|It was a quiet sound, the whispering of the yarn as I gathered the last stitches from
the top of the thumb and pulled them together tightly with a thick, blunt sewing needle.
I ran the needle and yarn twice through the top stitches and then, turning the thumb
inside out, knotted the yarn in a few places, snipped the end and turned the thumb right
The final gesture was exactly what it had been with every pair, checking the thumb
gusset. No holes or loose stitches there. I’d finished my one hundredth pair of
I laid this last pair on top of a basket filled with mittens. I re-counted all the
mittens, just to make sure. I touched and admired and criticized each pair. I tried on a
few. Soon I would call Mary Palmberg, who runs our town’s Free Lunch Program and is
one of those earthly angels who always seem to be aware of who in our community needs
what, from an extra ice cream scooper to one hundred pairs of mittens. In January, I had
given Mary the first installment of my goal: 65 pairs of mittens.
I emailed Mary last week; would she like the rest of the mittens now? The weather had
been warm and I worried that she would want me to wait for fall. I should have known
that people like Mary always have contingency plans for out of season donations. They
could store the mittens at Free Lunch she told me. There is always a lag time between
when it gets cold and when donations start to arrive. The mittens will be there, ready
for the first cold hands of fall.
I started to knit these mittens over a year ago, on my fiftieth birthday. In THE
REASON TO KNIT MITTENS (Lion Brand Newsletter
January 28, 2006), I explained my vow to “knit a hundred pairs of mittens for cold
and needy hands.” I was hoping that knitting almost exclusively for others “might
get my troubled mind off my own petty problems and ultimately change my karma.” I
promised to write about the karma change part when I finished all the mittens.
Sitting here in my knitting chair, surrounded by baskets of yarn and mittens, I feel
very rich and blessed. I guess that is where the karma part comes in. In a year that was
filled with ups and downs for me as a mom, a writer, a knitter and a citizen of a world
that seemed to be always on the brink of a new crisis, knitting mittens was my oasis of
calm. It was my teeny tiny contribution to a teeny tiny part of humanity that was in
All year, I carried my mittens in progress with me everywhere. It was a click
clacking repetitive calm that never failed to ease my tensions and quiet my storms. A
new yarn, a different pattern or size or a clever embellishment was a simple joy that
always took me by surprise.
I talked about my mitten project to those who asked me what I was knitting and, on
more than one occasion, those who didn’t. I had lots of wonderful conversations with
people about life, and knitting and mittens. I received many touching emails from those
who read my mitten essay. It is hard to feel bad about life and the state of affairs,
global and personal, when you keep meeting fine, interesting and caring people. Every
time I went into my local yarn store, Edie, the owner, added a pair of mittens to my
pile. I think that is part of the karma change, too.
Knitting one hundred pairs of mittens has given me a deep understanding of what makes
a good mitten. I am now very opinionated about thumbs and gussets and the length of a
cuff. I think of myself as a mitten maven. My middle daughter’s friend Hayley refers
to me as a “mitten factory.”
What will I knit now that I have finished my hundredth pair of mittens? What will I
do with my mitten knowledge?
I have a backlog of knitting I’d like to do: socks, baby gifts, an afghan and a
purse or two. I’ve promised myself a sweater. I know I’ll always have a community
knitting project going: shawls, preemie hats, chemo hats, and afghans. But when Mary
comes and takes the mittens, will I ever fill the empty baskets again?
As I sit in my knitting chair in the evening, I can’t help but notice how totally
set up I am for the next hundred pairs of mittens. The patterns, the needles are in a
satchel by my chair. And the wicker baskets hiding under the coffee table are filled
with more than enough yarn for the first few dozen mittens. Maybe that’s my knitting