EDITOR’S NOTE: Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. Now, she is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day. The weekly series of columns so far:
- Her first story was The Perfect House.
- Then, All Manner of Things Shall Be Well.
- Taking on cancer ‘this step, each step’
- You are now reading the fourth column.
Knitting Lives Together
By LUCILLE SIDER
Author and Contributing Columnist
When I moved back to Chicago in 2015 to be near Frank, a friend of 40 years, the first people he introduced me to were David and Elly. David, like Frank, was a retired Lutheran pastor. Elly was a retired cancer specialist—both brilliant people. But the most endearing and intriguing thing about Elly was that she always—and I mean always—was knitting.
While the four of us would easily lose ourselves discussing the fine points of theology or psychology after dinner, Elly would busy her hands knitting sweaters, hats or gloves. And those were just the tip of the iceberg.
One day, I noticed that the beautiful blue and white socks she was wearing were of her own creation—and I became enchanted with the idea that I, too, could learn to knit socks. Socks, unlike scarves or sweaters, required skill beyond what I thought was my capacity for this craft.
I shyly asked her to teach me.
She smiled in return. “I’d love to teach you.”
The next day, I was invited her to my apartment for the first lesson. I was excited because I knew I would love it, and already I was imagining making socks for my son. I had done some simple knitting as a teenager—mainly scarves—so I knew a bit about the two main stitches, knit and purl. For each of them, you simply loop the yarn through the adjacent stitch below. In a knit stitch, you thread the tip of the needle through the right of the stitch below—and for a purl, you bring it back to the left.
But before I could knit and purl, I had to learn the first step in knitting, which was “casting on” stitches. This process requires two needles, which you twist around each other, sneaking in the yarn so it becomes lodged on just one of the needles. For a woman’s pair of socks, it takes about 48 stitches. For a man’s, about 64. These stitches then become the circumference and cuff of the sock. It takes at least 3,000 stitches for the cuff and leg and another 4,000 for the rest of the sock.
YES, 7,000 stitches for one sock!
For knitting socks, it takes five needles, which can be a little tricky. The needles are pointed at each end and are about 7 inches long. To watch someone manipulate these five needles looks quite complicated. But when you get into the swing of it—the movements are smooth and sweet.
As I labored through this process, Elly and I sat side by side on the sofa, which comforted me. When I made a mistake, she helped me correct the problem in a way that never made me feel stupid or wrong. As someone who is prone to feeling stupid, this was significant.
After about 100 stitches of knit two, purl two, a lovely multicolor pattern started to form. This pattern naturally pulls the stitches close together so the sock fits snugly around the leg. After 30 to 40 hours of labor, I finally removed the needles holding the stitches apart and beheld my first pair of completed socks. Slipping on that freshly knit pair of socks was heavenly. They were so soft, so warm and so pretty!
I left them on all day.
But I soon learned that it wasn’t just the process of making the sock that was such fun. The fun began with a trip to the yarn store to select from among hundreds of kinds of yarn! At least 50 of these were sock yarn, which is thinner than yarn made for sweaters and scarves. At first, I felt overwhelmed about all those choices. But then, I noticed that half of those choices were some variation of my favorite colors: pink, blue and purple.
In the beginning, I bought yarn for five pairs in these colors. After I gained some confidence and experience, I stretched my horizons and bought yarn that featured shades of grey, silver and brown. The yarn is only $8 to $10, so I can come home with six or eight balls of yarn without breaking my bank—even though I wanted to buy 10 or more.
Sometimes I bought yarn for a specific person. And as I made the socks, I imagined the feeling of giving them as a gift at the end of the process. I would tuck my love for that person into every stitch—it felt like a way of praying for that person. Knitting is meditation—and every pair is thousands of stitches of meditation!
Once I started gifting socks to friends and family, I found that absolutely everyone loves a pair of home-knit socks. I grew to love the ecstatic response of “You made these?” Sometimes, I almost felt like I had to defend myself and convince them that I am indeed capable of this. Of course, I would give credit to Elly and tell them about the way she came to my apartment, sat by me on the sofa and patiently helped me out of every mess that I had gotten myself into.
I also found that the more socks I made, the more questions people had.
How long does it take to make a pair of socks?
How much does the yarn cost?
Isn’t it hard to make socks?
Modeling Elly’s patience with me, I would always take the time to respond and show them the needles. While I had never precisely clocked the hours, I told them that I guessed it took between 25 and 35 hours. But I reassured them that while I made them, I was often watching TV or chatting with a friend. They were always impressed.
I always loved to watch the reactions of those who received my socks. One special reaction came on Christmas day in 2020, when I presented socks to my elderly friends Vinnie and Bob, who are 93 and 99 respectively. They held them lovingly, and later told me that they wore them all the time. Because Bob is in a wheelchair, and cannot wear shoes because of foot sores, he loves wearing his blue and green socks.
One time in church, I noticed he wasn’t wearing his own socks, but had Vinnie’s socks on. Her socks were pink, white and baby blue, colors that I picked out to reflect a more “girlish” scheme. But Bob didn’t mind—he said he couldn’t find his socks, so he just wore hers. I chuckled, and at that moment I decided to make more socks for him. At his 100th birthday party in April, I gave him a brand-new pair that featured black, silver and shiny white yarn. He just loves them.
Currently, I am knitting a pair of socks for Maria, a 13-year-old girl who is traveling with her 16-year-old brother from Central America to the US. After eight years of living without their mother and brother, who made the treacherous trip eight years ago, they decided to make the trip to reunite with family in Chicago.
But this trip is even more treacherous than the one Maria’s mother made. The adult who was hired to accompany Maria and her brother turned out to be a criminal, so they were forced to travel on their own alongside countless other teens.
After leaving in late winter, we learned that they successfully crossed the border in early spring and are now being held in a government facility for teens in Texas. As soon as the extensive paperwork is completed, they will be joining their mother and brother here in Chicago.
I’ve seen a picture of Maria and her brother. Maria is petite, and it takes my breath away when I think of her on this journey. I find myself waking up early in the morning afraid for her—so I turn my fear into prayer. I ask God to protect her, to comfort her, and give her the strength she needs to make the final trek of this journey and safely be reunited with her mother and brother after eight years of being apart.
And as I pray, I tenderly tuck my love into every stitch. The yarn I have chosen for her is a soft and multi-colored—pink, purple, green and blue. Plus it has sparkles.
I can’t wait to give them to her.
Care to take part in Lucille’s Zoom series?
Just click on this image from Lucille’s Zoom poster, below, and you will see a full PDF of this handbill, which you can download, print, share with friends or post where friends will see it. She began this series on September 14, but you could join her group in its October session.