Skip to content

The ragged edge of my German short rows was unfortunate in its visibility and it haunted me whenever I reached for what I’ll call here, Cardigan X. Two winters passed and I wore it only twice, both times uncomfortably, self-conscious about the glaring imperfections and my own crafty shortcomings.

What kept this gawky knit in my closet, and not in the Goodwill pile, was the wool. A fine merino single ply in a red so deep and rich that a mere glimpse gave me an aesthetic jolt. I could give up on the sweater, but not on the wool. I loved that wool mightily; it deserved better.

Then at the end of our long and bitter winter, when hope and more springs eternal, a neighbor and I stood outside, and in the course of a conversation about life, we veered over to discussing discipline and resolve, and on that terrain, something clicked. Something wooly and red.

“I am going to take a sweater apart so I can reuse the wool to make a new one,” I told my husband later.

“Planning to move to Siberia?” he asked, referring to a knitting story Esther Hautzig told in her memoir, The Endless Steppe. I had often repeated to him and anyone else who might listen, how in World War II Siberia, the 12 year-old Esther unraveled a dirty old machine-knit skirt in order to knit the scavenged wool into something new and earn some food to keep her family from hunger.

“I love the red,” I explained, but by then he was back into reading the Wall Street Journal, leaving me alone with my discipline and resolve and my 12 year-old role model.

Unmaking Cardigan X was a triumph of both surgery and reverse engineering. Only the insistent beauty of the red held me steady until the hacked remains of the sweater body became a familiar path, and the winding finally proceeded with as much speed as could be expected from the delicate stitches. The result was an abundance of stray strands of dubious usefulness, many small balls, and the necessary joins to make them into larger ones.

In an odd dance involving vigorous arm movement, therefore counting as my daily exercise, the unleashed wool was re-skeined over the backs of my kitchen chairs. I soaked the skeins, relaxing most of the yarn curls. The wet bundles hung over the wooden drying rack in my laundry room, basking near the window before being called again into service.

I was committed that my new sweater, a woolly Phoenix, would be a keeper, worthy of this wool. I would take my time and do things right. We all know that means making a careful swatch, a step I have learned the hard way not to skip. A few days later when the wool was thoroughly dry and rolled back into balls, I cast on, paying close attention to my stitches from the start.

It was pleasurable to finally be knitting with this wool again. I made a 4-inch swatch in size 5 needles and after binding off, I blocked it. The swatch was right on gauge, perfect. Measuring it, I couldn’t help but admire how the stitches cuddled each other, cozy.

They were happy little stitches, matching my beloved red with their own simple grace. The wool had endured, waited. As I marveled, it came to me; this is what the poet Pat Schneider described in her poem, The Patience of Ordinary Things.

It is a kind of love, is it not? How the cup holds the tea, she wrote.

And recalling those lines, I silently added my own, how the needles hug the wool.


About The Author

Michelle Edwards writes about family, friendship, and community. Her work chronicles the large and small victories and defeats of everyday life. She frequently posts her illustrations on Instagram, her website, and at StudioScrawls, her Etsy store.


  • Love this article/story! I have a sad sweater in a similar situation and have been considering this option. Your shared story may be just the push i need to begin surgery!

    • Good luck with your sweater surgery! It’s a great feeling to turn a sad sweater into a happy one. Onward!

  • Lovely. Thank you for this gem, Yarn is green.

    • Thank you, Sara! Onward, revive your green yarn dreams.

  • Beautiful piece. Thanks for the thing if beauty this morning! Hope you’re enjoying your new, red journey.

    • Thank you, Ingrid! I am loving my new journey, first sleeve is almost done. It should be ready by the time the weather breaks.

  • Thank you for this gorgeous poem-like word picture! Moving to Siberia, ha ha! I am hoping for a next installment (or three) that allow us to follow along as the brave and plucky wavy red wool is recrafted into a beautiful new garment worthy of its soft red splendor. Please?!?!?

    • Thanks for the idea! I used to have trouble understanding how people could talk to trees, relate to them as more than trees. I think I get it now, though, because sometimes Wool/yarn takes on a whole new dimension for me, especially if it’s red.

  • I read “…Mrs Goldman” I will check out the other titles. I’ve enjoyed Michelle Edwards stories when ever I find them. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Betty, your words of support mean a lot to me. Thank you.

