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We like to believe that we can create a sense of comfort in things we make for ourselves and each other and that a physical object can convey a message (mixed tapes, anyone?). For example, those who make “prayer” shawls are asked to keep the intended recipient in their thoughts as they are knitting or crocheting. The idea is that the maker imbues the shawl with these thoughts and that the recipient is comforted by the physical shawl.

Keith and I met in college in the 80s. We instantly clicked, becoming one another’s co-conspirator, confidant, and bestie. When Keith and I reconnected upon my move to Brooklyn, NY in 1994, it was as though no time had passed since our last meeting. 

In 1996, I knit him a sweater for his 30th birthday (Lloyd by Marion Foale), using apple green Annabel Fox yarn. It may have been a touch oversized as I wasn’t necessarily doing gauge swatches at the time, but it became a favourite—not only of Keith’s but of his friends who’d come to visit.

By the time Keith was turning 50, the sweater had seen better days. There were multiple holes and runs, and what had been a “touch oversized” was now outright baggy. I had become a better knitter by then, and I wanted to rip out the sweater and use the original yarn for a new (and improved!) sweater for him. Reknitting the sweater felt like an appropriate way to celebrate our bond as friends and honour the way our relationship had endured. I’d moved to Canada eleven years earlier, but this time we’d managed to keep our friendship active.

I asked him for his input this time, and as soon as I brought the sweater home, I started looking for suitable patterns. I was excited to start on it, but there were a few projects I needed to finish first. Keith knew of my intention to knit the sweater for him; he didn’t need the physical object immediately. The sweater could wait.

One night in February 2019, I texted him to see if he was available to chat. There’d been some drama in his life, and we needed to debrief. He texted back, “No! Still at hospital!!” Hospital? Who was in the hospital? A mutual friend later texted to tell me that it was Keith who was in the hospital, and his liver was failing.

Keith died ten days after that text, at the age of 52. I’d managed to book a flight down a few days after I’d spoken with Chip, his partner. There’d been some anxious days when I didn’t know if I could get down to see him before he died because I was waiting for my renewed passport to arrive. Keith and I had texted on the 12th of February; I flew down on the 21st, and he died on the 22nd.

I hadn’t even ripped out the original sweater yet. I’d thought I had time. The sweater sat in my office, and all I could think about was Keith and how I hadn’t managed to tell him one more time how much I loved him. 

It was while repeatedly encountering (sidestepping?) the sweater in my office that I realized what I needed to do. I would still unravel it, but I would use the yarn to knit a sweater for Chip. I knew that Keith would want me to maintain my relationship with his partner, and I wanted to reassure Chip that my connection to him hadn’t died with Keith. The new sweater would be a way to connect with Chip and build upon our relationship as well as memorialize Keith. 

The unraveling has been challenging. I blame grief for my second round of procrastination. I’ve struggled to find the seams, and the yarn has definitely been compromised in some areas (there will be a lot of Russian joins). But I also feel that I am with Keith as I take the sweater apart. I know that this sweater once held him, and I hold onto that.

There is so much in the sweater that speaks to who both Keith and I were in 1996. I see the ambitious knitter I was then, and the green speaks to me of our youth and naivete. We hadn’t lost people close to us yet, and we were still feeling, and to a certain extent acting, immortal. I feel his mortality now, in the yarn that passes through my fingers and each stitch I undo.

Yet I’m also anticipating the transformation. I’m anxious to cast on. I’ve chosen a different sweater (Gib II by Andrea Mowry) for Chip because while the sweater will tie us together through our love of Keith, it will now be his, made for the man Chip is. There is still a fair amount of patternwork involved, but this time, I’ve done a gauge swatch. As I knit, I’ll be thinking about both Keith and Chip as well as what ties us all together.

I am confident that Chip will feel the love. My goal is to have this sweater finished in time to get it to him by Keith’s birthday, September 29th (still ambitious). I want this garment to move beyond the sublimation of grief into a physical manifestation of love, remembrance, and futurity.

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About The Author

Open to learning how to do practically everything, Claudia teaches, writes, knits, and makes art in Hamilton, Ontario. Her textbook, Fashion Writing: A Primer, was published by Routledge in November 2022.

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  • Beautiful story

    • My sentiments exactly, Sandy.

  • Thank for sharing your friendship, your grief and such a beautiful way of honouring your friend and all the connections made through him.

    • YOu said it best!

  • Thank you for this story. It came at the perfect moment. My husband has just been diagnosed with stage four liver cancer. There is a red sweater that I knit for him early on and I will reknit now

    • My heart goes out to you, Wanda. You are doing a brave and beautiful thing, just as Claudia is. What a wonderful story to share.

    • God bless you and your family.

      • What a touching story and a great way to pay tribute to your friend. I made a Norwegian ski sweater for my dad in 1975 and my mom gave it to me when he passed away. I wear it on very cold days in winter in western Maryland.

