Teach Her to Knit by
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From my bride’s book, 1974

I was always a good student, a striver, a high achiever, I got straight A’s. Until it came to penmanship. There I fell apart and got C’s. My second grade teacher, responsible for teaching cursive, called my mother in, bemoaning my lack of manual dexterity and told my mother to teach me knitting as a way to improve my writing skills.

My dutiful  mother did. She had knit “Bundles for Britain” in World War II, so certainly remembered the basics. She bought me needles, cast on for me and taught me the basics of knitting and purling. I had small balls of different-colored yarn and decided those little rectangles I made would be rugs for my Barbie dolls. You can see that as I progressed, my stitches became less even and I even dropped one in the final, orange yarn (yes, these are the originals from 60+ years ago, tucked away all those years ago with Barbie and Ken). My dexterity did not improve.

Sample knitting

If I really concentrated, my writing was semi-decent, but most of the time, while taking notes, it was barely legible. I learned to touch type in 10th grade. That was important for doing papers in high school and college, and even my first job, which was primarily data input. Now with computers, iPhones, texting, etc. keyboards are all we use. The Featured photo is from my Bride’s Book, so a sample of my cursive in 1974, 46 years ago.

Email has replaced most snail mail, but I am old-fashioned in many ways. I still send hand-written thank you notes and condolence notes on personal stationary. My son’s girlfriend lost her father in May. We sent flowers and I sent a long, personal condolence note. A few weeks later, I received a lovely, handwritten note from her mother in London. It was appropriate and touching. It speaks to good manners.

Note from Nancy

My children learned cursive, but neither can actually write it any longer. My husband, a year older than me, can’t either. Even in college, he printed faster than he wrote for note-taking. Today, even his signature is barely legible. I still write out my grocery list in cursive on white note paper, write yellow sticky notes to myself all the time (did some for myself today). I used to send long letters to friends, but now they have morphed into long emails. I am lucky if I get short responses, or maybe texts. Some friends do send long emails and I have a difficult time replying to them with as much information as I’d like.  I guess I always have a lot on my mind and my fingers can’t keep up with my brain, so I may do a draft, then rewrite to get the penmanship looking better. I’d rather talk on the phone if there is really a lot of ground to cover.

Vicki truly hates the way kids abbreviate while texting. She thinks it’s lazy and doesn’t promote good thought processes. I tend to agree, but will use a few, as I find my texts are always full of typos (spell check!)…I am usually rushing as I type and frequently don’t stop to proofread.

I worry that historians will not have reference material for famous people if thoughts aren’t committed to paper. No one keeps diaries. Twitter is a terrible place. We would all do well if it were shut down altogether and the Orange Monster lost that particular avenue of communication and had to go back in time to other forms of communication. His signature is a child’s scrawl. It reflects his state of mind.

I am on many social media platforms (though increasingly wary of what I post), but I tend to be old fashioned in my thinking about cursive, even if my handwriting is awful. Email does provide instant communication and gratification, but I do think something is lost if we don’t remember how to be polite and keep social graces alive, whether those include cursive or not.



Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: condolence notes, thank you notes, poor penmenship
Characterizations: right on!


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Really interesting story, Betsy. And, of course, I now fully expected you would have helpful contemporaneous photos to accompany it — which, of course, you did.. But a quibble. To me, your Bride’s Book cursive is about as neat and graceful as I can imagine. Maybe that knitting really did help. I should scribble a note so you can see what truly bad handwriting looks like. even if you can’t read what I’m saying.

    And, like you, I remain semi-old school in my belief that handwritten notes are still the best genre for truly personal communications. The note from Nancy reminds me that I still write out condolences. That said, if I really want someone to know what I am saying, I spare them my cursive and type it out. And feel the same way trying to decipher others’ cursive.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, John. My cursive was OK (it has deteriorated over the years). I probably made an effort to write legibly in that book so I could read it (the invitations were sent from that list; Dan just asked me what a “Bride’s Book is. I had to explain it included the list of everyone who was invited to our wedding and the list of all gifts from the bridal showers and wedding, and a column to be checked off when the thank you note was sent). I guess I used to compare myself to my mother’s writing, which was much finer, and many other women, who had lovely cursive. Mine was OK, never great and got worse and worse as the years progressed. The example I used was 46 years ago. I almost showed a sample of my mother’s writing, but it dated from the ’90s, when she was in her 80s and I thought that wasn’t fair, as she was already and old woman. She had really nice handwriting.

      I suspect there are many of us who are “old school” and still believe in sending personal, hand written thank you and condolence notes, but that will die out with our generation. Having said that, I do understand about wanting notes to be legible!

  2. I’m with Vicki, Betsy…even as I use them, I bemoan the use of abbreviations and worse yet, the misspellings and usage errors that are now so rife they’ve become the new normal and are therefore acceptable (“Awe” for “Aww” and don’t get me started on it’s and its, I even wrote a blog post about that one).

