Woven Lives: A Meditation on Yarn
I picked up my crochet hook again recently. It had been hiding in the big canvas bag I’d left under my bed for a year or so, a bag full of half-finished blankets and odd bits of yarn from old projects. Soon, I stuffed more yarn inside: big balls of blue in variegated shades, smaller skeins that alternated between green and grey and brown, and a grey, feather-light ball of the softest yarn I’ve ever felt. It was nearly Christmas, and I had presents to make. I started with the blue yarn to make a blanket for my brother. The green and grey yarn became a scarf for my mother, and I used pieces of leftover baby blue yarn to make a scarf for my father. The grey I saved for myself, a future project I still have yet to finish.
The feel of yarn sliding through my fingers is my favorite part about crocheting. There are several types of yarn and each kind has a different texture. There’s the nylon craft yarn of my childhood, worn and scratchy. It knots easily and would never make a good blanket. There are the softer, thinner strands of mixed acrylic and alpaca, four parts to one, that I used to make my mother’s scarf. There are the fat strings of acrylic I used to crochet my brother’s blanket. Those are the softest strings I’ve had the pleasure to work with. They glide through my fingers like water, far more substantial than the grey, lighter-than-air polyester yarn that I’m crocheting into a scarf for myself. And there are others, too, some I’ve never had the good fortune to use. I’ve wandered through aisle after aisle in Hobby Lobby, running my fingers across the different yarns scattered across its shelves, some soft like a baby’s breath and others scratchy like a rag rug. Thick strands of wool and chunky cotton ropes. Fibrous mohair and puffy cashmere. I wish I could experiment with all the small bundles housed in that store, make blanket after blanket just to feel the weight and texture of all that yarn, to experience the variety of options available to me—but alas, I am a poor college student and cannot afford it all.
To crochet a blanket, you start with a chain of slip stitches as the foundational row. To begin a slip stitch, you tie a loop in the end of your yarn, which you then place onto the end of the crochet hook. Next, you “yarn over,” or drape the dangling yarn over the hook in front of the loop you’ve made, then turn the hook to catch the yarn, draw it through the loop, and—voilà! You’ve made a slip stitch. It’s not until you begin the second row that you can build with more complex contortions of yarn. There are many different patterns of stitches you can crochet, but all patterns yield the same result: row after row of interwoven loops that will eventually form a blanket or scarf or pair of mittens.
My aunt first introduced me to the world of yarn skeins and stitches. According to my father, she taught herself to crochet and knit long before I was born and became so skilled at it that she didn’t even have to look at her hands as they moved among the strings of yarn. She created many beautiful and intricate blankets for us before arthritis rendered her fingers nearly immobile, some of which we still have scattered throughout our home. I’ve always marveled at the thought and skill that went into each one, the varied stitches and colors twisting around each other in complex patterns, each string so perfectly aware of its position alongside the others.
I often imagine the people I see around me with strings tied to them, perhaps reflecting their personality or character or even something so simple as their eventual destination. Each one is different: fat strands of woolen yarn, lacey threads of silk, strings of angora or rayon or polyester. Strings control their every move like puppets, mindless and stilted. Strings of anxiety bind their legs, arms, chest so tightly that they can’t even breathe. Their strings limit them like the cords of wall phones that drag you back when you wander too far, or the ropes attached to the seat of a swing that only let you fly so close to the sky.
Maybe I just see strings everywhere because I’ve always loved Greek mythology—and despite my belief in God’s sovereignty, I wonder if the story of the Fates doesn’t hold some small grain of truth. The three goddesses of fate, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, were charged with the destiny of mankind and so spun out the thread of each person’s life. Maybe they crafted these strings into blankets, great multi-colored tapestries of vibrancy and joy, heartache and grief. Tapestries of individual life, always moving and changing and shimmering. Maybe the goddesses ran their hands across the woven lives sometimes, feeling the texture of each stitch, smiling at the memories displayed there. But when someone’s life was destined to end, his string was deftly cut by one of the three Fates. No hesitation. No remorse. No mourning for the light that suddenly winked out of existence with the heartless shearing of cold metal.
It’s always been a terrifying prospect for me, the idea that life can be torn away so quickly, even though I’ve seen it so many times already. I watched my grandfather’s string finally snap following his year-long battle with cancer. I watched my great-grandfather flounder in a sea of broken strings after his wife’s death, unable to anchor himself in a solitude he hadn’t felt in decades. I watched my father cry years ago at his brother’s funeral—his only brother, long estranged but still as much a piece of his life as my mother or brother or I—as he clung to what frayed strands remained.
