a chunky, double cowl for me. I cast on 32 stitches on size 9 needles and used about 300 yards. The cowl is 8″ wide and 58″ long. I decided to knit it in basketweave stitch because the finished fabric remains flat instead of curling inward, and because I love the way the changes in stitch direction reflect light in contrasting ways.

 

That’s my bestie cousin, Marion, on the left. Her Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chip is one of the most popular recipes on Judy’s Chickens.

Once I finished my cowl, I knit one for my dear friend, Wendy Martin. Can I just say here that it is a thrill to see people wearing stuff you make for them? Wendy’s cowl was knit with a light worsted weight superwash yarn called “Wild Flowers” by Lichen and Lace. I bought it from Mason-Dixon Knitting’s online shop. I cast on 40 stitches on size 7 needles. The finished fabric was 8″ wide and 52″ long. I used a knit 5 purl 5 basketweave pattern because the stitches were small. This cowl was light enough to be worn as an indoor scarf, as opposed to mine which was meant to be warm and bulky and worn outdoors.

 

When Thanksgiving vacation rolled around and my sons were home, I knit a “neck warmer” for each of them using yarn from Mom’s stash. I changed the name because cowl sounded like a feminine garment. I wasn’t sure the boys would even like them, but to my surprise, they all wanted one. You can imagine my delight when this photo of my son was posted on Instagram the day after he returned to school —  he wore his neck warmer to work! He liked it. He really liked it.

 

That gave me an idea. I decided I was going to make neck warmers for all my brothers, their wives, girlfriends, and their children using yarn from our mother’s stash for this year’s holiday presents. The side benefit was that I would be able to reduce the size of Mom’s stash and find a use for all the singlet balls of yarns she had that are often hard to use up. It was similar to cleaning out the refrigerator. In a way.

I Got Into It & It Got Into Me

To make knitting so many neck warmers creatively challenging I made a “rule”: I had to use at least two strands of different yarns twisted together for each neck warmer. This was because Mom had so much sock and DK weight yarn in her stash that needed to be used up. But, oh, did it ever make the entire process so much more fun. Mom would have loved seeing the results. I definitely felt her presence knitting by the Christmas tree in the early morning and evening hours of December.

   
   

Because the yarn weights varied, I did a swatch of each intended combination to see how they looked together and to calculate their stitch per inch count so I could know how many stitches to cast on. The count had to be a multiple of four for the basketweave pattern to work. All of the scarves were knit on size 10½ needles with a cast on of anywhere from 20-36 stitches depending on the thickness of the strands. My goal was a finished product that was somewhere between 6½ and 7½ inches wide with a somewhat stiff texture. I didn’t want the neck warmers to be floppy. The length was 21 to 23 inches depending on when the yarn ran out. For the children’s sizes, I made them 6″ wide by 18″ long.

The Basketweave Knitting Pattern
-If the number of stitches is divisible by 8, such as 24 or 32 do the following:
Rows 1-4: knit 4, purl 4, repeat across row
Rows 5-8: purl 4, knit 4, repeat across row
Repeat rows 1-8 until the desired length is reached.

-If the number of stitches is 20 or 28 (an uneven number of blocks) do the following:
Rows 1 and 3: knit 4, purl 4, knit 4, repeat across row
Rows 2 and 4: purl 4, knit 4, purl 4, repeat across row
Rows 5 and 7: purl 4, knit 4, purl 4, repeat across row
Rows 6 and 8: knit 4, purl 4, knit 4, repeat across row
Repeat rows 1-8 until the desired length is reached.

This chart of yarn weights might help you choose yarns from your stash:

By the time Christmas and Hanukkah came around, I was finished.

I mailed the neck warmers to each of my brothers’ homes. My brother Charles sent me this photo when they arrived.

Using my gifts of knitting, cooking, and otherwise caring for my family, I had a beautiful holiday season filled with the love of family and friends. I learned that grief has its own timetable and ain’t nobody gonna rush it.

To end, here’s a picture of Mom knitting and smiling at her sons, Carl and Sam, who even as adults couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Mom laughed easily and my brothers loved to make her laugh.

Next year, I’m going to spiralize vegetables like this strand of zucchini and knit them into edible sweaters. Happy New Year, Readers!

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71 thoughts on “A Birthday Tribute for My Mother: Knitting Neck Warmers with Mom’s Stash

  1. Best post of them all. I wept. I laughed. I was dazzled and inspired. Grief journeys can take you to some pretty good places.

  2. Judy, what a gift your mother’s love was (and still is), and what a gift you are giving to the next generation…..the gift of love……the BEST gift of all 🙂 Many will often hear me say “the next generation is watching.” You watched your mother and learned, and now the next generation is watching and learning from you, as you transfer and gift love, too. Blessings to you and yours.

  3. This evoked every emotion within me as I followed the colorful, creative process of the heart from its breaking to remaking. Having lost my own mother, I truly believe after a time, we begin to see that everything belongs. Judy, you have made an art form of loving your friends and family . . . wasting nothing.

  4. I can’t remember ever being more inspired by a blog post (and I don’t even knit). This is extraordinary. What a gift to your family. What a gift to us all! Thank you.

  5. Judy: I am in awe of you! From your cooking to your knitting and to your blogging…do you ever sleep?! Kudos to you, oh wise one, for living a life your momma is surely proud of! Having just lost my mother last month, I can relate to your loss. And though we mourn, we both have incredible loving memories of these strong women who shaped our lives. What a blessing!

  6. Judy, what a fabulous article. Thank you! I, too, have a stash — some of my mother’s yarn & lots of mine. Love the idea, love the sentiment & love that photo of you and Marion!!

