My husband was at work, my three daughters had left for
school, and I was in the basement of our old house on
Mount Curve Boulevard in Saint Paul, Minnesota, ironing
and listening to Minnesota Public Radio’s morning show
with Bob Potter. Outside it was a beautiful fall day, I
could see the sun shining through the small basement
windows as I watched wrinkles disappear under the warm
Finally. Alone in my house after a busy summer with kids,
alone with my own adult thoughts. This was a luxury:
killing time ironing what easily could have been left
un-ironed, allowing my mind to shift gears from summer
parenting concerns back into my work as a children’s book
writer and illustrator.
Pausing a moment, I looked up at the dusty, exposed pipes
in our basement. Should I clean them? Somewhere in the
middle of my mindless mediations, Bob Potter’s calm,
steady voice acquired a nervous edge. "I have just
received a report," his new voice said. “A plane has
crashed into the World Trade Center.”
|So-Soft Preemie Hat
The pipes never got cleaned and I gave up ironing, folding the
rest of the laundry into sturdy, neat piles. Quietly. Not wanting
to miss a word of the news, I moved my hands soundlessly, and
“It is September 11, 2001,” Bob Potter repeated as he broadcasted
the latest reports: the second plane, the third plane, the
Pentagon, the fourth plane, the crash. I headed upstairs and
called everyone I knew.
“Turn on your radio,” I said. “Terrible things are happening.”
Thinking they might need an extra adult that day, I called my
youngest daughter’s school and volunteered to come right over.
“Not necessary, the principal told me, “The kids don’t know
Could he be right about that? I thought it was in the
air. The world was now a different place. The kids were sure to
“Could you come tomorrow?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said with false confidence. Who knew what tomorrow
would be like?
I wasn’t sure what to do next. It was clear that no matter what
had happened, my kids would be in school all day. That part of our
life was going to stay the same. My husband was still at work,
busy cancelling all the trips and meetings he had planned for that
week, listening to news there, checking on colleagues and friends
scattered over the country. Planes were not flying. Our usually
noisy neighborhood near the airport suddenly was very quiet.
I work alone. In my studio, I can happily pass hours by myself
with my stories and pictures. But on September 11, 2001, work was
out of the question. Would I ever work again? What would I write
about? I could not write or draw or even iron that day, but I was
sure I could knit. Listening to the radio and trying to find a way
to understand what was going on, I could let my hands knit and
purl, back and forth across rows of careful stitches.
During the French Revolution, women knit while heads rolled from
the guillotines. Madness, maybe, but what better what to calm a
soul? By hearths and heaters, in fields and bomb shelters, women
have knit through all wars and disasters. How many times in
conversations and in writings had I quoted Elizabeth Zimmerman,
the matriarch of American knitting, who advised us to “knit on
with courage and confidence through all crisis”?
But what do you knit with courage and confidence in a world where
people fly planes into buildings and deliberately kill thousands of
people? What do you knit in face of a profound uncertainty about the
I had been working on a pair of socks for myself, bright
ones--yellow and orange, blue and green. They were so cheerful
that I could not bear to look at them, almost like archeological
finds belonging to another time, another world.
For me, on the morning of September 11, 2001, it was a gift, a
small comfort amidst the profound shattering of our country to
discover in my stash, half a skein of yarn in a Babysoft®
pastel. Yarn probably left over from a gift made years ago and for
a baby now old enough to join me in my worries. I grabbed my copy
of Projects for Community Knitting by Carol Anderson and
found her pattern for a preemie hat. It was my first confident
gesture for the future.
I knit stacks of preemie hats in what remained of the year 2001
and the first half of 2002. In June, my middle daughter, Flory,
became Bat Mitzvah, and at the luncheon following, baskets of
preemie hats graced the tables. My friends and fellow knitters,
Katherine Goldman and Sarah Herren, helped me knit over three
hundred hats, which we donated to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul.
In August my husband and I packed up our house, loaded the kids
in the car, and moved to Iowa City, Iowa just in time for the
start of the school year. It took a long time to settle in. My
knitting was mixed up with the inaccessible, unmarked, unpacked
boxes stuffed payload style in our garage, waiting for my studio
and the lower level of our new house to be completed.
On September 11, 2002, I was not ironing. After my husband left
for work and my kids for school, I took a new skein of baby yarn
bought the day before, and began to knit. A preemie hat, of
Each of us has struggled to find her own way to deal with the
death and devastation that happened on September 11, 2001. My way
is by knitting preemie hats. And I try to knit it the way
Elizabeth Zimmerman advised, with confidence and courage.
For those of you who would like to do the same on this fifth
anniversary, I offer you the Babysoft® Preemie Hat pattern.
Several other knit and crochet patterns for preemie hats are also
available at the online Lion Brand pattern archive. And for those
of you unsure of where to send or donate your hats, please
consider The Preemie