Stitch by Careful Stitch

The skeins of yarn. The piles of fabric. The boxes of buttons.

For years, my mother’s favorite pastime had been her handiwork. In addition to all the other roles she played, she had such finesse with her hands, knitting sweaters for my brothers and sewing dresses for me throughout our childhood. An original Halloween costume? She would sew it in days. A new baby in the family? She would knit a nursery blanket. Booties for the church fair? Done again, and again. Doll clothes, pillowcases, hats and scarves. My mother’s handiwork was her trademark, and everyone she knew benefitted from those careful stitches.

As a child, I would sit beside her, watching the swiftness of her fingers as she twirled the yarn or threaded the bobbin of her Singer sewing machine. She offered to teach me her craft many times, but I was not interested, preferring books and pencils to yarns and needles. That was her domain, and I was content to simply enjoy it. How the sweaters and dresses would appear from something so simple seemed like magic to me back then. Of course, it required talent, but even more so, patterns and patience, as her fingers moved, repetitively, one stitch at a time. Designs took shape, rows took form. Nothing could be rushed.

Frustrated, she might suddenly catch a dropped stitch. Though barely noticeable to someone else, my mother knew that mistake could change the whole pattern, the symmetry she desired. Even if it meant tearing out minutes—maybe hours—of otherwise careful work, she did, wanting that special piece to be deserving of the person for whom it was intended, especially if it was a child.

When each of her grandchildren came along, she had a quilt ready as their Christening gift. Though each pattern was unique, they all included crosses embedded in the design. Everything made with her hands was a reflection of herself, she knew, and thus, a reflection of God. Though she felt accomplished with a completed piece, her greatest enjoyment came in the process itself. It was mediative, she’d say, a spiritual discipline offering her the perfect time to pray.

Today, the hands that could knit and sew with such precision have been stilled by arthritis and a lack of focus, inevitable with an aging body and mind. It is harder and harder for her to hold a knitting needle and the old Singer has long been idle. Still, I sit beside her, no longer seeing the swiftness of yesteryear in her fingers but the wrinkles, blue veins, and scars from the stabs of a needle. Whereas the skeins of yarn and piles of fabric once helped define my mother’s life, now it is the creases in the palms of her hands that do, telling a lifetime of stories.

Just as her handiwork resulted in the tapestry of her creations, “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”

The remnants of her craft continue to hang in our closets and lay folded at the foot of her grandchildren’s beds, their patterns—and her legacy—a reminder of the patience and skill that come one stitch at a time.