  • Just love the analogy and the sharing of the poem in this article. It was the sprinkles clinging to my soft ice cream cone!

    • I have not thought about sprinkles in such a long time! When my daughters were young I had jars of them that I would use to make certain foods a little more attractive to them. I told them it was fairy dust.

  • I had a deep red 100% linen vest that turned into a dress! While not as pleasant to knit, the linen fabric was gorgeous and drapey but after the unfortunate growth, I wasn’t wearing it. It was the first thing I frogged and I can totally relate to all the little balls of yarn. That slightly crinkly linen rose from the ashes in the form of another vest (yarn more carefully swatched) and I can’t wear it often enough in the summer. 🙂

    • I adore linen, but I am sure it was a challenge to frog. I bet your vest is beautiful. Onward!

  • Michelle I would love to see a before and after !
    Tinking is half my knitting!

    • For all the reasons stated in the story, I don’t have a good photo of Cardigan X. Knit on, Elizabeth!

  • What a wonderful thought! Thank you.

    • Knit on!

  • Awesome loved the story as my daughter an Avid knitter did the very same thing

    • Thanks, Barbara!

  • What a lovely post! Thank you!

    • Nice to hear from you, Julie!

  • I’ve done this with several sweaters that once finished either didn’t fit right or I didn’t like the sweater. Right now I’m reknitting (Is that a word?) a Fair Isle sweater that I started years ago when I took a class on Fair Isle knitting. The size was huge even at the smallest size and I knew I’d never wear even if I finished it. So even though I was down to knitting the last sleeve, I finally decided to unravel it and figure out how to downsize it. After a couple of false starts, I’m about halfway done with the body.

    • Doesn’t it feel great to finally get it right. Kind of like the Shaker song A Gift to be Simple — to come down where you ought to be.

  • Thank you so much for affirming I am not The Only One! There is nothing more satisfying to me about yarn than the ability to “Do Over”, unlike most of the other regrets in life.

    • Chaotick, Thank you for sharing that insight—How forgiving our knitting can be.

  • i, too, take encouragement from Esther Hautzig frequently. I read her book as a twelve-year-old in the late seventies and it forever impacted me. i’ve actually never met anyone else who has read this amazing account.

    • Marcia, I love Endless Steppe and reread it every few years. Indirectly, Esther Hautzig was responsible for my first break into children’s books. I got to meet her shortly after. She was an amazing woman.

    • Loved that book. I bought it at a book fair at school and have read it oodles of times. Wonderful survival story, and also a growing up story. I think I still have it in the attic…..

      • Lisa, it holds up every time I read it. I was recently in Villa, Esther’s hometown, and thought about her every day I was there.

    • I’m another who read The Endless Steppe back then. That knitting story always haunted me as well.

      • Yes, that and the incredible spunk and courage of the young Esther to date greatly with her knitting.

      • I requested endless steppe after reading the post.

  • Nice! Thanks!

    • So kind of you to write and tell me.

  • Lovely story! Here’s how I frogged a sweater that I made for my husband that was WAY too big, and turned it into a big scarf for his 6′ tall daughter. Use a big shopping bag with handles (not a grocery bag, but one that you’d get from a nice store, rectangular). As you pull the yarn, let it go into the bag, and when you come to the end, tie that carefully to one handle at the bottom. Next piece, into the bag, tie the end to the handle next to the first one. Continue that way, carefully tying the ends to the handles in order and not disturbing the yarn at all. When you are done frogging, wind the yarn into balls starting with the last piece you frogged, and work your way back. This way, the yarn is more or less layered in the bag, and it won’t get tangled.

    • Judy, that’s an amazing system you developed. I will give it a try next time. Thanks!

  • I too can relate to this tale of a yarn so beautiful and a finished object not worthy of it. Too big and droopy that it’s uncomfortable to wear. But yarn so exquisite that it deserves to be knit into something else that I would be proud to wear.

    • Courage, Karen! See Judy’s comment above for an efficient system of tangle free frogging. Onward!

  • What a beautifully written article. I can understand not wanting to part with RED yarn.

    • Thank you. Red does have a regal pull.

  • I knitted and frogged and knitted and frogged 5 times before the chemo cap I was making for my sister-in-law was just right. Thanks for reminding me that it happens… to all of us!

