Knitting for Life, and for Life's Milestones

Like Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg has often knitted her way through political upheaval. Now, Stamberg's knitting her first-ever baby blanket — and she reflects on the political milestone that accompanies the personal one.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

We know it's primary season but that may be the only season that's clear. In Los Angeles there was rain and 40-degree temperatures not long ago. Sarasota swimmers got goosebumps climbing out of heated pools. And here in the nation's capital, it was almost 70 degrees on a recent day before the temperature plunged back down to the 20s.

These big chills made NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg decide it was time to knit.

SUSAN STAMBERG: Airport security confiscated my tube of toothpaste last week but for some reason didn't mind the lethal-looking size 11 needles I'm using to knit - not a sweater or scarf, although warm would certainly be welcome right now. But no, I'm knitting my very first baby blanket for my very first grandchild - granddaughter - avidly expected in the middle of April.

It's the first knitting I've done in decades and it brings back so many memories. Here at NPR hosting ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in the 1970s, I knitted my way through various '70s upheavals, including the Watergate hearings, of course, Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Sirica and Irvin became part of the stitchery. Knit one, smoking gun; purl two, bye, Agnew.

I felt like Madame Defarge, that Charles Dickens character in "A Tale of Two Cities" who knitted her way through the French Revolution, casting on the names of aristocrats she thought deserved the guillotine.

As an impartial journalist, my sweaters and mufflers were created with vigilance rather than vengeance. I found the knitting calming in those turbulent times and it focused the mind in a way that was useful. By the end of Watergate I had filled a bureau drawer with the results of all that concentration. Accumulated warmth for my husband and son.

A decade later, still on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I took up the needles again, always in big sizes then as now - 11s, 10s, even 13s sometimes. I like knitting projects that go quickly.

This time I was trying to quit smoking and needed something to keep my hands busy. So in the 1980s the Reagans inspired the woolen work. He said Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. I tore up three rows of bumpy cable stitches and began making uni-size sweaters to be shared by the family. Our son had grown so much it was taking too much time to knit for his dad.

And now in this new century, here I am again counting rows of knits and purls for the arrival of a brand new member of the family. What a time in which to be born. An historic moment in the life of our democracy, when a woman or African-American will be their party's nominee for president. And a baby arriving in a few months will never know a nation in which it was not possible for either a female or a black to rise so high.

Perhaps she'll be a knitter too, this little girl child, and use those skills, the knits and purls that turn a simple strand of wool into something comforting, even consoling at times, to mark the historic or personal landmarks in her life.

I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Susan Stamberg is like public radio's mother. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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