The October after I turned ten, I sat with my great-grandmother in her kitchen while my parents and grandparents lingered in the bedroom next door. She brought out pastel pink yarn and plastic forks and showed me how to weave the color between the blank, empty tines. When the yarn reached the top, she scooped it off and tied it together, creating little spherical puffs of pink that resembled the clover flowers that grew wild in her yard. Her yarn flowers were a bright spot in the dim evening, illuminated by the single bulb over the kitchen table, held in ancient hands that shook with more than her age-induced tremors. And when the pastor walked in the front door, when my mother exited the bedroom with tear-stained cheeks and my great-grandmother rose shakily from her chair, the plastic fork with its half-finished yarn flower finally fell from her fingers, unraveling upon impact with the linoleum. My mother brought me quietly into the bedroom to say goodbye to my great grandfather, but even then I knew that our silence was unnecessary. The last row of his story had been finished, the string cut and tied off, even as our own stitches continued to spiral into more complex patterns of grief.
The fear of the Fates’ celestial scissors leering overhead, threatening to snip, snip, snip away all that I hold dear, makes me want to grab ahold of what strings I can reach and never let go. It unnerves me that, like yarn, lives can slip so smoothly through my fingers until nothing is left to remind me of when they were still here. I want to wrap the ends of the strings around my wrists and pull my friends, family, loved ones back to me—but too often I find that when I try, it’s already too late. They’re already gone, leaving only shorn bits of yarn behind to tell the tale. And while I’m not always to blame, I often wonder if I could have done something differently. If I could have prevented those strands from being cut out of my life like worn yarn in a blanket, threadbare and failing. All that remains is a gaping hole and the sense that something, inexplicably, is missing. Something I’ll never get back. Something I’d thought would stay forever, even when I pulled too tightly and with not enough love. Yarn is tough, but not unbreakable.
The great thing about crocheting yarn into blankets is that when the blankets grow old and spring holes, they can be repaired. It’s difficult, but possible. To fix holes in a blanket, you have to tie new yarn together with the broken, trailing end that protrudes from the hole. Then you match the preexisting pattern as best as you can and crochet new stitches to fill the gap. You gather the ragged edges together with slip stitches, join them to the new yarn, and crochet until the new has filled the breach in the old. Sadly, the new yarn likely will not exactly match the rest of the blanket, especially if the blanket is very old. The evidence of the blanket’s former brokenness will never fade. But the blanket will be stronger for being fixed. It won’t unravel further from that point. The memory of the hole still remains, but the blanket’s purpose has been renewed. No more loose ends or hand-sized holes. Just stitches, all fitted together as they were meant to be.
Sometimes I wonder why anyone ever bothers to repair blankets if it takes so much effort and doesn’t work out exactly as planned. Maybe it's just in my nature to seek the safety of brokenness instead of the risk of being whole. To hate the process of patching up holes because I know, somehow, that it will never be the same. Maybe I want to keep my brokenness about me, like some strange badge of honor, to show what I’ve fought through. To relive those memories like I’m a soldier who never returned from the war. To forget that everything slips away so quickly, that people I once depended on have been cut out of my life. So I bottle up denial because inside, it festers and grows until it's beyond any patch I could fix it with. I rip more holes because emptiness is so paradoxically tangible when nothing else seems to be. And though I don’t understand it, that's what I’ve found to cling to.
I told a boy that I loved him once, spoke three words but never understood their colossal impact. He said he loved me, too, but those words weren’t enough. I realized that I could never mend our relationship fast enough to last. He was kind, but his actions were unconsciously cruel. He told me that he loved me and that he wanted to die in the same breath. I thought once that I could easily mend his frayed ends, but as time went on, the holes he ripped grew wider, stretched between us like uncrossable ravines. They tore me open as well—but I embraced the hurt, told myself that it was my fault, that his pain would be my pain until I could rid us both of it. Finally, he pushed me away for good—and even though he said it was for my own good, I unraveled without him. Part of me wished that I had never found his string, had never decided to wind it tightly around my fingers so I wouldn’t lose it. He left friction burns behind as he slowly, painfully pulled away.
Years have dissolved the pain of memories somewhat, but they’re still embedded in the tapestry of my life as loose strings and puncture wounds. I wrap them around myself sometimes, a blanket of mingled happiness and regrets, strings tangled around my shoulders and wrists and ankles. It doesn’t keep me warm very well; there are too many holes. But I still keep it around, worn and deteriorated as it is. Maybe I'm afraid my past will repeat if I don’t, that I'll put my trust in someone else who will tear more unfixable holes in me—so I use the blanket as a roadmap to keep me from new pain, new mistakes. Sometimes, I hide under it like a child hiding in bed from her parents, afraid to face the truth of my brokenness. I don't say how I feel, because that means stripping away all the ruined stitches I’ve clothed myself in. I keep forming new stitches instead, running from the hurt, even though the holes are still unsnarling behind my flying hands. Maybe if they move fast enough, the emptiness won't reach me. Maybe I’ll someday open myself up to new strings, new lives, that will replace the worn figures of my past and patch the broken spots. Maybe, even though I'm constantly unraveling into loose bits of forgotten yarn, I can find where my own string leads me, to escape the permanence of holes and find how to be whole again. Maybe.
Meghan Largent is a junior at Cedarville University, where she studies English, literature, and creative writing. Originally from Toledo, Ohio, she takes much of her inspiration from nature, her friends, and her childhood. This is her debut nonfiction publication.