69: The Man Who Learned to Unravel

69: The Man Who Learned to Unravel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

The Man Who Learned to Unravel

Memories are stitched with love.

~Author Unknown

Growing up in my family, fiber arts was always the exclusive property of the women. I’m still not sure exactly why. My dad was a feminist who never denigrated knitting as “women’s work” in any way; I know he actively cheered when my mother put knitting needles into the hands of all the boys in my brother’s Boy Scout troop. But for all of his support, he consistently turned down any opportunity to learn how to knit himself. And so whenever Saturday afternoon rolled around and it was time for a family “fun” trip, it was always just my mother and I who ended up at the yarn store. My dad and my brothers would go off to do something else.

Now, from a daughter’s point of view, this was wonderful. It meant that my mother and I had something that was exclusively ours to share, and many of the inevitable bumps and bruises of my adolescence got talked over during those weekly yarn shopping trips. Still, it meant that my dad was somewhat left out — a problem that really didn’t become apparent until I moved back home after college, the only child to return to the family nest. The moment my boxes were unpacked, my mom and I picked up our old Saturday yarn shopping tradition right where we’d left off, and this time we added a twist — we’d rent a comedy or mystery movie that we’d watch while we worked on our various knitting projects.

At first, my dad claimed he was only joining us to watch the movie. However, as the weeks went by I noticed him looking less and less at the screen and more and more at whatever projects were growing in our laps. He started listening to our quiet discussions about colors and fiber contents with a curiously wistful look on his face, a wistfulness that only grew as he learned just how much knitting gave my mom and me to talk about, and how close those conversations drew us together. Then came the day when I started loading the coffee table with an entire stack of newly purchased skeins, the beginnings of a sweater I was planning. “Don’t those need to be wound into balls or something?” my dad asked. “I used to do that for your mom sometimes, before you kids were born.”

In truth, the yarn didn’t need to be rewound at all. All the skeins were factory-created pull skeins, not the loose hanks my dad was remembering from the late 1960s. But that wistful look on his face was back, and I nodded — after all, what could it hurt? I gave him a skein and a quick lesson in winding. He waved me away, claiming that my mother had taught him the basics long before I’d been born. And we all settled into our projects, I knitting, Dad winding, and Mom crocheting in the corner.

I must admit I had some doubts about what the yarn my father wound was going to look like. Nevertheless, when the movie ended, he presented me with a tight, perfectly formed little ball that took up half the space of the original skein. When Mom and I complimented him, my dad shrugged awkwardly. “It’s better than sitting here doing nothing,” he said gruffly. Then he eyed the rest of my skeins with sudden hope. “Want me to do the rest?”

And so a new tradition was born. For the next few months, whenever movie time came, my dad would patiently rewind skeins while Mom and I knitted. Unfortunately, it’s possible for a determined man to wind more balls of yarns than even the world’s most devoted knitter can work through in the same amount of time, and eventually my dad had worked through all the yarn in our collection, including all the leftover odds and ends in my mom’s forty-year-old stash. The whole family was left with a serious problem. What else could a non-knitter do to keep his hands in what had become the family hobby?

The problem was solved the day that I discovered I’d made a terrible mistake in my sweater. I’m afraid I was rather noisy about my frustration; my mom ended up pausing the movie so she could see if she could help. Unfortunately, there was no way to salvage the mistake, and several inches of knitting had to be unraveled. “But I hate unraveling,” I complained. “It’s one thing in crochet, where you can just rip a row out without worrying about dropping any stitches. But knitting’s different.”

My mom just gave me the smile of a woman who’d had to unravel a million stitches in her time and went back to work, leaving me to stop complaining and get on with my task. But Dad, who had been listening to the whole exchange, suddenly straightened. “Could you teach me how to do it?” he asked. “That way you could move on to something more fun.”

Both my mom and I blinked at him in disbelief. Then I realized just what a gift I was being handed. “Absolutely,” I said. After a quick tutorial in the art of the “frog” stitch, my dad got started. And this time, when the movie ended, I received a perfectly unraveled sweater, not so much as a single stitch dropped. Not only that, but the unraveled yarn was neatly wound into its very own ball. “I already knew how to do that part,” my dad said with a twinkle. He was rewarded with a huge hug from his grateful daughter.

My dad now considers himself the official “support staff” for all of our craft endeavors. Thus far, he’s resisted our efforts to teach him how to crochet or knit for himself, but the last time we went to a craft fair, he spent a lot of time looking at the spinning wheel displays. “At the rate you and your mom go through yarn, it would really be helpful if someone in the family knew how to spin, wouldn’t it?” he said.

It would indeed.

~Kerrie R. Barney

More stories from our partners