“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit either”.
My Mum taught me to knit when I was about 8 years old. My first creation was a scarf for my teddy bear and I felt such a sense of achievement with my reasonably even stripes. A couple of years later at primary school our weekly craft session saw the class split in half with girls learning to knit toilet roll holders and the boys making planes out of balsa wood. We were all flummoxed by the double rib hem that started our knitting pattern. I was only able to finish it because when I bought it home I had my Mum’s unwavering encouragement and patient assistance when I kept getting it wrong. I was so pleased when I finally completed my toilet roll cover with no dropped stitches and straight ribbed lines. It received pride of place in the downstairs loo for many years. I was rather pleased about that as I’d always found the shop bought toilet roll holder (a plastic dolls head a top a dress that ballooned out over the loo roll) a bit creepy. That was the 80s for you. Whoever thought toilet rolls were worth the effort of covering? Whoever thought being able to knit a loo roll cover was a vital skill for girls to learn in school?
I started thinking about my childhood knitting stories as I browsed Little Cotton Rabbit’s Etsy shop. I’ve been following Julie’s blog for about 10 years and she makes the most beautiful knitted toys. I thought of my Mum as I browsed Julie’s shop and how easily she would have deciphered a pattern and created a perfectly matched toy. I thought about how much Luca would love a knitted pig for his birthday in April and how Euan would be delighted with a knitted fox*. I added the patterns for Pig and Fox to my Etsy cart and swallowed hard at the thought of making them myself. Tackling the foreign language of a knitting pattern with no help, encouragement or gentle explanation when I get it wrong. If I’d asked Mum to help me she would have said ”of course. Or would you like me to make them?”. You can guess what my answer would have been. Mum would have loved to have been asked.
It’s 4 months since my Mum died ..
and little moments like this pop up often to strike a blow to the heart when I least expect it. There are so many things now I wish I’d spent time doing with her or had time to ask her. Stories about her life growing up, memories from our childhood, her holidays with Dad once we all moved out. Just to have the opportunity to reminisce and hear her voice or laughter as she retold a funny moment. We didn’t know we were running out of time. It didn’t seem important to ask ”When did you learn to knit Mum?” or ”What was your favourite thing to do with us when we were little?’‘. But now something as simple as reflecting on the love with which she knitted clothes for me as a child is like a body blow. A sudden, hard, kick to the chest. I’m drawn to writing to process, to cry, to release the pain of it. I am full of thanks that I have such vivid memories of time spent with my Mum to miss. I click ‘pay’ on my Etsy cart and trust I’ll find someone to help me if knitting Pig and Fox is more than I can manage. Focusing on gratitude for all that Mum taught me slowly fills the sad spaces with a sense of peace and a smile.
Mum knitted all of our school jumpers until we reached Secondary school. I remember being asked ”Why does your Mum make your jumper, don’t you have any money to buy one?”. Back then it probably was cheaper to make them and I didn’t connect the value of Mum’s love and creativity being knitted into every stitch. When I started at Secondary school it was Mum who said ”We’d better get the one from the uniform list, I don’t want you getting into trouble for having the wrong one” and I felt relieved not to have to ask so I could quietly blend in with all the other shop-bought jumper kids. I would love to make more things for my children but it’s a struggle to weigh up the time it takes, especially for something I’m still learning to become skilled at. I can’t see my boys relishing a request to stay in and play quietly on their own while Mummy knits even if the end result is a lovely knitted animal for them! My Mum used to make things in the evening but try as I might I just can’t seem to get my active little boys to sleep before 8.30pm!
A few weeks before Mum died..
I visited Gloucester Cathedral with the boys and happened across the exhibition for the Work of Heart Garden. It was a beautiful display of a knitted room, complete with full size bed, and adorned with knitted furniture, flowers and wildlife. The Work of Heart garden was created by Claire Young in response to her therapists suggestion to take up knitting to help her with PTSD and depression following the death of her husband Ken. She decided to use her hobby as a way of raising money for the Sue Ryder hospice her husband Ken had been cared for in. Clare set herself a fundraising target of raising £50k in Ken’s memory and started to sell her knitted creations. In 2017 she teamed up with a group of friends to yarn bomb a thank you message to the hospice and this led her to receive an invitation to create a special knitted garden display for RHS Malvern Spring Festival 2018. Clare created a heart knitting pattern (which you can download below) and donations started arriving from all around the world.
Clare originally hoped to receive 10,000 hearts and has received more than 50,000 to date. When I visited the exhibition in Gloucester Cathedral in August 2018 Clare had reached the £20k mark of her fundraising target. I bought two hearts for Euan and Luca to hang, little knowing that my Mum would end up being cared for in the same Sue Ryder home just a couple of weeks later. We returned to see the exhibition on the last day of the exhibition and saw Clare there. It was very emotional to speak to her in person having already started an Instagram conversation with her after our first visit. I spoke to Clare about being able to knit but wishing I’d learnt to crochet from Mum too. I spoke of my wish to make things but never having the time with small boys. I offered her my stash of yarn and any spare balls Mum might have. Clare gently smiled and said ”I think you should keep them and make something yourself to remember your Mum”. Once Christmas and Euan and Mum’s birthdays in January are behind us I’ve decided to do just that (although I think I’ll start with one of Clare’s hearts before attempting Pig or Fox!). I expect tears will flow and it would be good if they weren’t from frustration at starting with something too challenging.
A couple of months later we visited the Sue Ryder home at Leckhampton Court, our first visit since Mum died there. It was such a wonderful surprise to see a yarn bombed tree in the centre of the garden we’d played in with the boys. Euan was thrilled to find the heart he’d bought in the cathedral hanging there. I checked with Clare if that was possible (I couldn’t remember which one was his afterall) and she said he was right, they were the Cathedral hearts.
If you want to make a heart to send to Clare please take a look at the Work of Heart garden website for details or download the PDF here
* Fox has become Euan’s totem for Nana after being given a copy of ‘The Memory Tree’ by a friend after she died. It’s a beautiful story in which Fox dies and all his friends gather to share their stories of what they loved most about Fox. A tree grows up out of the ground providing a home for all of the animals and ensuring Fox’s memory lives on.
© Knitting quote by Elizabeth Zimmerman