The older I get, the more I’m drawn homeward. When the weather turns cold, my craving for soup on the stove, a fire in the hearth, and time to knit begs to be slaked. Chilly temps find me cruising arts and crafts stores, feasting on colors and textures of yarn, imagining new projects. Winter sends me digging for my stash.
On hands and knees with the bedspread flipped up, driven by this seasonal hunger, I drag out from under my bed baskets and totes of knitting supplies, including fifty years of my mother’s accumulation I inherited after she died. Unlike my messy stockpile, hers is meticulously organized: stitch holders, markers, and gauge rulers, and dozens of pairs of needles—aluminum, plastic, wooden, double point, circular—all collated by size and neatly labeled. Her handwriting mark the pages of dog-eared pattern books dated back to the 1950s. Unused skeins of expensive alpaca wool leave me to wonder at her unfulfilled intentions.
I was eight when she taught me to knit, my first undertaking, a self-portrait. Painstaking and earnest, my stitches were tight and my fingertips grew sore from pushing and prying the work that hugged the needles tenaciously. Though rife with mistakes, the baby booties provided my first taste of accomplishment. Booty, that is. I never finished the pair. My mother lost the pregnancy, her fourth child, a boy. We didn’t talk about it much. Not until I was a mother of four myself did I realize the magnitude of her loss. I wish I’d asked her to tell me how she felt about it while I had the chance.
A pair of fingerless angora gloves featuring intricate latticework was the last things she made me. With skills far surpassing my own, my mother remained ever my teacher. With enthusiasm, she shared new techniques like a sweater pattern with knit-in pockets. With it, she knit a gorgeous moss-stitched cardigan for her mother, the one who’d taught her and who was was newly widowed and alone. When my Grammy died, the sweater passed to me. And I gave it to my daughter who wrapped herself up in three generations of maternal safeguarding through treatment for breast cancer.
On the floor, with my derriere in the air, I reach past balls of leftover yarn to find what I’ve been searching for: a not-quite-finished, nearly-forgotten afghan I started more than a decade ago. Comprised of individual squares in off-white, in varying patterns of cable twists, tweeds, and herringbone–a Fisherman sweater style texture–it is, in effect, a knitted patchwork quilt.
Threading the yarn through my fingers, I deftly cast on, sliding the right needle behind, wrapping the yarn and pulling the stitch through. Reading the pattern, I begin to knit. K4, YO, SSK, (K1, K2 tog, YO, SSK) 6 times, K3. As natural as breathing, the rhythm is soothing. My hands know the way. Mine, like my mother’s, are lightly spotted with age and blue veins under thin skin now. Taut tendons like a puppeteer’s strings make my fingers dance. When I knit, my mother is close. More than that, when I knit, I embody my mother and I’m comforted by her presence.
I gather the completed blocks and lay them out. Placing right sides together, the darning needle in my teeth, I whip stitch two pieces together, then three, and four, creating strips, then joining those until a blanket is formed, a mosaic of complexity. Like a lifetime, the whole reflects more than its many parts. Seasons of joy and pain, of blessings and loss, merge into a single work of art.
I stand back and take it in, gratified at having fashioned something so lovely. Satisfaction in the creative process is as much a reward as the finished product itself. Even more, the gifting of the object carries, in an intimate expression of love, the giver’s very essence. Within my proffered heirloom resides comfort for now and lingering rememberance for after I’m gone. My mother knew this. And she taught me well.