By Carol Ewig
I waited for a while to start knitting a blanket for her, my first grandchild-to-be.
As someone raised on superstition (and who had passed it along), it wasn’t until after the 20-week ultrasound that I would allow myself to focus on this reality: a baby girl was coming. Poo poo poo. Knock wood. The fact that this was happening in the middle of a pandemic made us all even more cautious.
I wanted to celebrate her arrival in the world, through the chaos and confusion of these last many months, with something I could hold in my hands, as I couldn’t hold my own pregnant daughter due to the pandemic. We are cautious people here in general, but the fact that she is a physician who saw patients throughout her pregnancy made it even more difficult to get close, especially in those days before the vaccine.
As for knitting, there was a fundamental problem: I was fairly inexperienced, having learned only the basics just before the pandemic, when I could still visit a knitting store for hands-on help. I had picked out a thick tweed, and I spent the months from spring to summer to fall making scarves for my family members: seven of them, eventually, each with the same pattern and in a few different colors. And they weren’t bad at all. I learned how to fix most mistakes, and the tweed hid the rest. Knitting kept me busy during nightly TV binge-watching, as I created something that would be of use in the dark winter that I knew was ahead.
And so of course when I heard my grandchild was coming, I knew I would be knitting. And I knew what I would make. It would be a blanket: to swaddle her, to keep her warm, to keep her close. Newborns, the very best of presents, always need wrapping up.
It took a while to figure out the material. What’s best for a new baby? I found superwashed wool: yarn washed over and over again so it wouldn’t lose its patterns, wouldn’t pill. Babysoft. There were many design possibilities, mostly categorized by difficulty, but it was still hard to choose. My 89-year-old mother, an expert knitter for many years who wanted to get back in the groove, looked with me online. Lots had changed though since she had knitted for her young children more than 60 years ago (not to mention the existence of the internet itself), including the use of circular needles, which first seemed confounding.
We picked out a pattern with some help from the owner of the knitting store where I had taken my lessons, via text and email, and we bought wool meant for newborns. This material, though, was unlike anything I had worked with before; it was much finer, for starters, which made it difficult to correct the mistakes that happened, so that every one stood out, and the many pastel colors just complicated the situation. There were four different squares, each one with a different pattern before they repeated, and too many stitches to stop and keep count.
I couldn’t help it: I knew I was finished. I gave the material and the pattern to my mother willingly; not only did she quickly make the blanket (with, maybe, one little mistake), but she also knitted two sweaters in different sizes plus a hat and a set of mittens with the same wool.
I went back to my scarves, but my heart wasn’t in them; it was in her, in this baby due on one of the first days of spring. And I could not escape the fact that giving up was not what I wanted to pass down to her. Even if I never told her, I would know.
When I searched for another pattern, I realized it was easier now, as I had a better idea of what I was looking for. This time, the pattern would have fewer changes, and the yarn, just one color. It would be a challenge, still, but it was one I could take on. It took some searching to find one single color to work with, but eventually my daughter and I settled on a seafoam green, the color of the Caribbean sea. Calming.
So I started again. And it was easy, at first. Until, after just a few rows of the easiest part of the knitting—the straight knit stitch—I made a mistake. It was a small bump of wool left on one side, but it was the “wrong” side—the side that is on the inside of the garment—so I convinced myself that it was okay. I knew the baby could be swaddled carefully, with the best side of the blanket—the “right” side—facing out. Yet I also knew that in the daily minding of a newborn, the “wrong” side might be the one to show its face.
There’s a name for these mistakes on a baby blanket, according to a friend and master knitter: “grandma kisses.” So that kiss remained, and I kept going for a while, until I had to admit to myself that there were just too many of them, including a kind of zig-zag pattern that didn’t match anything else on there. I finished off that piece of blanket and put it aside.
Still, I picked up my needle again (okay, I might have been sighing heavily at this point) and started from the beginning with a new skein of yarn.
And then, all of a sudden, I was able to follow the pattern more easily. I was still making mistakes but I was able to catch them much more quickly; I had to pull the stitches off the needle at least a half dozen times, but somehow I got them back to where they belonged. I became lost in the making of it, the doing of it. It became part of me, a daily ritual, soothing, as I hoped my granddaughter would be soothed by its cocooning.
When I was finally, finally done, I tried to tighten the spaces from the back where little holes and nubs formed, but there were some still visible, like little scars. And that’s okay. To really be a part of this world, my new grandchild would need to know that there is acceptance in imperfection, and that perseverance is a gift. I hope to encourage her to look underneath, for those mistakes that make us human, and yet hold her so tightly that she cannot always see them. And I will show her, by doing so, that both the “wrong” and “right” sides are needed to create the magic of the whole.
And yes, I saved that original piece of blanket, the one with its many mistakes. I’m thinking it might become my grandchild’s lovey, something to hold onto and hide under her pillow when she’s too old for a baby blanket. When she needs reminding of the mistakes that are part of life, and the love that goes into smoothing them out. Or if she ever needs a reminder of the love that went into making it—when, perhaps, I am no longer around.
For now, there is joy in new life, and there are also plenty of grandma kisses.
Carol Ewig retired as a middle school language arts teacher nearly two years ago. She created a blog, teaching-365.com, as a way to process that experience and has been writing essays and beginning work on a novel, as well as helping to care for her new granddaughter since her daughter returned to work. This article is based on a children’s book, The Blanket I Made for You, that she wrote about her experiences while knitting this blanket. She is pleased with both creations and, like any good grandma, wild about the baby.
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