A year ago, my parents moved out of the family home they lived in for more than 32 years. During the clean up and move we got rid of literally tonnes of junk and donatables, and discovered some treasures that had been accidentally hidden many years ago. One of the treasures we found turned out to be incredibly important to me: Grandma Barb’s knit sweater.


I didn’t know my Grandma Barb. She was my Mother’s Mother, and she died in a car accident in 1964. It is somewhat awkward to write about because the Grandma I do know, Grandma Sue, has been married to my Granddad for 43 years, so calling her “step” Grandma seems weird to me because she is not my step anything - she’s my Grandma. Finding the knit sweater reminded me that Grandma Barb is my Grandma too, and wearing it gave me a connection to her that I had never really known how to find before.

My parents move was overwhelming in a lot of ways, so when I brought the sweater home last March, I didn’t know how much I would fall in love with it and how much impact it would have on my life. That is why it spent some time on the floor with the countless other things I brought home that day. At least Gary knew it was special right away and showed it the love that only a cat can.

Gary knows a great sweater when she sees one

The story goes that Grandma Barb knit five sweaters in 1960, one for herself, her husband, and each of her three children. They were made from Mary Maxim patterns, each sweater having a particularly Canadiana type theme; my Mom’s sweater had figure skates on it. Adorable. The sweaters were put away for the summer in 1961, stored in garbage bags, which resulted in four of them mistakenly being taken to the dump and lost forever. The only survivor was Grandma Barb’s sweater, the one I have now, and it has amazingly made it all the way to 2010. It is hard for me to wrap my head around it, but this sweater is fifty years old! What a life it has had.

My Mother wore the sweater constantly throughout her twenties. She recently showed me some photos of herself, at twenty years old, wearing it out to a winter carnival in Barrie, circa 1968.  Somehow the sweater is still as colourful now as it was then.  My Mother is too, actually.

My Mother and the coat circa 1968

My Mother is a beautiful person - inside and out

Every place my Mother moved, the sweater moved with her. It eventually ended up in the house I grew up in, hidden in plain sight in the coat closet. My sister wore it for a few years in the ‘90s, but returned it when she was finished, and back into the closet it went. I claimed it in March 2009, and began wearing it non-stop when the temperatures got colder in Autumn. I fell head over heals for this sweater, decided it was a coat, and was determined to wear it all winter long, regardless of how cold the temperature got.  I wore a fleece jacket underneath the sweater, providing it with a make-shift lining that every northern Ontario coat needs, and wore it for the entire winter.  I even knit myself a matching winter hat to go with it - I could not leave home without this coat!

I would be the first one to tell you that I don’t know a thing about fashion. I don’t follow trends and I definitely don't know anything about what’s “in”. That is why it completely floored me when every outing I made in the coat led to compliments from, and conversations with, strangers. I started wearing the coat when the world was gearing up for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.  The official Olympic clothes riffed on the Canadiana style, so Grandma Barb’s coat was fashionable. A stranger even told me I was “sooooooo in right now”. For the first time in my life I was fashion-forward, and I just so happened to be using a coat that was fifty years old to do it!

Every time I got a compliment, I would tell the person: “My Grandma made this coat in 1960!” This lead to conversations about legacy at the grocery store, discussions about how awesome knitting is, and being able to share the Grandma I never knew with strangers who fell in love with her coat as much as I had.  Over the winter I got to know Grandma Barb a little better by taking her with me and telling people about her. I also got to tell everyone that I stole the coat from my Mom, which brought her along with me as well.  All this heritage surrounded me, just by wearing and loving a pretty amazing old coat.
Me, Mom, and Grandma Barb, all in one!
The Olympics are over now and Spring is here.  I still don't know anything about fashion, so I don't know if this coat will still be "in" this coming winter.  I'll still be wearing it regardless and if anyone asks, I'll gladly tell them all about my Grandma Barb and the sweater she knit, all those years ago.

Posted by Jen B On Wednesday, April 28, 2010 4 comments

4 comments:

  1. that's a fantastic story... i love clothing that has legs so to speak. it's amazing to see how far something can go and hands down it's always something that gets compliments.
    i'm sure people were all in a twitter about it thinking it was a Hudson's Bay-style coat. it's so close! and a HB jacket is easily $300+ so you're a head of the curve with this one;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is probably the one and only time I'll be ahead of the curve!! :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a lovely story, and inspirational. I was trying to decide what to knit next for my Grandson in Calgary. I can't think of anything better than something similar to your Grandmother's sweater. I might even make one for myself one, with Canadian yarn, of course. It sounds ideal for this Canadian in Colorado! Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks for the lovely comment! Sweaters from Grandparents are the best, so I'm sure your Grandson will appreciate it. Especially if he is living through a Calgary winter! :)

    Thanks again for your comment!

    ReplyDelete

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