  • You are a beautiful soul.

    • I’ve done some grief knitting over the last few years—mainly tackling unfinished items begun by deceased or ill family members, or beloved items in need of repair made by family or friends.Your gift of reknitting a garment for your friend’s partner is a wonderful and thoughtful gift of remembrance and love.

  • What a heartwarming remembrance. With deepest condolences on the loss of your friend. I think the knitting will bring comfort to you and Chip.

  • Thanks for telling and reminding us. I’ll bet Chip won’t take that sweater off for months. You better get knitting.

    • A beautiful story of friendship and love -love for each other and for what we as knitters do-pass along our love to others as we knit for them.

  • Heartbreaking and inspiring – thank you so much. A beautiful, beautiful essay. Thank you for sharing your grief and love with us knitters. Peace.

  • You have a wonderful mission ahead – Keith and Chip are so lucky to have you as a friend. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Blessings for each stitch and join!

  • Such a sweet story. I hope you get to finish it by Keith’s birthday. Good luck and god bless.

    • Claudia, this is such a beautiful and moving story about making, connection and loss. It’s fabulous to read your writing here. Happy knitting! I’ll be thinking of you, Keith and Chip in September.

  • Thank you for this story full of friendship and connection. I wish you all the best as you knit. And thank you for the link to the Russian join which I didn’t know about.

    • May every stitch of Chip’s new sweater bring you sweet memories of Keith.

  • Thank you for sharing

  • What a beautiful story. Your words have truly touched me. Keith and Chip are lucky to have you as a friend.

  • I suppose it’s why we knit. I know sometimes I have a hard time expressing how I feel about my loved ones. But when I knit something for them I hope they know the enormous amount of love that’s there. Best wishes.

  • Spot on, perfect, lovely, thank you. My heart goes out to you, to Keith, and to Chip.

  • What a loss, and you found a very special journey to knit into it. Thank you for this poignant letter!

  • Wow! What a beautiful piece – a wake up call to many, myself included. Eat the cake and knit the sweater. Thank you.

  • What a wonderful thing to do in memory of your friend. I’m sure Chip will treasure it.

  • Each stitch is a moment that pulls us closer together.

  • So lovely! This really speaks to me as we prepare for a celebration of life for my mother-in-law tomorrow. We didn’t have a lot in common, but we were both knitters. Much of her knitting was for gifting, and I will think of her often when I am knitting for other people.

  • What a beautiful way to honor your friendship.

  • Thank you for sharing such a personal story

  • Your story brought tears to my eyes. Thank you

  • Wow, I felt every moment of that. Thanks for sharing.

  • Beautiful. Thank you.

  • You’ve made me cry. So many losses and loves as we age. Chip is very lucky to have you in his life.

  • Wonderful!

  • Thank you. It’s a beautiful story of connections and deep friendship, and I had a few tears with my tea this morning.

  • I hope this sweater comforts you and Chip. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Thank you for sharing your beautiful story of friendship and love. The reclaimed sweater will be a beautiful hug.

  • So beautiful. Those guys are lucky to have you!

  • Sorry you lost your friend. I am sure Chip will cherish your gift❤️

  • My deepest condolences on you loss.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    This brought back so many memories of the sweaters I knit for friends when I could not afford to buy all the yarn I wanted. They bought the yarn; I knit the sweaters. The Adrienne Vittadini cotton cardigan is living in Seattle–providing a pop of color for rainy Seattle weather. The Shetland wool fisherman’s knit has been providing warmth for a friend in Portugal for more than 40 years. A pair of Icelandic pullovers (still married) reside together in a Boston suburb. Sweaters knit for friends transcend functional comfort, they provide an enduring bond to our shared lives.

    My brother passed away recently. My daughter will have the Icelandic wool sweater my mother knit for him.

  • Wonderful friendship…beautiful sweater
    My sincere condolences

  • Thank you for sharing this tender story of love and loss. Sending you love as you continue your journey of grief one stitch at a time.

  • I’m so glad you were there before Keith died. In doing so, you *were* able to tell him you love him. Please be gentle with yourself about that. And give a hug to Chip from all of us.

  • I lived in Hamilton from 1970-1972. Great story, sorry about your friend.

  • I’m sorry for the loss of your longtime friend. This is a beautiful story, thank you for sharing. I love the sweater you have chosen for Chip, and I think it will be stunning in this vibrant green. I hope you share the story of Chip receiving his new sweater this fall.

  • I’m glad you were able to be with Keith. Glad that you found a good use for the unraveled yarn. As I am now caring for someone in their last days, this essay speaks volumes to me.

    Most of all, it reminds me not to procrastinate, especially in telling someone by word or deed that I love them. We think we have all the time in the world, but we don’t.

