Retired public health nurse Eva Scott is a master at knitting, quite literally. She achieved her Master of Knitting certificate from the Canadian Guild of Knitters in 1997.
It was achieved through an intense correspondence course, with each lesson involving Eva mailing in her “homework” for critique. She found herself becoming fearless when it came to the knitting needle.
“After I took those,” she says about the course’s assignments, “I would try anything, because you found it was all possible.”
A juried member of the Saskatchewan Craft Council, Eva creates a variety of products using raw yarn including mittens, scarves, touques and sweaters. She sells her products at Saskatchewan Craft Council Markets like the Handcraft Festival in Battleford and other markets throughout the province, such as the Sundog Arts and Entertainment Faire in Saskatoon.
Eva, who learned to knit from her grandmother using knitting needles her grandfather made from welding rods, works with exotic fibres, such as alpaca.
“I just love it,” says Eva. “I love the whole process.”
She laughs, “I really like to shop for yarn. It’s hard for me to walk by anything with any yarn in it. It’s hard for me to not stop.”
But not just any kind of yarn goes into her products.
“Most of the things I use are natural. I don’t do much with acrylic. I use wool, alpaca and cashmere, angora, even bamboo,” she says. “You know they make yarn out of everything nowadays. They’ve even got seaweed that’s been spun with silk. It’s beautiful!”
She adds, “It’s fun to try these new things.”
Her products are all carefully labelled as to their makeup and their care. Alpaca, for example, is a hair, not a fibre, Eva points out.
“I wash machine wash it on gentle with shampoo and conditioner.”
Eva’s slippers are a popular item. Oddly, she isn’t a slipper wearer herself.
“I don’t know how many hundreds of pairs I’ve made and never worn a pair myself,” she laughs.
Much of Eva’s clientele is made up of repeat customers who special order their items, or make a point of visiting her booth at the shows she frequents. Some of them are people who can’t find what they want in a store; either the materials used are undesirable or the necessary sizes or shapes just aren’t available.
“I do quite a bit of that for people,” she says.
She enjoys the fact that her work is appreciated.
She recently received a thank you note from a woman who had a pair of slippers knit for her mom. She took a picture of them on her mother’s feet and sent it to Eva with a little note.
“Her mom was so pleased,” Eva smiles. “It is nice when people appreciate what you do.”
At the most recent Sundog craft show in Saskatoon, held annually in December, her absence the year before was noticed.
“One lady said to me, ‘I looked all over for you last year.’”
Eva had missed 2013 due to her husband Tom’s health.
Eva, originally from Marshall, and Tom, originally from Prince Albert, were both living in North Battleford when they met at the local bowling alley.
“I used to sub because I kind of enjoyed going down there, but I couldn’t really bowl worth a darn,” she says. “But Tom was good.”
That was the beginning, she says, and they married in 1966.
Tom, who retired as the deputy registrar at the land titles office in Battleford in the mid 1990s, enjoyed crafts, just like his wife.
He had accompanied her to many shows and helped with her business, cutting the leather for the soles of slippers and punching the holes so Eva could sew them on, and helping with jams and jellies. Tom loved to pick berries, so they incorporated that into their business.
“So many men don’t have a real hobby,” says Eva, “but he would try anything, like making gloves.”
He even did some knitting.
“You know those fancy scarves, the lacy ones? One day he said to me, ‘You know, Eva, if you would show me how to make those scarves I could do that.’ And he made dozens of them!”
She says, “Three years ago he was making a lot of them,” but Alzheimer’s disease, prevalent in Tom’s father’s family, was taking its toll.
The last time Tom went to Sun Dog with her, which would have been 2012, it was probably too much for him, she says. When he sold something to someone and they paid cash, he would have to ask them how much change he owed them. Other vendors expressed concern to Eva that not all customers might be honest in their answer.
“We all make mistakes and a person covers for their husband for a long time,” she says, looking back. “We used to get lost so often. I don’t know if we ever went anywhere and didn’t get lost.”
Alzheimer’s is a strange disease, she says. One day he would forget something and the next day know it again.
“Maybe seven years ago, we were going to Prince Albert. Tom always liked to cut across country ... so we were in a forest reserve somewhere and we got a flat tire,” says Eva. “He had absolutely no idea where the jack was or how to change it. Luckily somebody came by and changed it for him.” But, she adds, “Maybe the next day he would know how to do it.”
As the Alzheimer’s progressed, there were worries. Especially when it was -40 C, and she knew he could get lost if he went outside.
“He would get turned around really easy,” she says. “There was a mailbox down at the corner where he liked to mail letters. I would stand at the kitchen window and watch for him to come back. I would almost panic every time while I waited for him to come into view.”
