Wool as Witness


Kim Crumrine, artist

I wasn’t yet five when I arrived at my first knitting shop with my mom and her knitting bag of confusing shapes that eventually turned into a sweater. The shop was tucked into the side of a hill and the door seemed perched on a slope. I noticed that there wasn’t a sign from the road, but she still knew where to turn. Inside there was a wall of different kinds of yarn. I remember the smell, the communal table, the women.

I liked that house that held the yarn, though I didn’t exactly know why. There wasn’t anything for me to do there but wait until my mom had bought her new supplies or gotten the help she needed. But then one night, a couple years later, my mom showed me the rudimentary beginnings of knitting. The next day, suddenly empowered, I impulsively announced to anyone who could hear “we should start a knitting club.” I was tired of outside recess and being chased by second grade boys.

So when the bell rang, a bunch of girls stayed behind. Maybe they were looking for change as well. We moved the desks out of the way while the boys raced outside. I took note of the tiny stirrings of power from the little circle of chairs. I was ill-prepared, however, without enough knowledge or yarn. I took note of that as well.

Many years later, all grown up and at my first new job, I noticed a co-worker knitting socks at the faculty meeting. I followed her out when it was over because she was reminding me of my childhood and the winter nights with my mom. I asked her if she would help me make socks, my knitting needed some assistance. She generously took me on and showed me the way to another wall of yarn in Dupont Circle. And, then she invited me to knit in her basement apartment with other friends as well.

There that evening, with the tea kettle on, dreams and fears crawled out from hiding. One of the women, a grandmother, was on the brink of retirement — she talked about how she wanted to travel the country in an RV when she finally retired. Another one was sorting out a path from her recently failed marriage, single parenthood, the pain of unfamiliar loneliness when the sun went down. I waited for a pause in conversation so someone could help me turn the heel on the first sock I ever made, the heel that would now hold the stories of that night. It was terrifying and liberating, stitches on the verge of getting lost, just like us. We did not want to go at it alone.

And then those years passed, and single and young turned into busy mom of toddlers. There was another new town, and familiar feelings of displacement. I found friends at the park and the pre-school, and then, eventually, the very cherished ones I met over yarn. A knitting group evolved into a knitting shop with a white trestle table inside, a sticky door that had to be pushed hard to enter at all. Stories came through that difficult door—ones that we expected and then ones that we did not. Wool as witness, as connector, as comfort. Secrets lost their power as they came into being, hidden dragons metamorphasized into benevolent hats, mittens and scarves.

I knitted again this week after many years on pause. The hat project for the Women’s March propelled me to the nearest shop around. I studied the shades of pink as two women came in who I haven’t seen in years. A coincidence that reminded me of the things I missed the most. I sat down at the table and just listened to random snippets of conversation here and there — how many hats that they were knitting, which daughters that were going, the needles that were needed, the bus that was bringing them, the time that they were leaving, the groups that were going.

When I got home that day I unearthed my knitting bag and my own size ten needles. I wound my yarn into a ball and casted on 38 stitches, the beginnings of the hat. I knitted all that week—including hats for friends—while on the treadmill and while getting my hair cut. I knit in bed before turning out the light. I was drawn in by this thing that was bigger than me, the connection I imagined that existed in rooms around the world. Circles of chairs. Stirrings of power. A communal table of women. How good it felt to join them once again.

4 thoughts on “Wool as Witness

  1. As I sit here with chills, I must say that each new writing brings me deeper and deeper into the “Megan Trance”! This is by far my favorite so far since I was so against the pink hats until I knew the real meaning of them! You are a sage, Ms. Megan! Keep them coming!


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