Writing my newest book, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love, was a lot like tackling a complicated sweater pattern. Knit it up and frog it back. *Repeat.
The earliest story drafts were about a character named Tillie who knits woolly wonders for two kids in her neighborhood, Jesse and his sister Goldie. Jesse has a hat and a matching sweater with feather-like tails that flew behind him when he raced his bike. Goldie has a cuddly Goldilocks and the Three Bears that kept her company when she was very sick. Then one day Tillie breaks both her arms. Without her knitting, she is lost. What will cheer her up? Remembering Tillie’s love of knitting unlikely creations, Goldie brings her something that inspires both, irresistible wool and a challenge.
The story did not work. Something was missing. I wasn’t sure what. I suspected it was the heartbeat. Who was Tillie? I just couldn’t get under her skin. So for a long time the story stayed stuck.
Then one bitter Minnesota winter, it occurred to me that Tillie might be a different kind of knitter, a charitable knitter. At that time I had started to write for the Lion Brand Yarn Company Newsletter. Through my work at Lion Brand, I came to know and admire the legions of charitable knitting efforts and knitters doing their bit to make the world a better place. So I guess it wasn’t much of a leap for me to imagine Tillie knitting hats for friends, neighbors, and those in need.
I liked my new Tillie. She was a character I knew and understood. As I wrote about her, a new story took shape. New questions to ponder. What if everyone on her street had Tillie hat? Except Tillie. What if it was almost winter, cold? Minnesota cold. Tillie would need a warm hat. What if the story was about making one for her? Giving back to the giver. What if everything was somehow tied to the idea of giving, doing a good deed, what Jews call a mitzvah?
I could almost hear a heart beat.
It was a while before I got the story right. Through all my changes and revisions, and there were many, I thought about the charitable knitters I knew, givers of warmth to so many in so many forms. Over time, Tillie became Mrs. Goldman, named after a St. Paul knitting buddy whose work teaching knitting to school kids prompted me to nominate her for Knitter of the Year back in 2001. When I sketched Sophia, the main character, who struggles to knit a hat to keep Mrs. Goldman’s head warm, I thought not only about children I knew, but what I knew about first knits from knitters who sometimes wrote and shared their experiences with me.
Now my story is a book. Now readers can meet Sophia, Mrs. Goldman and her dog Fifi. Maybe their story will inspire readers to knit a hat. I hope so. There’s a pattern included in case they do. There are even instructions on making pompoms. There’s a vast world of wool and goodness awaiting them.
It may take a village to raise a child, but sometimes it takes a world of knitters to tell a story. Thank you.
Michelle Edwards is an author, illustrator, and a big-time knitter. In addition to her many books for children--among them Chicken Man, winner of the National Jewish Book Award--she wrote the adult book A Knitter's Home Companion. Originally from Troy, Michelle lives in Iowa City with her yarn, her husband, and the artifacts of their three daughter's childhoods. She has written frequently for Lion Brand about the knitting life. You can visit her at michelledwards.com.