    Of course you still have “doll blankets” tucked safely away. I’ve come to expect nothing less from you, my friend. I might have to take up knitting as my own writing is almost illegible at this point (probably due to a combination of lack of use, aging, and laziness.) And your bride’s book, so neat and in alphabetical order yet, and that’s just the S page (at least one of them).

    I’m all for getting rid of Twitter. Thought about using it, didn’t take to it, never will. Especially now that it’s the preferred medium for the Monster…that tells us everything we need to know about his attention span and grasp of language (or rather lack thereof on both counts). Sorry/not sorry, Twitterers.

    And finally, yes, let’s hear it for the social graces. Hear, hear! (Spoken like a true baby boomer, right?) Thanks for another very enjoyable story, Bets!

  3. Marian says:

    You’ve covered so much great ground, Betsy, and I totally agree about social graces and condolence letters and cards. There have been times when I’ve had to do them by email, and I’ve always apologized for the format. Your writing in the bride’s book looks wonderful to me, and like you, if I concentrated really hard, I could make my cursive neat, at least. About the knitting, though, I’m traumatized to this day because I couldn’t do it at all. Even worse, my mom’s side of the family have great motor skills and could sew or knit just about anything.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, Marian. Glad we are in agreement about social graces. I confess, given that I sent that last condolence note to London, I also emailed it, for speed, saying the handwritten note would arrive later. That way, she had the message, but would later have something tangible to refer back to (I don’t often, but occasionally look at a few notes I received when my father died, some 30 years ago). I think it helps.

      As you can see, I, also, never really got the hang of knitting or sewing. I can do buttons. I feel your pain.

  4. Suzy says:

    I love your featured image from your Bride’s Book, and am shocked that Dan didn’t know what it was. I used index cards for my wedding, they came in a white plastic box with gold lettering on it. I still have them, of course, taking up prime real estate in my night table drawer, even though half the people we invited in 1983 have died by now.

    Interesting about knitting. My daughter Molly flunked finger knitting in kindergarten (Waldorf school) so they wanted to hold her back. We moved her to a different school instead. She still can’t knit, but her handwriting is lovely.

    Of course I agree with you about social graces, texting, and twitter. I have a twitter account but never use it or even look at it. I was tweeting for Retrospect for a while, because JZ had set up an account, but finally stopped because I don’t think anyone was reading it, including me.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I commented this morning (when Dan asked me about the Bride’s Book) how many people on the noted page are no longer with us. I suppose not shocking after 46 years, but still, a bit sad.

      Glad you got Molly out of that Waldorf School. Ridiculous!

      I like to see what Lawrence Tribe is tweeting about, but not many others. Just don’t care!

  5. My Betsy, your Barbie doll certainly had a lot of rugs!

    How lovely you still have your Brides Book, altho why am I not surprised!
    And I’m sure you wrote your wedding presents thank-you notes in the same careful cursive.
    As I just wrote to Marian, I’m always stunned when I get graduation and wedding thank-you notes written in what looks like such childish block letters!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I suspect the two individual block colored rectangles were used as rugs, Dana. I can’t remember what I used the long, multi-colored piece for any more. But it still got put away in my Barbie case with all the other little doo-dads.

      Yes, I certainly did write thank you notes for all shower and wedding gifts in that careful cursive. Even now, when I write a note, I try to be careful so the writing is legible (too often it is not). Let’s face it, the art of writing is a lost art. Even teaching the art of thank you note writing is slipping away, I fear.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Amen, Betsy. I totally agree with you. I hate Twitter because I think it is lazy and allows people like you-know-who to have a huge platform for his ignorant and half-baked thoughts. I doubt he could write a coherent paragraph, or even a sentence. Your knitting is a hoot, although your handwriting is not that bad. All of us struggle with this and keyboarding as we age.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Glad we are in agreement, Laurie. My older son put me on Twitter some time ago, then tried to explain it as a way to communicate quickly with your set of friends. I think it quickly got out of hand and turned into a troll-filled platform for venom. The fact that verified accounts were so easily hacked recently is a cause of great concern, going into election season. And yes, handwriting definitely deteriorates as we age.

  7. You cover a great deal in this story, Betsy. I can tell that handwriting was a bete noir for you, even considering your clear stance that it has its place in the world. I love your line “Twitter is a terrible place.” You make it sound like a horrible chamber in Through the Looking Glass! I thought your wedding book resembled Jane Austen’s were she to have had one. And I thought your reference to Trump and his childish scrawl also carried with it, a very Austen-like edge. Thanks for all the worlds you visited in this post!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Charles. I always appreciate your point of view. I’ve never been compared to Jane Austen. I think I’ll have to correct my posture as well as my penmanship!

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