Woman teaching girl to knit
Stories, seasons & friends archive

Knitting without a pattern

Perched on high stools and wrangling Vietnamese rolls with dipping bowls of inky soy sauce, scattering sesame seeds with every bite, my friend and I share life over lunch. It’s precarious, unpredictable and messy but satisfying somehow.

As we talk about ageing parents and maturing children (how odd that time’s passing dictates such different adjectives) our words begin to unravel the way things have been and to knit them anew. Neither of us know what pattern to follow. But I never was any good at knitting, so this process seems strangely familiar.


Poised between generations—one slowly fading, the other blooming with promise—my friend and I are at once children and parents. But even as we talk of parents and parents-in-law, of illness, diminishing strength and new anxieties, we know our familial roles are no longer sharply defined.

They’re already beginning to blur. It’s a change we resist as much as the older generation does. They no more want to be treated as children than we want to be parents to them.

We understand their resistance—a quixotic quest to hold fast in the midst of a storm of loss. And we hope our resistance is understandable to them, torn as we are between honouring them and wanting to protect them from the bone-chilling winds, bewildering fog and clinging drizzle that threaten to overwhelm them.

Old patterns
Colourful ball of knitting yarn
Photo by Anne Groton | Lightstock.com

But somehow the beauty, rhythm and intricacy of old patterns cannot last. The children and grandchildren bring change and the patterns become less distinct. Woollen jumpers fade and stretch, wearing thin at the elbows and fraying at the hems—they’re familiar and comfortable but they no longer warm you as they once did.

Treating worn garments with more care, you do what you can to help them last a little longer. You don’t want to say goodbye because you know you’ll never find another like them—the pattern’s been superseded. And so the unravelling begins.

As we wipe the soy sauce from our fingers and corral the wayward sesame seeds (will we always clean tables so instinctively or will we one day forget how?), my friend and I are no closer to finding a new pattern for the old yarn. It’s full of kinks and stained with years, but we’re familiar with the precarious, the unpredictable and the messy.

And there’s something strangely comforting in that.

Featured image: Photo by CrazyVet | Flickr.com (Creative Commons licence)

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