Discover a Family’s Heirloom Shawl: “Knitted Together Through Time” And An “All Shall Be Well Shawl” to Knit
In “Knitted Together Through Time” and “Knit an ‘All Shall Be Well’ Shawl,” an online-only article and project mentioned in PieceWork’s July/August 2007 issue, Jacqueline Blix revisits a family heirloom shawl knit by Joseph Sheldon Long, a World War I soldier, father, grandfather, and knitter. Here’s an excerpt from “Knitted Together Through Time.”
Unlike most needleworkers, I’m linked to the past through a man. When I first took up the needles a few years ago, my mother told me that my grandfather also had learned how to knit and had even made a shawl.
At twenty-six, Joseph Sheldon Long was older than the average American infantryman who served during World War I (1914–1918). After the war, during which he had received a field commission and a Silver Star for bravery, he married my grandmother, Grace Hight, in 1920. The couple soon had two children, Joseph Jr., born in 1921, and my mother, Kathryn, born in 1922.
When Kathryn was still a toddler, Sheldon fell ill, suffering from a lung infection brought on by being gassed in the trenches in France during the war. He was hospitalized 50 miles (80 km) from the family home in Riverside, California, at Sawtelle Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles. During his recuperation, his occupational therapy of choice was knitting. Back at home, Grace returned to teaching school, and Sheldon’s parents moved in to take care of the children. The story ends happily as Sheldon eventually recovered and rejoined his family. He went on to serve as mayor of Riverside in the late 1920s and early 1930s and as state commander of the American Legion in 1937. [To learn more about soldiers aided by needlework during their recovery, read "On the Mend: Victorian Rehabilitation with Crochet Granny Squares.”]
I was a teenager in 1966 when my grandfather died, but I remember him as a man of great wit and charm. He seemed to be one of those people who do many things well: after he retired as vice-president of a title insurance company in 1956, he took up woodworking and made a maple desk for me that I still have. I, therefore, was not too surprised when my mom mentioned that he had also taken a turn at knitting. What did surprise me was that Mom still had the shawl he had knitted for her mother, Grace, and that it was far from the gray serviceable triangle I had pictured. Instead, Sheldon had crafted a snappy striped shawl in shades of coral and aqua fitted with a pocket and a clever twisted tassel finish. (He also made a shawl for his sister, Esther Hentschke.) The shawl was part of Mom’s childhood home, at first draped across a chair or other piece of furniture but eventually stored in the cedar chest where my grandmother kept family treasures. Its excellent condition indicates the care with which it was treated over the years.
Recently, Mom passed the shawl on to me. When she pulled it out of the drawer in her nightstand, I knew immediately that it was a treasured keepsake and that it was only fitting that I knit her a replica.
To read more of this fascinating story connecting needlework and history, download the free article and companion project.
Jacqueline Blix has been knitting for ten years and quilting for more than twenty. Her interest in history made researching this article a pleasure. Coauthor with her husband, David Heitmiller, of Getting a Life: Strategies for Simple Living Based on the Revolutionary Program for Financial Freedom, “Your Money or Your Life” (New York: Penguin Putnam, 1999), she lives in Seattle, where she has served on the board of the Pacific Northwest Needle Arts Guild and is a member of the Seattle Knitters Guild. Posted February 20, 2014. Updated November 9, 2017.
Featured Image: Shawl knitted by Jacqueline Blix’s grandfather, Joseph Sheldon Long. California. Circa 1924. Photo by Joe Coca.