Life Life

03/01/2019 - 12:34

Does anyone still knit winter sweaters?

In a cold and rainy winter afternoon, the roads seemed to get longer. I thought I was travelling back into the nostalgic past as I searched for someone who still knitted winter sweaters...

Because of her love for knitting, Mrs. Hanh still keeps her job

A profession thought to be forgotten

"Autumn Winter" shop at Phan Dang Luu Street was once famous for its traditional craft of knitting. Products from this shop had even crossed the ocean to the US. It is the name people would say when being asked if there were any shops still selling hand-knit sweaters. But when I arrived, I could not help feeling surprised by the fact that only half of the store displayed sweaters; the other half is now used to sell clocks.

There were no customers when I arrived. The emptiness made the space with sweaters in the glass cabinets seemed even quieter in the cold rainy afternoon. "Winter comes late this year, so there haven’t been many customers. Since the beginning of the cold season, the shop hasn't sold a single sweater yet. But in the past... ” The voice of the shop owner got warmed up when talking about the traditional knitting career of her husband's family and how it has connected the generations in the family. 

After getting married, Mrs. Hoa’s mother-in-law passed on to her the family’s traditional knitting craft. Her passion for the profession increased day by day, knitting and designing patterns..., especially when a sweater was finished and the customer tried it on to find the snuggly and warm sweater fitted perfectly.

“In addition to my mother-in-law and me, we always had 9 to 10 workers living in our house. To prepare sweaters for the winter, we would start knitting from summer and knit all year round. In winter, the season of selling sweaters reached its peak. Sometimes, our workers had to stay up all night to knit in time, helping our shop keep its good name with the customers. 

But this scene has been absent since ten years ago. It is because customers now have a lot of choices when the market is flooded with fashionable jackets with all kinds of materials and designs. In the middle of our conversation, Mrs. Hoa's shop had a customer. A man was hesitant to ask if the shopkeeper had found his sweaters.

It was a customer who had ordered three sweaters. The receipt of delivery was within 5 days, but this date today was exactly one year after that the customer returned for his sweaters. The sweaters completed last winter were thought to have been forgotten...

The thick sweater with sophisticated stitches made by Mrs. Bau

The wistful eyes of the woman passionate with her profession can say a lot. “Now, sometimes I pick up my knitting needles just to satisfy my passion. I leave most of the work for knitters who have been working for our shop for many years. The market demand for our products has shrunken considerably, so most of our knitters have had to take on other jobs. They only stick to this profession because of their love for knitting”...

Why are they so faithful to this craft?

"My best crafts woman lives in Con Hen. You just need to cross the bridge and ask for Mrs. Bau, the knitter, and anyone can show you”. At the end of Le Loi Street, passing through Dap Da, and going down Nguyen Sinh Cung Street, I made a turn across an old bridge to Con Hen. In a cold rainy afternoon, the roads seemed to become longer. The bridge was blurry in the rain, making me think that I was traveling into the nostalgic past. 

At the table on the porch, in the sound of the rain falling from the eaves, the middle-aged woman was busy with each stitch. She smiled warmly as she lifted the finished sweater and neatly put it onto the table, admiring her own work.

“I have raised five grown-up children with this knitting profession. Now, the demand for hand-knitted sweaters has decreased considerably. But as long as there are still people who adore these handmade sweaters, we still continue to put our heart, our passion, our creativity and our diligence into each sweater.”

Falling in love with knitting since she was a young girl, Mrs. Bau “peeked” at others’ knitting. Perhaps her love has combined with her innate talent; so, her sweaters are not only evenly and securely knitted and wouldn’t get stretched out over time, but also bring out a special charm for the ones wearing them. 

“I am especially emotional with the sweaters ordered by customers for their loved ones. There was a lady who came with her husband to carefully take measurements for the sweater. There was also a young man who described his girlfriend's figure, height and color preferences, to give her a surprise gift. With these sweaters, the material is not simply wool, but also a precious love. I did not want to slow down the joy of the person who was waiting for the shirt; so, at times, I would stay up all night. At such times, my husband would sit next to me only to say a few words: "You can knit really fast", "You’re amazing".

"Finally, I realized that I may not remember all the "stories" of my customers, but the warmth I felt from my husband encouraged me when I knitted late at night; I will always treasure it.” Mrs. Bau confided; perhaps that is also an important reason why she has not fallen out of love with this craft.

Mrs. Hoa, Autumn Winter shop’s owner

Mrs. Hanh in Phu Thuong commune is also one of the pursuers of knitting clothes to satisfy her passion. She still keeps the memory of her old aunt (though she has passed away) and the memory of the thick sweater she knitted and gifted to her aunt. “I know the elderly are very fond of sweaters. They need clothes that are light and comfortable but can also keep them warm. So, I meticulously used the cross-knit knitting technique (this technique is only used to create the edges of the sweater so it will not fray and get stretched out easily). When she was still alive, she would show off this sweater to everyone she met: ‘Hanh knitted this for me. It will never get stretched out.’ I was so passionate in knitting that I stayed up late to knit. My father had to urge me to go to sleep for fear that I might get heart attack if I kept on knitting.”

 Now, she can no longer earn a living just by knitting, so Mrs. Hanh is a hired shop seller. However, at night, she lives another life, where she can put her heart and soul into each stitch, to create a sweater for herself or a loved one.

Was it because of the rain that afternoon that "Fashion Laine Lien Phuong", a shop specializing in knitting and selling sweaters at Doan Thi Diem Street, was also empty? The young man carefully helped his wife take each beautiful sweater down and used a light feathered duster to gently “chase” the dust away.

But Lan Bao, the young owner still smiled, when talking about the slow business: “When I got married, my mother-in-law passed this craft to me as well as passed on her passion for knitting. Now, selling hand-knitted sweaters is definitely not a lucrative business. But my husband and I are still ‘faithful’ to this profession that we have fallen in love with. It is also a way to keep a ‘gathering spot’ for knitters who have loved this craft for so many years...”

Story and photos: Quynh Anh