There is nothing quite like the feeling of painstakingly hand-knitting a sweater for someone who dies partway through the process, then having to repurpose the sweater for someone else whose arms are longer. I say this only because it’s a shame to let that hard work and good yarn go to waste. And it’s not like you need to TELL your mother-in-law that the sweater you made her was intended for your own mother, but your own mother bit the biscuit, leaving you a textile-challenged half-orphan. And really, how were you supposed to know when you were in your thirties that women in their fifties don’t like crop tops? It wasn’t a crop top when you first started making it, because your mother was only five-foot-nothing and so it would have come at LEAST to her waist. Possibly to her knees.
It’s not like you’ll have hard feelings knowing your mother-in-law will never wear the sweater. It’s the thought that counts, right? It would be better, in fact, if she donated it to someone who would like it, but you know she won’t because she’s too goddamned nice for that and she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. And that right there is the thing that’s going to make you feel the most ashamed for the rest of your natural life – that your mother-in-law is too goddamned nice to donate a dead woman’s sweater because she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings.
Sometimes, everything works out, and you knit a sweater for a boy and things don’t work out so you keep the sweater even though it’s way too frigging big for you and for everyone else you know, because you didn’t know anything about test swatches and gauge so you just chose to keep the sweater because damnit, there’s six months of your life in that thing and the majority of your pregnancy. And then you meet some dude who’s like, seven feet tall and the sweater fits him like a glove and you give it to him and he’s really sweet about it but then the next time he comes to your house he’s a total dick and you don’t ever want to talk to him again, but still, at least someone gets to enjoy the gargantuan sweater you made for a boy you desperately wanted to please.
Maybe the moral here really is “don’t knit sweaters for people”. But then you see it work out *really well* for other people, and for babies, because when you knit sweaters for your wee one and they just look so goddamned good, you start thinking, “Man, I should knit sweaters more”, and you make one for your husband but something went weird in between the cuffs and the shoulders and even though he has really really long arms, NOBODY has arms THAT long and the sweater never gets worn because who wants to look like he’s wearing a sweater that looks like a mentally awkward person knit for a particularly docile orangutan. Even though sometimes your husband does wear it, particularly in the winter when you refuse to turn on the heat and he kind of likes it because he can double the sleeves up and pin them around his neck and still get full coverage of his arms. So that kind of worked out too, but only because your husband is pretty much the sweetest person on earth; he’s the kind of man who agrees to wear the horrible sweater you made with stilt-arms because he wants you to know that he appreciates the *gesture* and how much time and effort went in to it even if you’re not particularly good at gauging real people arms.
It’s like this time TUO was really nervous about telling me when I was pregnant the joke about a pregnant woman taking thalidomide because she can’t knit sleeves and I laughed and laughed and laughed until there were too many tears in my eyes to see and she was so relieved because she knows how emotional and sensitive women can get when they’re pregnant but I was just so goddamned relieved that someone out there understands about how bloody impossible sleeves are. If all of the sweaters in the world just had no sleeves, the world would be a better place. Things would work out much more often.
Doing away with sleeves entirely is a good compromise, but it takes a very special sort of person to agree to wear a sweater vest. And chunky yarn only works when your aunt is so tiny that if she sneezes, she might just disappear. Luckily, I have such an aunt. And a sister-in-law who is gracious enough to tell me she wears the silk camisole I knit her in cerulean blue.
Anyway, I didn’t actually give my mother-in-law a sweater that I’d begun for my mother only to have her die on me. I bought the yarn for a sweater I was going to knit for my mother, but I ended up making my mother a different sweater out of different yarn and she loved it. Well, she said she loved it but she had a brain tumour and tried lighting markers thinking they were cigarettes and then she laughed and laughed. I choose to believe she did love that sweater, and the arms totally fit her, but the rest of the sweater was way too big because she’d lost so much weight. She said it was good because it was so warm and for the next sweater, could I make it in blue.
I said I could make it in blue, but I knew I wouldn’t, because she was dying and I didn’t want to start another sweater and have to leave it partially made for the rest of time or else unravel it and use the yarn for something else. Sometimes I think that makes me a bad person, and the part of my brain that still doesn’t accept that I myself am not still ten years old thinks that maybe if I’d have started that sweater for her, she wouldn’t have died. Maybe as long as I kept adding one stitch, or one row, she’d live another day. Or another year.
And can our lives be measured in terms of stitches, counted row upon row, building from a simple ribbed pattern to something very much more complex, narrowing at last back to a ribbed pattern and then ending, finally, in a long and twisting single string? If I had started that blue sweater, would I have sat unravelling it, undoing my mother with each frogged inch?