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Stories from the Lost and Found

At first, his grandmother, Baba, did not want to knit white mittens.
"If you drop one in the snow," she warned, "you'll never find it."
But Nicki wanted snow-white mittens, and finally Baba made them.

- Jan Brett, The Mitten: A Ukrainian Folktale

Somewhere in that great black hole of the wooly lost is a pair of charcoal gray and black Norwegian mittens I knit for my husband. They were last seen near Kowalski's grocery store on Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, during the winter of 2005. By now, they may be friends with some of your projects, a crocheted lacy shawl, a loom-knit slipper, or a hand-knit sock.

Each of us has our own tally card of losses that could break a yarn crafter's heart. Take, for example, the mittens my friend Suzanne made last year for her daughter Lily, then a freshman at the University of Iowa.

A sweet hat was knit first and inspired Suzanne to match it with mittens. There wasn't much left of the hat's hand-dyed yarn. An internet searched turned up two skeins, neither an exact match. So Suzanne added a stripe to deceive the casual eye from discerning the variations.

Knit Nordic Mittens
Knit Nordic Mittens

The mittens were designed with a flip top, so that Lily could reach for her keys, or even text a message without exposing her whole hand to the bitter Iowa cold. Suzanne's voice still cracks when she describes the silvery pearl button she chose to anchor the top to the mitten.

Lily loved her mittens. For one week, one glorious week, she wore them everywhere -- to her classes, her job, and to visit Suzanne at her office. And then, poof, one mitten went AWOL. A search began. After thorough retracing of recently visited spots, Lily trekked to the University's central Lost and Found.

"Just one mitten?" asked the man in charge.

Lily nodded yes.

"Oh, we never save singles. We throw those away."

Lily's mitten rests among the lost and tossed. Unless you found it, and struck by its handmade beauty, took it home. Maybe right now, you are deconstructing the pattern. If you do have it, contact me. We'll right the situation. Even though it's been over a year, Suzanne hasn't had the heart to knit a replacement.

A few lost knits are occasionally found and, like a stray, they attract new owners who love and appreciate them. I know this for fact. Although the keeping does present an ethical dilemma, even the most virtuous might make a mental calculation on the probability of a found item ever being claimed, knowing how often lost and found boxes remain stuffed until they are dumped at the end of the season.

In recent years, I have tried to focus less on the tragedy of the mittens my husband lost. Not to mention all the hats, socks, and scarves I knit for my children that never returned from school or a sled ride in the park. I have made a wobbly peace with the life cycle of my hand work, accepting what's lost and what's gained.

After all, when crafted treasures disappear, we still have our stories about them, about making them with our labor and love. And in these stories, our handwork can now be perfect. The dropped stich, the reversed cables, the mismatched seams are forever gone, too. As we swap our tales of what's no longer with us, we click hopefully away on the new. Perhaps this year, the Lost and Found will save singles.

Flip-Top Mittens Pattern:

More Mitten Patterns from

Authored by

Michelle Edwards is the author/illustrator of A KNITTER'S HOME COMPANION and many award-winning children's books including CHICKEN MAN and STINKY STERN FOREVER. In her spare time, Michelle enjoys talking about books in schools throughout the US and beyond. Her newest book, Room for the Baby, will be available from Random House in Fall 2012. Visit Michelle Edwards at her website or on Facebook.
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