We tuck the kids in bed and turn on the boob tube. While we veg out to recover from the bath-and-bedtime routine, I pick up my knitting needles and yarn. Tonight’s project: a sweater for my almost-three-year-old.
My husband eyes the baby blue yarn. “Is that the manliest color they had?”
“In the soft baby yarn, yes. Come on; don’t you think the sweater looks hipster?” Chris does not. I tell him not to worry. I won’t make sweaters for Keegan much longer. I know he’ll soon reach an age where homemade sweaters embarrass him. For now, though, when Keegan sees the pieces of sweater, he brags, “Mama’s making that for me.”
My husband teases, “You know they sell sweaters at the store, right? And for cheaper than the cost of all the yarn.” He’s a little irked that we have to watch TV with the light on, and though he loves the stuffed animals and dolls, the nesting boxes, and especially the soft, harmless knitted balls — toys they can grow old with and cherish as adults — he doesn’t understand knitting clothes for babies and toddlers who will outgrow garments before they can appreciate them.
But this is love. This is generosity. A sacrifice of time and material when it won’t be fully appreciated.
Though I’m not sure it isn’t appreciated at all. My kids tug on their snowman and Rastafari knit hats indoors even after they’ve thrown off all clothes. The homemade giraffe, hippopotamus, and monkey may not be their favorites, but every so often they pull them out and cuddle them, and this is enough for me.
Chris pauses Parenthood to dish some ice cream. In the silence, I pray for Keegan, my fingers moving along the stitches like Rosary beads. The bamboo needles slide against each other in a rhythmic whisper: “peace, joy, peace, joy, peace, joy.”
At some point, I notice an anomaly in the sweater — the consequence of knitting while watching TV. I’ve messed up the pattern, miscounted. I consider the damage. How much work would it take to undo four rows of stitches and re-knit? How noticeable is it? In the end, stitch by stitch, I remove the rows. I’ve become quite accomplished at this work of unknitting, even with complicated slipstitches, increases and cables. The piece won’t be perfect (how else would they recognize it as hand-knit?), but I want it to be beautiful. I used to rant over these mistakes, even cry at the wasted time, but now I accept it as part of the process. A lesson, maybe, but more than that, part and parcel to this sort of labor, to the type of work that cultivates love and generosity.
Every so often, I put on Curious George for the kids and pull out my project, but they attack the yarn like cats. I’ve tried giving them their own stash, but they prefer mine. Someday I may be able to share this craft with them, teach them how to move needle and yarn so as to create something new from a length of string, so I knit in front of them when I can, hoping to intrigue them.
I learned to knit from my mom, first as a little girl, then, after giving it up in middle school for more sophisticated hobbies (a girl on her way to Paris does not knit), again in my adult years. The second time around, I had bought a how-to package, complete with instructions and needles and a handful of other foreign objects like cable needles and stitch holders and tapestry needles. The instructions proved indecipherable, at least for me. Turns out, I don’t learn well from written instructions — a funny thing for a writer. So I did what I always do. I called my mom.
“This is stupid. I can’t even cast-on!” I threw the yarn, needles, and instruction book across the room. It wouldn’t be the last time I’d pitch my knitting.
“Hold on.” She grabbed the only thing that looks like knitting needles in the room — the rabbit ear antennas. As she mimicked the motion, she explained what she was doing, and I was on my way to a sparkly, red scarf.
That scarf began my addiction. At first, I visited Hobby Lobby weekly, collecting yarn one skein at a time with their 40%-off coupon. Then I discovered the yarn store a few blocks from my house. An establishment of knitters, crocheters, and other yarn-lovers. They taught me how to join seams and pick up stitches. They introduced me to the finer things of knitting, like handspun yarn and bamboo needles. Someday, I want to gather with the other knitters on the sofa, sipping tea, chatting patterns, and, of course, knitting. For now, I sneak off when they have a sale, leaving my kids with Chris while I “run errands.”
I learned from my mom not only the technique of knitting but also the love of making things. I wear sweaters and hats she crocheted, wrap my babies in blankets she made, sleep under her quilts. Her love swaddles my family in yarns and linens.
My to-knit list grows faster than my fingers can move; my yarn stash leaks out of the craft closet onto the playroom shelves and the wine rack. If I’m going to have any success at completing all my Christmas gifts (which I’m not), I must start in summer: slippers for my mom, legwarmers for my sister, a doll for my daughter, yoga socks for a friend, hats, scarves, sweaters, shrugs. I put aside a lace wrap I’ve been working on for myself for years because I found another pattern I need to knit for Anne. And now with another baby coming, I have more hats and sweaters to add to the list. Maybe I’ll finish that wrap after they leave for college.
While watching Rodrigo y Gabriela on Austin City Limits, I weave in the last ends on Keegan’s sweater. The next day, I show him: “Look! I finished!”
He smiles, reaches his arm out so I can put it on him. “It’s so pretty!” Not the description my husband would appreciate for a boy’s sweater, but Keegan’s excitement smites me. He likes it. He really likes it.
Keegan strips off the sweater before I can see it on him, and Anne grabs it and runs, making it the object of their latest tug-of-war. I chase after them, hoping to save it before they tear it in two like some Solomon test. On Sunday, though it’s a bit too big and I haven’t sewn the buttons on yet, Keegan wears the sweater to church, and Chris boasts to our friends that I made it. Despite Chris’ complaints, he recognizes and testifies to the love woven through the yarn.
That night, as Chris and I turn on Downton Abbey, I grab a purple skein to start Anne’s sweater. Maybe someday she’ll clothe her daughter with this sweater the same way I dress her in sweaters and dresses made for me by my mom and her friends. As I cast sixty stitches onto size-five needles, I pray for her, that she’ll know God’s grace and love, that she’ll faithfully serve Him. I think about the hand puppet I’ll make Keegan for his birthday and about which stuffed toy should be the new baby’s first (an elephant, I think). With each sweater, blanket, and toy, I stitch love.
For my birthday, I got a sewing machine. A new list of projects develops — animal costumes, superhero capes, maybe even a tapestry to hang on their wall. Look out world; I’ve got the bug.
Heather A. Goodman writes short stories, enjoys tea parties with two tiny people and a host of imaginary friends, and sneaks in her knitting whenever she can. She plans on regularly blogging about these things again at heatheragoodman.com.