Socks & Cuffs
Rachel Lambert could knit a tail on a cat. Well, not literally. I'm assuming she never had cause to. But, then again, if anyone could knit a tail on a cat, it would be her. My Nan spent her whole life knitting and crocheting and, at one point, had knit my father a beautiful pair of wool mitts. Several winters later, they were in desperate need of repair. My grandparents lived about five hours away, in Sunnyside, so my father mailed the mitts to his mother, asking her to repair them. About a week later, he received a letter in the mail from my grandfather, Noah, stating that repairs could not be made as my father had neglected to send in his ‘warranty slip’, and that any damage was likely caused by not taking the mittens “to the garage to get them rust-proofed.” He listed himself as the Vice-President and General Manager of the “Sock & Cuff Corp. of Sunnyside.”
That memory is a vivid one for me. I can clearly see my father in the kitchen of our old house, laughing as he read the note out loud to us. And I can remember him having to explain to my sister and I that the older folks called mitts, ‘cuffs’. I'd never heard the term before and found this fascinating. Years later, it makes perfect sense. This pair of handmade hand-warmers were given from my Nan to her youngest son, made with care and woven with intricate patterns. They were more than just mittens or gloves; they were works of art in their own right. They were cuffs.
Nothing unusual around here. For our ancestors, shopping wasn't as easy as popping up to the box stores. They were a people who 'made do', who crafted the things they needed from what they had at hand with as little waste as possible. And who builds or knits or makes anything without putting their own personal mark on it?
My grandmother repaired those cuffs (even though they hadn't been properly rust-proofed) and mailed them back looking as good as new. They were actually trigger mitts, or three-finger mitts, designed to free up your index finger and thumb for added dexterity while keeping your remaining digits together for warmth. They're uniquely functional and usually adorned with a diamond pattern that makes them instantly recognizable.
I say “usually'” because patterns in this place can be as unique as the person who weaves them, especially when it comes to our hooked rugs. In the past, rug hooking proved to be a great way to pass a winter and a recent resurgence has seen a new generation of beautifully detailed mats and a whole new generation of rug-hookers.
Sure, even the fence patterns here can mesmerize. A wriggle or riddle fence is framed with horizontally running lungers just like a normal fence. The palings, however, are lengths of hewn wood bowed between them. No nails make it easy on the pocketbook; the criss-crossing quality makes it easy on the eyes.
The list doesn't stop there and if you stand in the middle of my grandfather's shed and take a look around, you'd find yourself surrounded by these examples of folk art. A large beach rock encased in a wooden frame? That's a Killick, a homemade anchor. That old boat oar, stove into a rubber boot, crowned with a mop head, and dozens of shiny beer bottle caps nailed to it? People might call it an ugly stick – but, in the right hands, it's a musical instrument. That old flour barrel in the corner? Put a saw to it and you can convert that into a beautiful rocker. And outside you'll find sheets blowing in the wind. They're hung on a thin line that runs between house and shed, long smooth poles notched at the top and wedged into the ground holding the line strong and taut. Even our clotheslines have character.
These everyday, functional objects built by everyday people are, somehow, anything but ordinary. And in a place where everyone is a jack-of-all-trades, we're surrounded by it. In our clothing, our architecture, our furniture, you name it. These are works of art you can hold in your hands, that you can put to work and that you can take home with you.
Just don't lose your warranty slip.