Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mary Burke, knitter from Bethpage

Mary Burke
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
Bethpage knitter Mary Burke was born and raised on a family farm in Kenmare county Kerry in Ireland, one of the westernmost places in Ireland, 'next stop Boston'. Her father was a deep sea fisherman in the scallop and lobster seasons and carpenter when not at sea. In the true spirit of self-reliance, the family made most of the things right on the farm. One of seven siblings, Mary remembers fondly some of her tasks - making butter and cheese, collecting and washing eggs for the market, even making fishing nets.

Baby sweater by Mary Burke
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
Mary was six years old when her grandmother plucked two quills from a turkey, stripped them of feather, and gave the quill needles to Mary to start knitting; there was only one pair of metal knitting needles in the house and grandma was not willing to part with it. Also, grandma was dubious that Mary, who was left-handed, could master the craft. Just to prove her wrong Mary learned to knit, right-handed, and continues knitting to this day.

Shawl by Mary Burke
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht
Since commercial patterns were beyond her means, Mary relied on the word of mouth and on her observation and common sense to pick up stitches and patterns. It worked quite well for her. She learned from her family, friends, and colleagues. She returned her accumulated knowledge in equal measure to countless novice and experienced knitters.

At Think Long Island First we carry her baby sweaters, baby hats and headbands, and scarves for adults - a very small sample of the vast number of items she had made since the first sweaters she knitted to supplement her modest school wardrobe. She knitted out of necessity, out of curiosity, and out of the generosity of spirit.

Baby knits by Mary Burke
Photo by Ewa Rumprecht

Far removed from her first turkey quill needles, Mary now prefers bamboo needles - they are noiseless and more calming. She likes working with wool as it has a natural stretch to it. She finds cotton too rigid and does not use it at all.

Mary favors knitting over crocheting and other fiber arts, because, as she jokingly puts it: 'I can look at other things and gossip'. She exercises this merry employment every Monday when she joins a group of senior knitters at her clubhouse; 14 ladies get together to make clothes for premature babies from underprivileged families, clothes are distributed to local hospitals - a wonderful way to give back.

1 comment:

  1. I am left-handed too and knit both ways! The text about to use what is available is interesting. I grew up in home with little money but plenty of fantasy. My mom got second hand clothes from neighbours and friends, so I grew up amonst the scraps!