Knitter’s Notebook: Keep Looking at Your Hands
A decade or so ago, I was at Home Ec Workshop, a store in my hometown that sells yarn and fabric, and that has become a place where I have found community. In their big central room, they had a full-service coffee bar with such scrumptious baked goods, that even non-crafters stopped by for cookies, cake, and scones. Rarely was Home Ec quiet or empty. That day, in an unexpected late afternoon lull, Codi, the owner, and I were enjoying a little break together, me from my book work, and she, from her day-to-day as a busy shopkeeper.
She was telling me about an embroidery class she had taught to kids experiencing homelessness. They had settled into their stitching when all of a sudden a boy stood up. Codi said she could see the wheels turning in his head.
“I can fix my pants!” he told her.
I knew right then I had to write a picture book about the empowering connections learning handcrafts can make: If Codi’s student could stitch, he could mend his pants. If he could mend his pants, what else could he do? I knew how he must have felt at that moment. I have felt that way many times in my knitting life, and I bet you have too.
Maybe it was when you turned a sock heel for the first time, then caught the flutter of something beyond that heel. Whatever you wanted to try next seemed more possible now because of what you had mastered. Our knitterly achievements impact us in surprising ways.
You have probably heard about someone who gets an idea for a children’s book on a bus ride across town, and by the time they ring for their stop, it is nearly written. Perhaps they are also knitting a sock, why not? I suppose it really does happen.
I can tell you in all honesty, though, writing the story that became Me and the Boss, my newest book, was a long process of developing character and setting. Eventually, a boy named Lee walked onto my page. He had an older sister named Zora. He went where she went. Together they go to an embroidery class at their local library. Zora is the boss, but it is Lee’s story.
For the telling, I looked about for truths from the maker’s world, keeping the moment when all the pieces fall together for Lee as my North Star. Stuck in a scene that wasn’t working, I opened Melanie Falick’s book, Making a Life. There in the Introduction, in large type, was this: “Keep Looking at Your Hands.” Of course! So when Lee struggles with his embroidery, he looks at his hands. Slow down, he tells them. Sometimes I tell myself the same thing.
Bit by bit, like the many rows of a garter stitch shawl, Me and the Boss took shape. Then, April Harrison, the book’s illustrator, added her zing, like a wide breathtaking, show-stealing lace edging.
Now that our book is out into the world, I am sticking close to the joy of our collective victories, celebrating what our stitching inspires us to try, whether it is to fix our pants, or to cast on another pair of wristers. Viva entrelac! Glory be to brioche! Onward to stranded knitting! Happy trails to the vast plains of crochet territory!
Like Lee, we all have our maker’s stories. Many of you posted yours on MDK recently. I hope you will continue to share them with those around you. In these challenging and uncertain times, our stories give us courage and remind us of what we can do! Competent, able, and skilled are good words to keep anyone company on a difficult, uneven path.