Outgrown

I opened a drawer in my daughter’s room earlier this evening and found a pair of little slippers I thought I’d lost. I made them to match the cardigan I knit as her coming home outfit. Unfortunately for that plan, but fortunately for the life of the cardigan, I made it a couple of sizes too big. No matter; too big babywear just means later, and in this instance, it fit for most of her first year.

I first started knitting when I was eight and my maternal grandmother taught me a simple garter stitch. I remember feeling like I was making magic as I watched the rows unfold. At eight, though, I was flighty, and I wanted to be a prodigy in every endeavor. When the scarf took longer than expected, when I wasn’t instantly capable, when grandma wasn’t going to tell me right away that I was a great knitter, I set the scarf aside. I think I picked up the needles again every so often, but I never gained any greater proficiency.

When I was about 19, one of my two best friends started crocheting. She came home from college with a hat that I admired prodigiously, and then revealed that she had made it. Imagine. She had a fashionable toque in a color of her choosing that had been made specifically for her head. That same friend bought me some forest green yarn and a few crochet needles for my 20th birthday. Included with my present were a few lessons and some patient instruction, and before long I was making my own hats and scarves.

When I was 20, I began to make myself a forest green hat. No matter what I did, the hat kept coming out baby sized. Confession: this is not far off my own head size. You can laugh if you wish, but my head fits snugly into a large toddler sized hat. Anyway, I kept working and working at that little green hat, and no matter what I did, it came out tiny, tiny, tiny. I was working on the hat the night I found out I was pregnant. I finished the little green hat, and the spell had been broken. I was able to make hats in my own size. The green hat was the only one that fit my son when we brought his tiny self home from the hospital. All of the hats people had bought for him were too big.

When I was 23 or 24, and my second son had been born, my oldest child began to ask for a scarf. And for some reason, I decided I wanted to learn to knit again. I was rusty. My grandmothers were gone. I had no idea what I was doing. I looked on the internet, and found a website called http://www.learntoknit.com. There wasn’t a lot of instruction there, but there was enough, and it was surprising how quickly that movement came back into my hands. Up, through, around, over, off. Up, through, around, over, off. A little navy scarf flowed off of my needles much faster than I could have expected. I liked the look of the garter stich; I liked the feel of the fabric.

I didn’t progress much beyond that point for a good while. I made a couple more scarves, one exceptionally clumsy one with stripes for my husband. A good way into all of this, I decided – deep breath – to learn to purl, something that, in my head, was going to be a very difficult task. It was almost disappointing to discover how easy purling was, since I’d built it up to a Herculean task in my head. The hydra was an earthworm, and that pretty stockinette stitch I’d admired from afar turned out to be a scarlet woman, not an unatainable goddess.

And there I stuck. I looked and looked to see why my attempts to knit and purl in one row were failing and came up empty handed. I decided to learn to make a sweater anyway. Not knowing much about yarns, I chose a dishcloth cotton for my first attempt. (Which first attempt is now being made into dishcloths, actually.) I made it most of the way through the back of a 3T sized blue sweater and then discovered that I had no idea what it meant when the pattern said “turn shoulder”. Back to the scarves and the weird little squares that I used as washcloths.

When I was 26, I found out I was pregnant again. This time, by gum, I was going to do it. I was going to make a sweater. If I had to fake my way through, so be it. I picked a pattern with no shoulder shaping at all, one that advertised its simplicity in a mention that it could be completed in a weekend. It was done with a seed stitch, which I was incapable of doing, since I still hadn’t learned to carry my yarn. No matter. I made the little sweater in stockinette stitch. I used some pretty purple cotton and rayon that I’d been given. I didn’t know the sex of the baby I was having, but several other women around me were having girls, so I figured I would find a use for it one way or another. It was actually when I was almost done with the little purple sweater that I found out that I was having a girl, one who presumably would be able to wear my little creation.

So that’s where matter stood when, having completed my first sweater, and feeling the blood lust that comes of slaying a dragon, I decided that I was going to make the sweater that my baby would wear home from the hospital. I leafed through my pattern book and found another simple pattern, this one entirely in stockinette. I went to that terrifying and hallowed place, the local yarn store, and chose a washable soft wool in deep red orange, and another in two shades of bright green, twisted around each other. My husband and I had been lamenting the lack of bright shades available in baby girls’ clothing. And this is what came off the needles.

That little cardigan fit her for ages. It was warm and snug, and it made me feel proud every time she wore it. I made the buttons out of Sculpey, because we couldn’t find any buttons that looked right with it. And some months later, I made the matching slippers.

It was a strange thing coming across them in that drawer. They’re tiny. They never stayed on her foot the way I’d hoped they would. They’ll never fit her now. But they still made me feel proud when I saw them. That was the first time I’d altered a pattern.

I’m never sure how many of my handknits I should hang on to. My kids keep on growing. Eleanor gets bigger by the second. Gabriel is wearing a boys’ size medium now – a medium! Liam turned five yesterday. It seems wasteful to cling to remnants, wearable remnants that could be used and loved by someone else. And yet.

Finding those little slippers made me realize not just that my children are growing up, but that I am, too. It’s amazing how much is contained in a bit of cloth. And maybe that is something worth hanging on to. Just maybe.

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2 Responses to “Outgrown”

  1. Kat Says:

    Oh, it *is* worth holding on to, it is! Such a wonderful story in and such a flare for narrative. There’s a reason I track your words.

    And, dang, that is one cute kid!

  2. Sarah Says:

    What a marvelous history. It’s remarkable to me that you find time to knit at all with three kiddos, and yet you do, with flair and wisdom and innovation. Chapeau toi, cherie! Happy birthday to grown-up Liam, and do hang on to those darling little slippers. Nora will want them for her own babes (and at this rate, before you know it!) someday.

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