Handmade: 94-year-old hooked on knitting scarves

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

Ninety-four-year-old Emil Bohn of Shelby Township has a vivid recollection of the time his wife, Virginia, said, “No,” to him in 1957.

“I asked my wife if she’d knit a bulky sweater for me, and she said, ‘No,’ (so) I said, ‘Will you teach me to knit?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ I wanted sweaters, and that was it,” he said. After learning to knit, Bohn made about five heavy sweaters, two of which he still has in his wardrobe.

His next big project was a bulky intarsia sweater with geese on the front and back and two small ones on the sleeves. (Intarsia is an intricate knitting technique done by using different colors of yarn to create words, patterns and images in the fabric.) After he finished the sweater, he asked his wife to put it on. He said, “I told her I can’t tell what it looks like if I try it on. She said, ‘It fits!’ She wouldn’t knit one for me, so I knitted one for her,” he chuckled.

The couple later made a trip to Mary Maxim in Port Huron, where he purchased yarn to knit what he thought would be his last sweater. He finished the garment and gave up knitting in 1960.

Sadly, in 2006, Bohn lost his wife of 60 years. A couple years later, after realizing he needed a way to pass the time of day, he picked up his knitting needles once again, and has since made nearly 250 45-to-48-inch scarves that he’s given as gifts to close friends and relatives. Why scarves?

“My wife told me if I knitted scarves, I’d have more fun, and believe me, she was correct. Sweaters are a pattern, and it’s got to be carried (out) correctly. Scarves – you can stop at the end of it.”

But, his scarves, each taking about two weeks to complete, aren’t that simple. Many are made with cable stitches and intarsia. Even more impressive is the fact that he designs most of the patterns – something he taught himself, without instructions from books or others. “If I see something that’s a picture or design, I think about it for awhile then put it on (graph) paper.” (What a talent!)

Bohn, who’s never without a scarf project on his needles, uses Plymouth Encore, a worsted weight yarn consisting of wool and acrylic fibers, which he buys about once a month from Crafty Lady Trio (CLTrio) in Macomb. And, because he won’t accept money for his work, people sometimes buy yarn for him.

Lynn Cusumano, one of the three owners of CLTrio, said in an email, “When a man walks into a yarn shop, the female patrons take notice. At Crafty Lady Trio, we especially look forward to Emil’s visits. His wife was our customer first, and upon her passing, Emil decided to learn to knit (again) and carry on the craft.

“He’s a generous soul, always making scarves for others. Those are no ordinary scarves either. Each one commemorates a birthday or anniversary or other special occasion and celebrates the recipient. The engineer in him can tell you the exact number of stitches in each one, and he’s always quick with a funny anecdote or joke to make you smile – and smile we do! Emil is beloved around our shop. What more can be said about Emil? ‘He’s so darn cute and we love him!’ (and I quote).”

Bohn is also a crocheter, but admits he’d much rather knit than crochet because he likes working with two needles. He does, however, keep his crochet hook handy to pick up any (knitted) stitches he may have dropped along the way.

Bohn has two sons and a daughter, and leads a very structured life. He said, “My solution is – eat, sleep and knit. Every day I knit after supper. I knit to at least midnight and then I go to bed. I haven’t had the television on for over four years, besides, there’s not too much good stuff on TV. The TV is just sitting there.” He enjoys playing music CD’s over listening to the radio. He attends church every Sunday, and, as an avid mall walker, drives himself to the shopping center six days a week, and “the seventh day” – he shops for groceries.

Just last month, Bohn decided to try his hand again at knitting a sweater. Why after all these years? “I wanted to see if I could still do it. The problem is – it takes an awfully long time to knit a sweater, so this is going to be the last one – period.” Of course, he hasn’t decided if he’ll keep it for himself, or give it to someone as a gift. (What a guy!)

Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, or

Contact Emil Bohn at (586) 247-5145.