  7. What a lovely tribute to your Mom, Judy. And what a great gift to all your family. You are an amazing woman. Happy New Year! Judy Wood

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  8. You make me smile! I don’t knit but I can relate to missing your Mom! What a special way to honor yours!
    Nancy Sullins

  9. What a beautiful story – and gorgeous neck warmers. Thank you for sharing. My mother died last April and I’ve discovered that grief definitely has its own timetable and shows up unexpectedly.

  10. Crikey, Judy. It’s really challenging to come up with a way to utilize, share, honor, create, grieve and celebrate, all in one big multilayered experience. I am in awe. Also, there is something in my eye.
    I love the picture of your mother that looks like a travel snapshot. It just seems to illustrate the character you describe. You are so lucky to have had this relationship. So was your Mom.

  11. Judy, what a wonderful posting. The legacy you gave to family and friends, has your mom woven in each stitch with your love! What a really lovely gift!

  12. This is such a beautiful tribute to your mom and I’m sure just one of the many legacies she left with you. What an amazing mother/daughter relationship you two must have shared. This story truly makes my heart smile.

  13. Hi Judy,

    Lovely article and reminiscence about your wonderful mother. The knitting and colors are really pretty too!

    Take care!

    Perkie

  14. Judy,

    So proud of all you’re doing with your blog and now the writing class! It was great to see you yesterday and have a play date with Scout. She’s so cute! If you decide you’re not a dog liker either, let me know and we will take her back. Just say the word. xo Jennifer

    >

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. Especially thank you for choosing the song to go with the knitting/food slideshow. Somewhere Over the Rainbow by IZ was the perfect song. Thanks for choosing our dog, too. She’s a keeper.

  15. Judy, you seriously never cease to amaze me. Your zest for living life so creatively and living it to the fullest is an inspiration. I love reading your blog- even topics like where canola oil comes from suddenly become fascinating. I love to write- and you’re a great writer- so I especially enjoy reading what you’ve written- but also love eating what you’ve cooked or baked- and attempting to do so myself. But as if today, you may have inspired me to take a knitting lesson! 😉 xo, Libba
    P.S. I also adore reading about your family!
    O

    1. Libba, you are an angel. Thank you for such sweet comments. You never cease to amaze ME with your positive outlook on life and creative approach a la our Got Flour days… You were a good friend to me when Mom died. Will never forget that. xo.

  16. What a GREAT idea!! And I have an old, dear friend in Baton Rouge and she and her husband have Saints games in NO all Winter…she’s always talking about feelings cold in the Super Bowl so I need to find some purple/yellow yarns for her birthday!!

  17. Fantastic Judy! I love what you chose to do with the yarn, and I’m sure your mum did too! I also really appreciate your comment about grief having its own time table. There is no way to know how we will get through it or when, and the simplest things can make such a huge difference. I have been trying to remind myself to just take it easy and allow myself the time and peace to get there, all the while knowing it is a back and forth, coming and going sort of issue. Reflections such as your post here help as I stumble along my own journey–thank you!

    1. Thank you. I remember when I hit the one year mark, I thought I was supposed to be done grieving. I was naively surprised that my grief persisted. I was a hard on myself; I wondered why I couldn’t get to the point in grief where you remember the happy parts and not the painful parts of watching someone you love go through a long illness.Talking it out and unburdening myself of the hard parts AND an enormous pile of gorgeous yarn helped. Thanks for writing.

  18. Enjoyed visiting with you today – and love this post! What a pretty and talented mom of yours. Your neck warmers are beautiful – colors are scrumptious! Thanks for the instructions – I knit from time to time, but rarely finish anything :/ — but these neck warmers and cowls would be “quick” projects! See you in the BMM garden 😉

    1. Yes, very quick. And, “scrumptious” was my mother’s favorite word to describe food that tasted good. Great to see you, too, and looking forward to getting our hands dirty in the Belle Meade Plantation kitchen garden.

  19. What a beautiful story about honoring your mom and her traditions. I love how you creatively made the best and most meaningful gifts for your family. There is no price tag big enough for gifts from the heart that are that special.

  20. I have wept through this post many times now since first reading it last week..My own sweet mother passed on to the Heavenly realm just a week ago…gently and peacefully. I could not read through the entire post at first, it was simply too difficult. But tonight, I feel able to finally tell you how this post has melted my heart on so many fronts Judy. To know; no, to FEEL the depth of love represented by the descriptions of your sweet Mother- who knew so much about life, living and the process of sharing it all so magnificently through her own creative process..with you as her keen admirer soaking up her wisdom and love of color and comfort as represented in the passion for knitting and culinary yumminess she shared with you over many years of devoted affection and love. What a rich and wonderful legacy!
    It has been very cold in Washington and my heart feels the drafty void of my loss immensely. I miss my Mom so, so much. No matter how one prepares, it is still a dreadfully painful journey..one I am well acquainted with after losing Dad and then my dear sister Bunny. My inspiration comes from faith..fully realizing that through grace I will manage this journey and with friends like YOU, I can share the burden of my sorrow and know I am well understood.

  21. I have tears from reading this what a lovely tribute to your mum hugs for you
    My mum was also a knitter i got mum involved in knitting squares for a blanket as i was doing that for a charity anyway when mum passed over i was in the middle of moving house and once i started unpacking my boxes i found the last lot of squares that mum had knit so i sewed them together with the ones i had made and instead of donating that blanket i kept it so i can have a hug from mum anytime i need it plus she had a few stitches and rows done on her needle so i cast that off and made a little pouch to keep in my handbag lol

    1. Oh, Wow, you get it. THAT make me tear up this morning. I just reread the post for the first time since posting it. Looking at Mom’s beautiful smile made me think how proud I am to have beeen her daughter. Thank you for writing. Sounds like we were both blessed daughters.

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