The Patterns of Life

My mother was an excellent knitter, especially with mittens, hats and sweaters. She often wove pictures into the sweaters.  When my daughter was in her Madeline phase (“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines”) my mother knitted this sweater.  I am saving it for my daughter’s daughter, who just turned one.

I learned to love knitting from my mom.  Back in the day it was a group project because yarn came in hanks not ready to use skeins.  One of us would hold the hank between outstretched arms while my mother or sister would wind the yarn into balls.  It was fun. We’d pick out patterns and watch our mom create a sweater over a few weeks time.

I love knitting too.  It’s like therapy for me.  The following yarn (pun intended) is about a recent project that led to deeper reflections on patterns in my life.  If you are not into knitting feel free to fast forward to the latter half.

In March I found a ‘knit-it-in-10-hours’ sweater pattern calling for chunky weight yarn.  Being in the mood for a bright spring sweater, I bought the pattern and went shopping for chunky yarn.

The problem is, it’s hard to find chunky weight wool yarn.  Most chunky is acrylic and I wanted a natural fiber product. I went to a specialty yarn shop, the kind that sells yarn in hanks, not skeins.   Wandering through the shop I feasted on fibers ranging from lace weight to chunky, however, the chunky selection was limited, acylric, and didn’t appeal to me.

I kept circling through the shop, pattern in hand, beholding all the yarns by color and weight.  I came upon a beautiful merino worsted-weight hank, the color of sunlight. I grabbed it and moved into the front room, featuring  trunk show (high end, hand-dyed, limited time offer, expensive) products. I found a sock-weight merino-cashmere blend, aptly named Spun Honey.

Would a composite of worsted-weight and sock-weight equal a chunky?  The store clerk, a young woman knitting a lace shawl behind the counter, thought not. I agreed, still too thin. I found a lace-weight wool-silk product called Daffodil.   Can you picture the golden hues?

I layered the three yarns together to determine if the colors supported each other.  The clerk and I agreed they did, but still thought it did not equal the diameter of a chunky yarn.  (Imagine substituting a combination of angel hair, capellini and spaghetti to equal a fettuccine weight pasta).

I deliberated a bit and decided it would do. I purchased the yarn and a new size 13 circular needle made of smooth pomegranate-colored wood.  The clerk then offered to wind a few hanks into skeins using the wooden contraption mounted on the back counter. Contraption is the only word to describe this apparatus that resembles the inside of a compact umbrella that unfolds, securely holding an outstretched spinning hank, while a line of yarn is pulled off and wound onto a spool.  I was wishing my grandson was there to watch the flying yarn. I thanked the clerk, promising to come back and show her the finished project.

So excited was I, that I pulled into a parking lot at a nearby grocery store, opened the needle pack and began my project right there in the car, pulling from all three yarns at once.  The worsted weight was thicker than the sock and lace weight, but together they added dimension and subtle color enhancements to the whole. It was heaven in my hands. Did I mention that I love knitting?

I followed the pattern, making first the left front, then the right front, then the back.  I purposely added several rows at the bottom to accommodate the difference in yarn weight from the pattern.  I sewed the front pieces to the back at the shoulders seams. I put it on, to gauge the fit. Unfortunately it was too small at the side seams.  I was disappointed but not discouraged, having anticipated this might happen. Undeterred, I knit up two side panels to insert between the font pieces and the back, at the side, running down from the underarm to the hip. Bingo!  It worked.

I then set in the sleeves and added front button hole strips, not in the original pattern.  It was really shaping up nicely, different from the original pattern, but nonetheless beautiful.  The pattern had been an inspiration and a guide, but the customizations made the sweater my own unique creation.

Life is full of patterns.  Some patterns fit us well, others do not.  Sometimes we make adjustments or add in extra panels to meet our needs.  Sometimes the beauty of the material is such that we strive to attain it, all the time knowing the pattern will require adjustments.  

In my life, the pattern has been a little different.

Instead of a childhood home with a mother, father and children we had a home with a mother, a deceased father, an aunt, a grandmother and children.  The added panels of our loving aunt and grandmother helped stabilize us. Despite our mother’s profound grief, we experienced her as a survivor, eventually thriving as a working woman and mother.  We watched her achieve a masters degree, plus 60 credits–each one adding to her salary, as she worked in the public school district, and taught at the local college. Her successful survival wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our aunt and grandmother, who literally moved into our home to help us. I saw a pattern with these three lovely ladies, all widowed women helping each other adapt to a different life than the pattern they expected.  They were and remain my role models.

