There鈥檚 a sweater hanging in my closet that, to my knowledge, I鈥檝e only worn once. It is small, a child鈥檚 fit, because it was meant for a child. Sky blue, dotted with the white outlines of waves 鈥 and smack dab in the front and center, a demented looking whale smiling goofily out from the wearer鈥檚 chest. It is an eyesore. The knit water spurting from its blowhole looks, truly, obscene. And it is precious to me, as it is one of the only physical reminders of my grandmother that I keep with me.

One of the others is a large sweater, a black/dark blue base run through with ecstatic, broken bands of color. I wear it as a dress over tights in the LA winter. It鈥檚 probably too heavy of a knit to wear like that for it weighs down my silhouette, and there鈥檚 a stain that I鈥檝e never tried to get out breaking up a bright yellow stripe. But I love running around the city in this gorgeous, itchy, unreplicable sheath.

When I was a child, my mother鈥檚 parents lived in the family home. My parents never hired a babysitter; instead, it was under my grandparents鈥 watchful eyes that I would do my homework, practice playing instruments, while away time until my parents filed home. I remember crying once when my grandmother caught me throwing away my chalky Flintstones vitamins and scolded me; I also remember crying when she unraveled a long chain of my beginner鈥檚 crochet work. The loops weren鈥檛 tight enough, she explained, and so she took it apart, the yarn crunched up in its remembered shape. I haven鈥檛 touched a crochet hook since.

But I鈥檝e traced the outlines of her considerable crafting legacy, working in the shadow and memory of her skill. In high school, I taught myself how to sew a bit, hemming pants and shirts and stitching up seams. She sewed dresses for her daughter and knitted sweaters for her granddaughters. The former were simple, fitted daywear rendered in muted hues. The latter were riots of colors and patterns and scenes. A cluster of pandas on a bright red background; a family of geese framed in a verdant pastoral; a (somehow) lilac construction site replete with machinery and a dark brown knit ditch, with the sleeves capped off in inexplicable black and white checkerboard.

On top of sewing and knitting, she crocheted scarves and miscellany for the entire family. Toward the end of her life, she also took up cross-stitching, meticulously researching patterns and sharing them with her friends at the senior center.

My grandfather was the musical one, the showboat between them. My grandmother made. A quiet, studious, and creative woman who left her family legacy in color and who left me with a canyon of questions I never thought to ask until it was, predictably, just too late.

Like: Did you ever try to teach my mother these skills? She can sew a bit, but I鈥檝e never seen her pick up a pair of needles or a hook. Maybe I鈥檓 just forgetting what she鈥檇 made, in the light of your own work. Maybe that鈥檚 why she never got that far. And: Where and how did you learn how to do all these things? Why didn鈥檛 you push me more when I was a child? Why didn鈥檛 I listen to you? Why didn鈥檛 I try to learn from you? Why did my mother hide your cancer from me until you鈥檇 passed, so I didn鈥檛 even have the time to realize what, and who, I was about to lose?

Later, I received a gift. He meant them as a suggestion: a birthday present of a bag and a book. The book in question is Bust magazine co-founder Debbie Stoller鈥檚 Stitch 鈥榥 Bitch, a fitting gift from a women鈥檚 studies major to his feminist girlfriend. And in the bag, seemingly a thousand pairs of knitting needles lined up in neat little plastic packets, and two spools of yarn.

I didn鈥檛 touch that bag for the rest of the year. It was a fixture of my room, gathering dust, kicked around from space to space around other reorganizations. It wasn鈥檛 that I didn鈥檛 want to knit; in fact, it was because I鈥檇 talked about my grandmother, and mentioned wanting more tactile hobbies, that he鈥檇 thoughtfully selected such a gift. But their presence shook a peculiar feeling out of its dormancy, a reaction he couldn鈥檛 have foreseen and I had been suppressing.

For the past couple of years, I鈥檝e begun to take cooking seriously. Part of this comes from living well apart from my mother鈥檚 cooking, and part of this comes from wanting to learn more practical skills. The knitting fits into this pattern, of realigning some part of myself to my family鈥檚 lineage of ability. But I was, and to some extent still am, wary of perpetuating this idea of domestic-coded tasks as female, or femme, or worst of all, man-trapping bait.

He didn鈥檛 buy me needles so I could make him sweaters and scarves; I鈥檓 not learning new cooking skills to set up elaborate feasts for my breadwinning man. The arguments are, of course, only in my head. But how could they not be there, when it was only my grandmother鈥檚 work that hung in my family鈥檚 closets, hugged us on cold days and draped over us on warm ones? When it was my mother who mended the rips and stains of my clothes? When the popular image of knitters is still of old women doting on the begrudging members of their families; yes, Grandma, thanks for yet another pair of socks.

It鈥檚 not fair to chalk my reticence all up to that. There was also this: How would I ever be able to match my grandmother鈥檚 tacit standard? I know I hadn鈥檛 met it before, and the fear of the learning curve is additionally real when it鈥檚 touched with love, with loss. It could be enough to just celebrate her work and share it with others. But if I hadn鈥檛 given up as a child, become frustrated in the face of her expertise, I wouldn鈥檛 have to think about these questions now, a world away from her save for the memorials she made to be worn. And so, I decided to learn.

I started knitting only a couple of months ago. I鈥檓 in the middle of making a scarf, I think, which is great timing as Los Angeles barrels toward summer. Oh well; it鈥檚 the process I鈥檓 after, and that itself is relaxing. The needles are bamboo so they don鈥檛 really clack, but I find myself muttering my knits and purls under my breath, leaning into this unsteady rhythm. It is what I owe her, to really learn in earnest this time around. I don鈥檛 know if I鈥檒l ever be able to replicate her designs, or ever match her skill. But I鈥檓 okay with that, as long as I push myself to keep picking up the needles, the book, the work. It鈥檒l take a while before I can even start to think about designing a sweater, so there鈥檚 much to practice. I only have so much time in the world.

Has a loved one ever inspired you to learn a new skill? Tag us on the goods @BritandCo!

(Illustrations by Rosee Canfield / Brit+Co)