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Lovely Old ManSeptember 12, 2006

I was at Lacis today, and I have to tell you what I heard. First, though, I have to make sure you know about Lacis, which is like nothing (literally) in this hemisphere, and perhaps the world. It is an old-fashioned notions/lace/craft shop, but when you hear old-fashioned, think turn-of-the-century. Pick a century. They not only have books about tatting, and tens of shuttles, they PUBLISH books on tatting. They have an antique lace room, where the pieces are so numerous they lie in drawers, waiting for you to pull and ogle. They have a bride's room (I bought my veil there and have never felt so breakable and Anne-ish and lovely). A book room with books on knitting and crocheting and SO much about bobbin lace (who does bobbin lace? If you do, get thee to Lacis, even if you need to charter a flight), and Japanese crewel-work, and every embroidery idea you ever had. Can't describe the wonders, really. Bethany, who tats, was beside herself.

I went today to look for buttons for the new sweater (picture soon! Pinky-swear!), and didn't see any. Asked desultorily about some deco buttons I saw hanging in a corner, never thinking they had any more that the two shown (I needed seven). The gal behind the button counter didn't let me get away with mere idle questioning, but asked what I needed them for, and then when she saw the sweater, pulled out boxes upon boxes. I finally settle on some vegetable ivory buttons from the 30s, a dollar each. A buck. Dude. They're perfect.

But that's not the story.

So I'm back near the book section, and I can overhear an old man speaking, a lovely old man with the crispest British accent, and he's speaking to the manager (who is the one of the most gorgeous women I've ever laid eyes on, I always think so, tall, beautiful heavy black dreadlocks heaped in a Victorian fashion on her head, vintage clothing and high heels, and today, gasp, fishnets).

Lovely Old English Man is saying, "Yes, as a matter of fact, I do knit. It's a funny story, quite amusing. You might like it. It was during the war that I learned. I was in hospital, recovering from quite a bad wound, and I'd learned to knit from a nurse. It was part of my rehabilitation, you see. So I cast on for a scarf. I knit, and I kept knitting. Funny thing, I didn't know how to stop, so I just kept knitting. It wasn't until a beautiful woman taught me how to cast off that I finally stopped, but by then the scarf was amazingly long, went for days, that scarf."

Here I lost the audio, while the manager asked him something. When I caught it again, as I crept closer and closer, he was saying, "so the tragedy was that I pulled all that work out. For her. Greatest act of love, I always thought. That I pulled all that knitting out."

The manager said, "What happened? With the girl?"

"Oh," he said. "She was much too pretty for the likes of me. Never did get her. Looked her up, though. A few years ago. I called the parish she was from, and the woman told me, 'I'm so sorry to have to tell you she died, not long ago. A good life, though. Especially in the end. Much love and time in the garden and with her family. A very good life.'"

He paused. "Never forgot her. Much too pretty for me, that one."

Seriously, to DIE, isn't it?

I was standing near him later and jumped into a conversation he was having with another employee -- he wanted to know if sock knitting was ever mechanized, and he said that he thought not, not until this century, and I butted in and told him about sock-knitting machines, the hand-crank kind, about which I apparently know NOTHING, but I'm going to research and send him the info. I was rather smitten by this point and would have told him anything just to talk with him.

He's researching a book he's writing about the war, and started telling me about how the British women would paint their legs brown, with a black stripe up the back during the war, and how well the American soldiers would get on with their girls, because they'd come over with silk.

I opened my mouth to tell him about the gal I'd seen at a bar recently who had tattooed lines up the backs of her legs (HOT), and then I sensibly shut my yap. While I love this tattoo idea, I think I would have horrified my man, and I have to keep him in my pocket, so I can listen to him some more.

Now I'm off to research sock-knitting machines. Anyone?


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ohmygosh i LOVE that story. i have such a soft spot for men of that generation. my dad was in WW II and he was full of stories too. i can't help but think we have but a few years left with people of his generation. i'm glad you got to experience a little of his world (and shared it with all of us too).

