In Stitches

Workshop from the 2010 SOFT Conference in Sioux Falls

An early workshop in at the 2010 conference in Sioux Falls was for knitters. Not completely according to plan, there were more wanting to learn to knit, than those in need of a new project. Those who could knit helped those who could not, and there was as much laughter as concentration. Advice, encouragement, humorous observations and ideas were shared.

Knitting is Therapy

Knitting, once the knitter gets the hang of it and is able to knit on automatic pilot, allows the mind to wander, freed to meditate on concerns pushed beyond conscious awareness. Knitting is a kinesthetic mantra which ushers in relaxation. After a few rows of knitting, the one with the needles realizes recent worries at conscious awareness are pushed away. At the workshop, we just were not quite there yet. That zen like state comes after the knitter stops counting aloud, stops wondering if it was a knit or pearl stitch just made, stops dropping needles and stitches and stops hiding mysterious holes, loops and extra stitches

It’s no runner’s high, does not replace a glass of Sauvignon, but it is a valuable pause in a hectic life. Except for the ripping out part, knitting is tangible progress, unlike most aspects of life. Dishes and clothes get dirty again, the next meal is only hours after one is made, but a sweater, socks or hat can be worn for years. A gift of a knit blanket or article of clothing is a gift of time, thought and love. The yarn is only the vehicle for a higher endeavor. Anyone looking in at the SOFT knitters having so much fun despite their confusion and lack of confidence might have questioned the higher endeavor part.

Advantages to knitting

Those attending the workshop learned of other important advantages to knitting. In knitting mistakes can be undone. Take the yarn off the needle and pull to return to yesterday, where all was well. This activity is frogging– rip it, rip it! Curl up on the couch, knitting in hand, skein of yarn in lap, favorite television show on, and watch guilt-free, because of involvement with a valid project.

When someone yells, “Mom!”, Mom is busy and cannot look up or get up without losing a stitch. Knitting allows “Wait!”. Knitting can be that sought after oasis that seems to belong in our past. Heidi Estes was seen knitting throughout the conference, perhaps seeking and finding that oasis. Knitting makes us all artists. New yarns such as Bernat’s Baby Jacquards stripes automatically, and straight knitting results in intricate designs. We get to look far more clever and ambitious than is the case.

Knitting teaches about life

In Yarn: Remembering the Way Home by Kyoto Mori, Gemma, 2010, the author explains that lace was traditionally made by cutting holes and removing the cut threads. Knitting came along and lace patterns were made by purposely creating holes using yarn-over stitches. (Chris Donahue managed this in her third row of knitting, but it was not yet lace). Mori reflects on the difference in technique and explains,

“It would be years before I understood what the difference meant. You can build what is usually taken away. Loss can expand as well as constrict us: an absence is also an opening” (p. 87).

A Parallel to Life with Child with Trisomy

This is another metaphor for those of us with children with a trisomy diagnosis. We truly build what is taken away. The loss we experienced at diagnosis and for bereaved parents at our child’s passing, expands us, and ironically provides an opening in our lives. We build around that opening. We make lace: we create what is beautiful from what seems tragic. The holes in our lives become the necessary spaces for the intricate, unique fabric we create in the years that follow.

Mori also distinguishes between thread and yarn. The thread of a story is the main idea that holds the thoughts together, while a yarn is a rambling story, with veracity unnecessary. Yarn stretches, thread does not. Thread is definite and constricting; yarn gives, yields. Knitters, the revolutionary and relentless Madame Defarge excepted, may be yarn people in both craft and philosophy.

Learning to be Flexible

Those who have faced a diagnosis of trisomy and had their lives changed by a child have needed flexibility to meet challenges, to understand what is happening and to grow themselves. Daily and hourly, even the most organized person needs to relent and let go. It may just be that becoming a yarn person is what needs to happen. Our lives become not restricted, as is so often assumed, but stretched. We yield to new demands that once seemed impossible and this yields confidence, joy and delight.

Our stories become engaging, rambling stories, changing adventures that carry truth, poignancy, revelation, humor and wisdom: the elements of the spectacular lace fashioned around the holes made at diagnosis.

Constance Calleja – Full Trisomy 18

Calling All Knitters

We have started a new tradition at SOFT and are looking for knitters to join us. In 2010 we gave more than a dozen preemie and newborn hats made by Sarah Hayes and preemie blankets made by Pam Healey to Brenda Jorgenson, Gloria’s daughter.

Brenda works in the NICU at Sanford Hospital and is the NICU flight nurse delivering babies from several states to distant medical facilities. Brenda was in charge of the daycare during the conference, co-ordinating the volunteers and providing excellent care while parents took time for workshops and a night out.

Brenda was a teenager during her sister Erin’s short life. With her choice of a nursing career, some volunteer time caring for an infant with trisomy 18 to give that child’s parents some nights’ sleep, and her time as head of the conference daycare, she seems to have been greatly influenced by her baby sister who had trisomy 18.

In 2011 blankets and hats were given to Hope Hospital, which sponsored the Chicago clinics, and again to Brenda for her NICU flights to rescue at risk newborns.

Blankets for the NICU

Our plan is to give knitted or crocheted items to the NICU in each city where a conference is held. Those who do not attend the conference can ship their finished items to an address that will be provided. A blanket at the foot of the isolette or around the baby as he or she is held by his parents, and a hat and blanket for the journey home show the parents that they are not alone, and their fragile infant is valued. Prayers, best wishes and a philosophy of hope are knit into each blanket.

Charis Noelle Sabo – Full Trisomy 18

Rosemary Valentine’s octogenarian mother knit a dozen prayer shawls for the  2010 auction. The bidding went high, and many people were warmly and SOFTly wrapped in colorful shawls by evening’s end. The possibilities for future knitted auction items is endless. Consider making something your surviving child enjoys or needs or making, even designing, something in memory of your child.

Knitting Projects

Anyone interested in knitting projects should e-mail Pam Healey at  for patterns, advice, and encouragement and a list of service projects involving knitting. For a good laugh (and if knitting humor is your thing) see or just google Yarn Harlot or pick up any book by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. She is hysterically funny, philosophical and practical— not a bad combination.

Knit for others. Knit to remember or honor a child. If time and energy are at a premium in your life, but there is the desire to do some volunteer work, consider knitting. Preemie blankets are quick, gauge does not matter as much as with sweaters, and, aside from the seed stitch border, can be stockinette stitch.

While still practicing with your work, which remains uneven at best, make blankets for dog crates for a local shelter. I would suggest making doll clothes, but Shannon Donahue’s decided indifference when Chris said, “Look Mommy is making a scarf for Barbie,” makes the dog crate idea better. Dogs are less judgmental about what is made for them. Join our virtual knitting group and help us provide knitted donations for hospitals that sponsor SOFT clinics.

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee in Casts Off declares that certain words are dangerous to knitters trying to curtail spending. One word is “soft”, because knitters will buy yarn just because it is soft, not because of any pattern they intend to knit. A stash of soft yarn is cherished. Now, buy soft yarn for SOFT, find or ask for patterns and start knitting. There are preemie blankets, hats, prayer shawls or auction items ahead. Thoreau said chopping wood warms you twice: when you chop it and when you burn it. Knitting warms you as you knit and warms someone else later, and it is less strenuous, far neater and better for the environment. Start knitting.