  • This is such a beautiful story. It’s what binds us all together. I hope you are ready for Chip’s birthday. Lovely…

  • What a beautiful story and what a wonderful idea to re-knit it for Chip.

  • Lovely ❤️

  • OMG!! I love the connections between the writer and her friend and the yarn. I love the color of the green yarn. Friendship and knitting is win, win.

  • Thank you! ❤️

  • Many people have processed their grief through the healing of meditative knitting. You are a blessing to both Keith and Chip. The sweater will turn out beautifully and the soul connection you have with these men will be everlasting.

  • So sorry for your loss but what a wonderful story, please let us know when you finish the sweater and how much Chip loves it.

  • What a story of love! Thank you for sharing it with us. All the best to you and Chip.

  • What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it.

  • So sorry.

  • Lovely.

  • When the hands do the work of the heart there is so much healing for all involved! Having read this early this morning, I’ve been blown away all day by the layers of emotion, of beauty, of sensitivity in this post. Thank you, Claudia, for your beautiful sharing. ❤

  • I too am deeply touched by your story, so heartfelt & wonderfully written. Thank you.

  • Lovely!!! Having your as a friend must be wonderful.

  • Thank you for sharing this with us!

  • What a wonderful story plus a wonderful sweater for Chris to help as he enters his new life.

  • In August of 2021, just before the big family gathering to celebrate my mom’s 80th birthday, we got the news that my sister’s cancer was spreading and not responding to treatment. Everyone was devastated, obviously. I coped by buying some gorgeous alpaca yarn and casting on a basic garter stitch shawl. I brought it to the family gathering and it was passed around for everyone to knit. Most of my family don’t knit, so they had a quick tutorial, or occasionally someone else’s hands guided them through a row. A few knitting cousins took the shawl and knit away for an hour or so. Everyone poured their love and hope for a better outcome into their stitches, finding a small measure of comfort in doing something to help, and the shawl was finished before our long weekend ended.

    My sister was approved for an experimental treatment and made an amazing recovery. When I next saw her at Halloween, she told me how much it meant to her. Asked to hear the story of how it was made and who contributed, and told me how it lived on her bedside table and gave soft, warm comfort when she woke up in the dark of the night.

    Unfortunately there is no happy ending: the cancer returned and she died a week after Thanksgiving that same autumn. But I’m grateful for the few extra months, and that my knitting gave some comfort to my sister and the rest of the family.

    I’m sorry about Keith.

  • I have made pillows out of many of the sweaters my mom made that were no longer wearable. Every time I see them on my sofa I think of the love she put into her knitting

  • Such a beautiful way to honor your friend and support yourself and Chip in your grief. I love this story of renewal!

  • Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and personal story Claudia. What a beautiful way to honor your friendship with both Keith and Chip.

  • My heart is touched by this story and the gift of a beautiful way to keep a loving connection strong.

  • What a wonderful idea to keep the memories of those we loved.

  • What a beautiful post and beautiful tribute in yarn. Thank you for this authentic and vulnerable moment shared. Condolences in your loss and blessings in each stitch forward.

  • ❤️

  • You are a special person.

  • Oh, Claudia. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing, and I wish you all the best as you knit for Chip. ❤️❤️❤️

  • Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Thank you for sharing your beautiful LOVE story. May Chip carry on the apple green, well… XO

  • A beautiful story told by a beautiful soul. Thank you for sharing.

  • What a beautiful testament to the kind of love that truly never dies! Thank you!

  • Your story simultaneously broke my heart and made me happy all at once! What a lovely tribute to your dear friend Keith, so filled with love! As a knitter, I always feel I am putting love for the person in each stitch I make, so true since I only knit for the special people in my life. I am very sorry for your loss and I know when you finish Chips sweater, you will both feel the ties that bind you to Keith and each other.

  • Thank you for this very beautiful and moving writing about this sweater for Keith. What a wonderful and meaningful gift it will be for Chip ….. such a “beyond special” project to work on …. So much love in that yarn❣️

  • What a fabulous story. Grief turned into positivity and an opportunity to engage in a new creative and loving journey. What a beautiful jumper and such a luscious colour! There is something divine in the ability to express our love via knitting, crocheting and making gifts for others. Thank you for a very inspirational piece.

  • Thank you for this lovely tribute to people we love

  • I am catching up on emails and this really touched my heart strings. A favorite cousin had a stroke. We emailed everyday since re-discovering our adult cousins. 2009 until July 20. She supported me in discovery of my mother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s and I supported her in the sudden death of her husband. Then on July 20 her morning email did not come. She had a stroke. I will see her next week. Had been putting that visit off but this encouraged me to go now. Thank you for sharing this journey.

  • Hi there would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using? I’m planning to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having a tough time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S My apologies for being off-topic but I had to ask!

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