American women painted their legs as stockings, too. My father was born in 1939, grew up in Rhode Island and remembers his mother's younger sisters getting ready for dates painting their legs and using mascara to draw "seams" up the back of their legs. God forbid your sister caught you drawing her seams crooked!

One of his other memories was the maragine with the pack of dye, since butter was rationed. Margarine wasn't pre-colored, so it came with a pack of yellow dye to make it look like butter that you would pop (fun for the kid) and then work through the fat for the color (not quite so much fun, more work for the kid who got the fun of popping the packet).

Aren't you dying to know if he wound up happy in his own love life or if he grew old alone, longing for her? He must have nurtured a bit of a flame to have looked her up after so long.

I actually have a sock knitting machine, so I know a thing or two. A great resource, easily found by goggle is http://www.sockmachines.com/ and I bought my machine from this woman http://www.angoravalley.com/csm.html. A man named Richard Candee actually wrote a book on them - and you can get one at the angora valley website.

When I got my machine, I pictured myself knitting sock after sock after sock... but I must admit - I like hand knitting better. Slower, but for me, more fun.

what a wonderful story... thanks for sharing it! i feel like i was there with you, amongst the lace and the buttons, straining to listen.
i read somewhere that the reason american women painted their legs with stocking marks was to imitate the french women their husbands had been so impressed with during the war. don't know if that's just a story, though....

My grandma, the one I share my name with, kept body and soul (and the body and souls of 8 children) together during the Great Depression by churning out socks on just such a machine. I believe it had been used earlier during WWI. She also gathered weeds and wild things for market to the 'modern' pharmaceutical companies in Montreal.

The sock machine was intriguing and lived in the tiny closet in my farmhouse bedroom. It vanished when we had to leave the farm but I'd give anything to see it again. . .

"breakable and Anne-ish and lovely". Sigh. I'm from a long line of unbreakable women . . .

Great story. I have a friend, Amelia, who has been into your sock machines for years. Here's her website: http://store.carlsonwoollies.com/index.html There's an email pointer. Tell her Rebecca and Peggy from Seattle sent you. And enjoy her Bellwether site. She has some cool stuff...

What a lovely store! I think I would fall at the feet of such a regal woman. How do you not go there every single day? My pop pop Bob was direct from England and would teach all the farmer kids in Sussex county violin. Never, ever call it a fiddle! Very distinguished. Anyway, check out www.oldtymestockings.com. Lots of info about circular knitting machines. I'm thinking about getting one for a curiosity piece.

I must get this man to adopt me.

Oh, wouldn't Mr. LOEM be just the best person to sit and knit with?

Please get him to tell you the whole story of how he learned to knit and WHY he felt he had to frog that scarf. And then share with us.

Lovely story! I would have fallen over myself eavesdropping. I never mastered the art of subtlety.

I must check out Lacis. How did I not know of it already?

Do you know about the Button Man? He is on San Pablo in El Cerrito (near Down Home Music, but on the opposite side of the street and a little south). He is from that generation too. He has millions of buttons crammed into a tiny storefront. He told me that he started with 5 garages full of buttons after the war; he is down to just 2 or so garages now. There are so many buttons, many are vintage. All are unique. It is an amazing little world and he has a story about every button. Go soon, he is in poor health. Hours are limited; I think Saturdays are good.

A fantastic story...I dream of visiting Lacis one day, being a Ren Faire freak. :)

Anyway, came across this today while browsing and thought, how apropos!


Anneish! Does your new sweater have puff sleeves?

As for your kind older gent, he reminds me of a retired British man in my writing class, who in fact is writing a novel about WWII. I'll have to see if he knits.

What a wonderful delicious post! The old man, the unrequited love for a woman "too pretty for him". I wonder if he ever married? I love Lacis as well and they are doing my veil too.

Oh, please keep us posted on this lovely older gentleman!

Beautiful story. ㅠㅠ

You have the BEST adventures!

I love that story...

What means you by "Anne-ish?" What Anne did you have in mind? (I ask as a lifelong Anne, of course.)

Great story! I can just 'hear' his accent as I read through this.

The girl in the bar with the tattooed legs ... were they simple, plain lines? I'm always looking to be inspired for new tattoo ideas.