    • Oh, yes, it does happen to all of us. Fit and feel are crucial in a chemo cap. Good that you took the time to get it right.

  • Beautifully written. Yes. Yarn speaks. And yells at you for attention when you walk past it in the yarn shop. Funny how hours of work can be unraveled in minutes.

    • Thank you, Isabel! Sometimes yarn whispers, too.

  • beautiful!

    • Thank you!

  • Inspirational- now I must act on those garments from early trials in knitting to give them a second chance! Thank you.

    • Onward, Mary!

  • Love your drawings and books, happy to see your piece here this morning. There is nothing better than the perfect red yarn!

    • Thank you, Grace!

  • I love this story. It warmed me.

    • Thank you, Gloria!

  • An essay as beautiful (and inspirational!) as that red yarn. Michelle, I hope you are considering publishing a new book of your knitting essays. And Modern Daily, thank you for such quality reading.

    • Nothing in the works right now, but thank you for the suggestion! Great to hear from you! Knit on!

  • I believe that yarn has a “happy place”, where the gauge is optimal and the pattern suits it perfectly. I have actually seen yarn “pout” when it’s been forced into something it doesn’t want to be…like a teenager! I have unraveled many sweaters 2, even 3 times before it becomes happy yarn.

    • I ADORE the image of pouting yarn, and I do believe I have seen a skein pout about its unhappy state. Thanks for writing!

  • Just fun…..deb

    • Thanks, Deb!

  • Wonderful, Michele, as always.

    • Thanks, Sharon! Great to hear from you.

  • So wonderful to see you back.

    • Thank you, Jan. It’s great to be back.

  • Heck, I’ve unknit clunkers many times. It’s one of the reasons I only buy good quality yarn: it’s got to hold up to my abuses. I’ve never regretted frogging entire coats to reuse the yarn in more suitable garments, and the process always informs my knitting decisions going forward. Do I love having to do it? Of course not. But I view it as an opportunity to make a gratifying correction.

    • What a charming story. Thank you!

  • Oh, how I love this essay! We have all been there, with a well-loved yarn that we do not do justice. I love her courage, unraveling her hard work and starting over. Having Knitting Faith, for sure!

  • I am in the midst of doing the same with an old rarely worn sweater. Taking the old sweater apart was more difficult than I imagined it to be. Someone had told me to just knit the new sweater from the pieces of the old and skip the ball winding. But no ! I had no idea I did such a good job of sweater finishing! All worth it as I will soon have a sweater I’ll really wear. Thanks so much for the great article. I think I will forever refer to this one as Green Cardigan X

  • Hello, As a new knitter I was very pleased to read your story about recreating a red sweater that you barely wore into something else. I look at everything that has been knitted and wishing my skills will develop to make such beautiful art. I’ve only made hats, scarfs, and baby blankets thus far. I don’t want to rush myself but I can’t wait to make my first sweater. Thanks for sharing! Jenetta James

  • What a lovely little piece to go with my coffee on this beautiful sunny lockdown morning. I found a unfinished ballet cardigan I was knitting for my daughter when she was about 7yrs (she’ll be 30 this year). She has a little 7mth old girl. I was thinking of unraveling it and make a little romper suit. You have inspired me to crack on and I’ll have something to remind of time spent during this epidemic lockdown.

  • Wow! I’m so glad to come across this beautiful piece of you transforming an old red cardigan. And I also love that quote that looks like a poem “It is a kind of love, is it not? How the cup holds the tea” & “It is a kind of love, is it not? How the needles hugs the wool”. I’m Janet reading your articles from Federal Capital Territory Abuja. Nigeria. Africa.

  • 40 years ago now, I admired a sweater a friend was wearing for its crinkly nubbled texture. We were students at the time, prone to being both broke and bored. Blighted by these two, she had unravelled a school sweater her mum had made and knitted it up into a new treat. She skipped the reskeining soaking and drying and it looked just great. As nearly everything does when you’re 19.

  • My first time responding. I loved your story, I to have a sweater X knitted out of alpaca wool. It was very drapery my first time knitting a simple sweater that fit more like a dress. I remade the sweater a second time but lost 50 lbs. I’ve contemplated redoing the sweater again.

  • What happenstance! Right before reading this post I was working on a journal exercise, “Describe your hands”. Here’s to Lee and our hands! Thank you for a thoughtful read:

Come Shop With Us

My Cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping