I realized today I’ve never explained the meaning behind my blog title: this hand knit heart. After some recent heavy posts, I figured this would be a nice break.
I learned how to loom-knit when I was 13. Loom-knitting was a class that semester in the homeschool co-op, where we would meet once a week for an hour and knit. I signed up because I had always wanted to make things with yarn, but always found it too difficult; my experiences with crocheting were disastrous.
This is a loom. To knit, you would wrap the yarn around the pegs, then lift the lower loop above the upper loop and off the peg. Loom-knitting essentially has two steps: wrap and lift.
I picked it up immediately and never looked back.
Almost a year later, I learned how to knit with needles. Looms are expensive and I wanted to knit with different types of yarn. I could not afford both, so I chose to knit with nicer yarn on knitting needles. I learned how to knit by watching videos on YouTube and following the steps with my old, cheap chopstick “needles” and some awful acrylic yarn. The stitches fell into place after a while and, eventually, it grew to be relaxing and reflexive.
Within a few months, I was knitting socks. Socks are fun because they’re portable and they take a long time to finish. I’m a fast knitter, so long projects are my saving grace. Also, the colors are gorgeous.
The first pair of socks I finished were the worst. The first sock wasn’t so bad. I knit it exactly the size I needed.
The second sock was a disaster from the start and by the time I got to the toe, I was ready for it to be finished. Once I grafted the toe together and tried it on, I knew something was wrong. The portion of the foot between the heel and the toe was too short. I needed to knit a few more rows.
No problem, I was used to pulling out my knitting and starting over. I unraveled the toe decreases, knit a few more rows, then reknit the toe. I tried it on once more. Still too small.
I was aggravated, but I wasn’t going to be beaten by two sticks and some string.
I tried it again. I ripped back, knit more rows, reknit the toe, and triumphantly slid the green thing over my foot.
Still too small.
By this time, I was over this pair of socks. I’d start a new pair someday and, hopefully, have better success. These green things were demoralizing. I put them away.
The next day, my dog died unexpectedly.
My dog Lilly was the Shiloh to my Marty. She was my Lassie. My Hachi. My baby. I was just going into my second depressed episode and everything in my life was sideways. I needed something to go right. I needed something to be redeemed.
The next day, I took those godawful socks and did some knitting surgery; I cut and removed the toe from the foot, knit another inch on the foot, then reattached the toe.
I put them on and danced around the room. They fit. They finally fit.
If you look at the right sock, you can see where I (poorly) grafted the toe. I didn’t weave in the ends because I was so frickin’ tired of the darn things I couldn’t stand the thought of working on them one second more.
I knit a shawl that same year. A beautiful, warm, strong shawl made of cream cashmere. I spent all summer on that thing, feeding it more and more yarn until it grew to have more than 1,600 stitches per row. Near the end, it took an hour and a half to knit a single row.
I entered it into the fair that year and won first place in my division.
A year later, I knit a cardigan during the 2012 London Olympic Games. I finished it a month after the Olympics ended, but watching the Fierce Five dominate in gymnastics while I was working on a project was so rewarding. I also entered that in the fair.
I don’t usually knit for other people because it takes too much time and effort, but I’ve made a few exceptions.
I like knitting for babies. Those projects are small, soft, and adorable.
I loom-knit a massive baby blanket for my oldest niece before she was born. When my second niece was born, I knit her a cardigan and a hat. (The cardigan had buttons that looked like puppy faces. I have pictures somewhere…) My third niece will be receiving a hat and some mittens soon.
I knit one cardigan during the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympic Games. I started during the opening ceremony and finished as the torch was extinguished two and a half weeks later. It took three attempts to start the cardigan before I finally got it right, but I was paying more attention to the opening ceremony than the actual knitting. It took three months for me to sew on buttons, but that’s because I really hate sewing.
It was worth it.
There are few things cuter than babies in knitwear.
