Mary Anne Mitchell
with a chronic illness that is extremely debilitating
in terms of energy and concentration has been arduous.
Having to give up all my former social and physical
activities was difficult but I've come to a stage
of acceptance now that I can live with most days.
one creative activity that I refused to give up has
been my knitting. Even when I felt so sick I couldn't
get out of bed for days at a stretch, I kept my knitting
beside my bed and would work a few stitches at a time,
stopping when I felt too weak or dizzy. When it was
just too much of an effort to pick up my needles,
I would visualize my next design, planning the most
delicious colors and softest texture to whet my knitterly
appetite. At 4:00 am when sleep eluded me, I fantasized
about creations concocted of luscious mohair and creamy
cashmere, in shades of purply plum and brilliant turquoise.
During this period most of my knitting projects were
small - hats, scarves, bookmarks - since I found myself
overwhelmed by larger items and the volume of stitches
was at a very vulnerable stage in my illness when
I decided that I would learn how to knit a sock. In
retrospect, I can't believe that I subjected myself
to this seemingly hopeless task while suffering from
a severe inablity to concentrate for more than a few
minutes at a time. I'm not sure why I was determined
to learn this process, but I remember thinking I had
to do this one thing in order to feel better about
my situation. It was important to me that I learn
something new. It felt like everything had been taken
from me, my energy, quick wit, ability to reason,
verbal skills, manual dexterity. Somehow I had to
regain a sense of pride in learning a new skill and
producing a finished item. My mom had tried to teach
me sock knitting years earlier and we had ended up
weeping with laughter, our hands intertwined in the
yarn and needles as she tried to guide me through
the steps. Now I was on my own, but I could hear my
mother's voice inside my head, telling me that it
was easy once you got the first few rounds completed.
can any sane human hold four small pointy sticks with
two hands and somehow manipulate a fifth stick and
a ball of yarn and expect to produce a wearable garment?
I would feel the frustration boiling inside me as
my patience wore down and my fingers fumbled over
and over again with the needles. My hands became slippery
with sweat as I concentrated, biting my tongue in
the process. Suddenly, I noticed that I'd just moved
over to the second needle without dropping or twisting
any stitches. When I managed to complete several rounds
without stabbing myself or having a stroke, I could
have wept with sheer exhaustion and pride. Now I couldn't
stop no matter how tired or ill I felt. I pushed myself
to complete the top 10 rows of ribbing and lay back
in bed, a huge grin spreading across my face as I
contemplated the beginnings of my first sock.
I had become fairly competent at producing a wearable
sock, I showed a friend how the process evolved, while
the sock was still in the gusset decrease stage and
spread over four needles. He was in awe, turning the
half-finished sock over and studying the design. I
suddenly realized that I had created something extraordinary.
For weeks I kept waiting for someone to bestow a special
commendation on me for my impressive needlework and
would bore friends and relatives with minute details
of my sock in progress. Finally, when the initial
novelty had worn off, I was able to take this new
proficiency in stride and I could almost hear my friends
sighing with relief.
many traumatic moments of this illness, I would pick
up my knitting and escape inward, weaving the pieces
of my broken life back together with the knit and
purl stitches. When I was scheduled for a series of
medical tests, I took my latest sock project along
and knitted my fears and anxieties into the pattern.
This is one pair of socks I will never part with.
Months later, when my condition had stabilized and
I had acquired some stamina, I was able to knit a
vest for myself using all the blue shades in my yarn
stash, changing colors midstream as I ran out of yarn
or my interest waned. It turned out to be a size too
small and the final result did not match my expectations,
but it felt satisfying to complete something unique.
has given me a link to the life that I inhabited before
I became ill. Because of it, I've managed to retain
my sense of self and feel creative in the process.
Every project that I've completed during these past
two years has given me more pleasure and joy than
anything I created before. I'm also fussier about
details and mistakes now. If this is all that I can
bring into being at this moment, then it's going to
be the very best. I've ripped out more projects than
I've completed, but the effort has been worth the
find that when I'm immersed in my knitting, I'm able
to forget all the emotional and physical upheaval
in my life and concentrate on knitting one beautiful
stitch at a time. Nietchze's observation that "out
of chaos comes a dancing star" is an accurate portrayal
of my search for creative and spiritual expression
in the midst of suffering. Knitting has helped me
accomplish that objective.