A year ago last September, Tom became a resident of the Battlefords District Care Centre’s Alzheimer’s unit.
“I still miss him, I really do, but I know it’s better for him there.”
On the day Tom was first admitted, the appointment was made for 10 a.m. At 11 o’clock, someone came along to take him for lunch. That’s when she was to leave for home, she said, while he was distracted.
“You have to wait a week before you go back,” she explained, to give them a chance to settle in and think of the unit as their new home. She phoned two or three times a day to see how he was settling.
In the beginning, he was looking for her, but eventually he settled in..
“It breaks your heart when you think of it. I felt so guilty,” she says.
He didn’t forget about home for quite a while, says Eva. In the middle of November of that year, the staff took unit residents by bus to the Co-op cafeteria for roast beef and the families were to meet them there. He was looking out for her and had spotted her in the parking lot even while he was still on the bus.
Seated beside her in the cafeteria, he looked at her plate, asking ,”Are you just about done?”
She stalled, saying it would take a little while yet, because she knew he was thinking they would be going home.
“You know as soon as you’re done, you and I will leave, because you’ve got the car,” Tom told her.
Luckily, there was a bathroom trip to be made before the patients went back to the care centre, allowing family a chance to leave.
“When I think of it now, it was so hard just to leave them,” she says. “But, I’ve got to move on with my own life now. He’s really doing well over there. He’s happy. He never says anything about coming home any more, which is nice.”
She visits him frequently, usually in the morning so she can leave while he is distracted during his lunch time.
“I think he knows who I am, but he doesn’t call me by name anymore,” she says. “One time he said, ‘Eva, I wonder if you would do something for me,’ and I said, ‘Certainly, I would do anything for you,’ but he forgot what he was going to ask.”
Tom is on what they call a plateau right now, says Eva. It could go on for a long time, but if there’s any change, it’s down.
“I know it’s coming,” she says, “I’ve had a lot of warning, When it happens it happens. I don’t dwell on it at all.”
Eva knows Tom is in good hands. Still, she says, “It’s the hardest thing I think I ever did, but I made up my mind that I was not going to let it get me down.”
She stays busy with her knitting business. Although she’s cut down the amount of non-commissioned items she produces over the last several years, she made up her mind to go to Sun Dog again this past December.
“I enjoy the people. If I sell something that’s kind of a bonus,” she laughs.
Crafts people, she says, are the best friends you could ever have.
“They are so supportive.”
At Sun Dog, with Tom not there with her as he usually was, her fellow crafters looked out for her. The vendor next to her even insisted on accompanying her to the parking lot at the end of the day, which was 10 p.m.
He told her, “I’m not leaving you until you are in that car and on your way to the hotel.”
She says, “That really helped me. I was kind of nervous being out there myself.”
She plans to continue her trips to Sun Dog.
“Quite a few of the older people quit this year, but I’m not quitting until I can’t go anymore,” she says. “That’s my holiday. I’m going to hang right in there.”
Eva has been knitting since she was a pre-schooler.
“My grandma taught me how to knit,” she says. “I always remember my first knitting needles. Grandpa made them out of welding rods.”
The only yarn you could get back then was really fine, she says.
“Those needles would be forever falling out of the stitches,” she laughs.
To some, knitting is a mystery. But not to Eva.
There are really only two stitches, a knit and a purl, and all the rest are just variations, she says.
“A purl is the back of a knit. And that’s all there is to it.”
Knitting has been the centre of her life since she retired. As a public health nurse, she travelled from Battleford to Paynton and Maidstone, doing baby clinics and home visits. In the summer it was beautiful, she says, but it was nerve-wracking in the winter.
At 60, she decided she would draw her pension and “stay home and knit.”
Of course, with the shortage of nurses, she found herself eventually saying yes when calls came her way to come back to work. She took shifts at the Battlefords District Care Centre (then called Battlefords Regional Care) and at River Heights Lodge.
It was the same for Tom. He took early retirement, but he got called back a lot for about five years, she says.
She and Tom had no children, but they were adopted by the daughter of neighbours.
“She’s 21 now,” says Eva. “She used to live down the street ... to this day she calls me her grandma.”
As a graduation present, she and Tom took Danielle on a trip to San Francisco, where Eva’s sister lives. Now, Danielle, who is studying nursing at the University of Lethbridge, is planning a trip to New York in May and Eva hopes to go with her.
Eva says, “I have had such good neighbours. They are just wonderful.”
Meanwhile, she is content that her husband, too, is in good hands.
“They have a real program for them,” she says, “and he’s happy.”
She smiles, “It’s nice over there. There’s no competition, they all have Alzheimer’s.”