I knit a sweater earlier this year for another baby, this time getting it to his mother before he was born. But I still procrastinated that one. The night before the baby shower, I only had the collar completed. I worked all afternoon, into the evening, and through the night knitting. I went to bed at 3am with the body and half a sleeve finished, wondering if the thing would be too big for a newborn. I woke up around 8 and knit until 3:30. I scrambled to put on makeup and find a bag and a notecard. The sweater was going in a bag like a proper baby gift and I wasn’t going to look like a zombie, sleep deprivation be damned.
It turned out beautifully.
I have promised a few other people some knitted items, like a close friend who will receive a wedding shawl and sweaters for any of her kids.
I have two small drawers full of shawls, scarves, hats, and socks. I might live in the south, but I have enough knitwear to stay warm during our occasional freak snowstorms.
Another benefit of knitting is that it keeps me grounded; when my needles are moving, I don’t have enough room in my mind for worrying.
When my social anxiety flares up, I focus on counting every new stitch. If I ever lose track, I pick a random number and keep going. In the past, when a sermon bumped against a trigger, I would focus on my knitting instead of the painful thoughts swirling around in my head. When I didn’t know anybody in the college ministry, I would focus on my knitting instead of the anxiety rolling over me. It helped me cope while I slowly made new friends. Eventually, I became more comfortable and stopped bringing my knitting altogether. It was a necessary step in my staircase to recovery. But when I need it, I bring it and try to give myself grace; I’m not losing ground, I’m working to maintain the ground I’ve recovered.
Like with my knitting, I am slowly remaking myself. Like with knitting, I am living my life one moment at a time. I can’t knit all the stitches at once. I have to build on tiny bits of progress. If something is wrong, I’ll rip it back to where I messed up and fix it, or I’ll pull the whole thing out and begin again.
It sounds frustrating, and it certainly can be, but I love knitting so much that it doesn’t bother me so much. I know I can fix my mistakes. I’ve done it before, I can do it again. In my huge, fluffy cardigan, I had a cable I turned the wrong way in the middle of the back when I was all the way at the bottom working on the edging. I discovered this mistake late at night and may or may not have said a few choice words. I knew I wanted to enter it into the fair and I wasn’t going to reknit the whole thing, so I had to find a way to fix it. I did the same thing to that cable that I did to my too-short sock: I cut, reknit, and grafted the rows back together. I had done it before, and I did it again.
I can’t rip back to my past mistakes of believing toxic theology or completely pull out entire years of my life, so that’s where the knitting metaphor breaks down. Yet, I believe it still stands. As I step into my future, I am building on past progress. I am building on hard-won confidence. I am appreciating each moment as much as I am able. When life is difficult, I know I can get through.
In a lot of ways, I see knitting as another form of God’s grace. He knew I’d need something to focus on when things weren’t going well. He knew I’d need something productive to do with my hands so that I wouldn’t run when I was in stressful situations. He knew I’d need something to work on that felt soft and looked pretty; sometimes, I just needed to wrap a soft shawl around my neck to feel better. Knitting can help me feel the warmth of God’s love.
In the future, I’m looking forward to knitting things for my kids. They’re going to be swallowed by sweaters whether they like it or not. I’m looking forward to knitting my first afghan and watching it disintegrate from constant use. I look forward to teaching my kids to knit and seeing which ones stick with it. I look forward to all the other little kids for whom I’ll knit sweaters and blankets and hats. I look forward to seeing the other people in my life who’ll receive knitted items. I look forward to gently threatening them that if they ever even think about throwing out something I hand made for them. I hope they’ll at least have the decency to pass it along to someone they know would appreciate it.
All things considered, knitting has had a huge influence on my life. I have more yarn than is reasonable and have found the joy of clothing myself and others in things I made with my own hands. I have seen the satisfaction of making mistakes, correcting them, and continuing to move forward and finish the project. I feel like I’m living out what Elizabeth Zimmermann said in her book Knitting Without Tears: Knit on with confidence and hope through all crises.
In my own life, I feel like I’m knitting myself back together, one moment and one stitch at a time. Tomorrow’s a new day with new moments to experience and new stitches to knit.
Truly, I am thankful.
❤ Sara Kathryn