In my own marriage, the pattern of the husband working and wife being at home with the children did not happen. I’m not sure I even wanted that pattern to be honest.  I had a college education, a job with good working conditions, health insurance, life insurance, and a pension. We had an unconventional situation with my husband being at home with our children when they were young for several years.  At times we have both worked full time, and other times he has worked part time while I worked full time. It worked.

Sometimes we have a good pattern, but the raw materials of our life don’t fit the pattern.  We need to make adjustments to our expectations. Multiple people can start with the same pattern but based on who they are, they end up with very different results.  

Consider our congregations, our friends, and our families.  Isn’t it nice to have variety? Instead of one chunky line we can blend many threads of thought into one integrated fabric.  Colors and hues of culture, belief and practice enhance the whole.

Patterns are useful guides.  They give us basic structure to build, assemble or work a plan.

Maybe it’s more important to know how to evaluate a pattern and determine if it is a good pattern for you and your materials.  Are you able to make the adjustments, or is a different pattern a better fit for you? With practice you can design, create and adapt your own patterns and utilize all the fabulous fibers at your disposal, not just the ones called for in the dominant pattern.

Discussion questions:

Did the pattern you set out with change over time?

What adjustments have you made in the pattern of your life?

Do you feel free to adjust as needed?   If not, what is holding you back?


Allemande Left

Allemande Left lives in the eastern US with her guitar-strumming husband. Allemande Left refers to the beginning steps in a square dance. Dancers turn to their corner partner, clasp left hands as they glide past each other, then clasp right hands with the next person as they weave through the square of dancers--half going clockwise and half counterclockwise. It is a way to loosen up and meet the other dancers. As the caller sings, "Allemande Left and Away We Go."

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6 Responses

  1. Patty Lieberg says:

    Wow. What an inspiration. I don’t have the words to say how this made me feel. I think every emotion went through my mind at different times. Makes so much sense. I love it.

  2. Anna says:

    My own mother was a knitter also. She had several articles that won blue ribbons at Utah’s state fair. She taught classes in beginning knitting, English style as opposed to the awkward way most Americans knit, and machine knitting, and crochet knit. She even wrote a book. I didn’t take after her much as I have always struggled with the patience to actually complete a project. She ended up finishing 90% of my projects that were more complicated than a baby afghan when I got stuck or bored.

    My mother died 10 years ago, but your yarn about knitting reminded me so much of her on this mother’s day that I can’t stop crying.

    I am currently working slowly on an afghan combining different yarns to equal bulky weight exactly like you did with your sweater. It gives a wonderful tweedy look, and supper soft.

    But, to your question of did our life turn out like our pattern, I am one to never follow the pattern with sewing or knitting, which is what I did with my life. When we were in high school some of my friends and I wrote up our life plans. Then we got married and life took over with different plans. I wanted permanence and stability, and wrote that I wanted a two story farm house with an orchard, chickens, vegetable garden, and goats. I wanted 5 children, then to adopt 5 more of the hard to place variety. What I got was a husband who enlisted to avoid the draft one month after we married, then twenty moves in twenty years as we moved to his various assignments with the military. I was only able to have three kids, and with all the moves, we were not in one place long enough to adopt. So, rather than the stability I craved, I got to travel the world. My friend’s plans also turned out wrong. The one who wanted to travel the world got the two story farm house, and the one who wanted a large family never had kids.

  3. Allemande Left says:

    Anna, thank you for your heartfelt comments. I’m glad you can celebrate your mother’s accomplishments and efforts to teach other people something she obviously enjoyed. My mother died a while back and last week was her birthday. I had a good cry thinking about her and missing her too. You have had quite an adventure traveling around the world. Not what you expected but hopefully something adventurous and enlightening as you experienced diverse cultures and peoples.

  4. LMA says:

    This is so, so lovely and thoughtful. I love how what you write is so thoughtful and gentle. I really love the idea of flexibility and that the pattern can be adjusted for what you need. I always thought of the pattern dictating what the thing would look like, but it really helps to think of it more as a guide or a structure, but it doesn’t have to be the determining factor. I feel like in my life I’m creating a new pattern that works for me in my faith that allows me to embrace the things I love about Mormonism but also allows me to step away from the parts that don’t feel helpful right now. Thank you so much for sharing yourself through your writing.

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