What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing it and adding a bit of loveliness to my day.

Oh, what fun! He sounds a bit like a gentleman that I know who was in the foregeign service in the 40's - tells wonderful stories about meeting the likes of Clare Booth Luce and Greta Garbo. He also grew up down the road from Katharine Hepburn's family home in CT, so can tell fantastic stories about seeing her land with Howard Hughes in his seaplane...

I first heard of Lacis in the 80's, when I was in school studying textiles(weaveing and printing) But what I wanted to study was bobbin lace making. Lacis is like the meca man and you get to go there TO BUY BUTTONS.. I am so green with the envey.You are one luky chicky poo.But I think you know that . Right?

I learned to tat before I learned to knit. A few years ago I was in a lacemaking guild and was thisclose to learning to bobbin lace. I still want to.

Lacis would be a terribly dangerous place for me to visit ;)

What a wonderful story! I know of Lacis, but am not sure that I actually bought anything from them. Drat...I was in SF in July and didn't even know...

Aw, "Anne-ish." I love that. And I've tried bobbin lace, too--still have the pillow and bobbins in my closet, and everything, but frankly find KNITTING lace much more rewarding.

And your eavesdropping story? Great. Just great. Did you ever seen the movie "Hope and Glory" about a British family during WWII? The teenage daughter gets her brother to draw "seams" up her legs, but she jitterbugs so enthusiastically, one of the GIs asks her how her stockings could go all the way up her legs like that? (No garters.)

British RAF soldiers knitted argyle socks, too....

Occasionally you can find sock machines on ebay.

Hi, I just read your Knitty post on how sexy knitting can be, and I couldn't agree more! I've had the experience of pulling out the needles in my fave cocktail bay here in Sydney, Australia. It was funny how short a time it took for the comments to change from "As if you would do THAT here" to "Wow, how cool is that!".

Re the sock machines - don't be afraid to try the mega-huge machines too! I've become a recent convert to a really old-style bulky machine, and I'm in love! (The fact that it was my first ebay purchase and I'm now addicted has nothing to do with it!). It's still a manual process - no, you can't set is and go and make yourself a cup of tea a la Stella award Winnebagos.

The reason I make so many knitted clothes for my niece & nephews is the instant gratification of finishing a garment in a short space of time, so my beautiful machine helps me do the same amount of work on an adult garment in enough time for me to retain interest.

Cheers from Australia, Aunty Toots.

Okay, now you've got my Lacis bug tuned up to a fine pitch. Its one of my dreams to go there, but the story about the guy is just too wonderful. Of course I'm sure I'd never run into him, but I can dream right?

I'm all a-tingle from that story. I love old men, and the accent is just the icing on the cake. What a wonderful thing to overhear. (Canadian women drew seams up the backs of their legs, too.)

A while back on the sockknitters list, there was some sock machine talk. Long story short, one woman ended up starting a mailing list and then this company:


That's the best story! Good for you for paying attention to people and not zoning out in the shop.
I will definitely make a point to visit Lacis. I lived in Berkeley for 5 years (college) and never crossed paths with the place...even when I became a knitter/crafter. Luckily, now I only live 2 hours away so i will definitely stop by. Sounds like a lovely, quality place.

Just a little history for you: all available silk was being used for parachutes for the war, which is why ladies had to draw their stockings on. There was a lively black market in silk stockings precisely because a gift of them would make ladies very appreciative and more receptive to sexual advances. The lack of silk is also why you find so many rayon shirts and dresses from the 40s. Rayon had been around for a while, but suddenly it was the best alternative to silk (it was referred to as "imitation silk" when it was new).

There are almost always a few vintage sock knitting machines for sale on ebay. Not cheap! One lady up in Maine (I think, or Vermont) always has at least a few for sale. Along with antique skiis and snowshoes and maple syrup buckets.

Cool story about the man. I can seriously see you edging closer and closer with your curiosity until you are IN their conversation. hehe

What a lovely interlude! I hope he'll drop you a card or something when his book comes out.
Love the cable hoodie - looks very nice on you.

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