a meditation on slow knitting

better world, knitting


When I was about 10 years old my great aunt Kappy asked us to knit bandages for people who suffered from leprosy. Aunt Kappy was a career Red Cross nurse and had a commanding presence. Even though I had never knit before I felt obligated to tag team with my sister on the impossibly thin needles and thread we had been given.

Mostly what I remember about the bandage knitting was being overwhelmed by it all. Just trying to wrap my head around people having leprosy was a lot for a 10-year old to process. Could there be a more horrible disease? Aunt Kappy explained that these people had to live in colonies (this was in the early 70s) because they were often shunned by society for their disfigurement and the misconception that the disease was contagious.

Somehow as a child it seemed like such a big disease and yet the needles with which I was supposed to knit the bandages seemed just way too small for the job. And don’t they need, like, a lot of bandages? I just couldn’t imagine that I could even make a dent in this problem and at some point the needles and thread disappeared and I forgot all about it. Yet every time I heard the words leprosy or leper I thought about those bandages and my regret that I hadn’t been able to do more.

Then last week I accidentally happened upon a post asking people to knit bandages for leprosy to be sent to Vietnam. Although I have four other knitting projects in the works including one that my daughter will outgrow if I don’t finish soon, I knew that Aunt Kappy would really want me to try again. And I am a really big fan of second chances and do-overs.

So I got myself some #2 double-pointed needles and some #10 crochet thread, followed the instructions for knitting the 3-inch wide bandages and paced myself for the hours and hours of knitting that it would take to knit a single bandage. How different the experience is as an adult.

Here what I was thinking as I started knitting those little tiny stitches:

am I going to be able to finish this thing by the first week of February?

wow, it’s as tedious as I remembered

can’t be as tedious as having leprosy

leprosy—why hasn’t it been eradicated?

these little needles are so light

straight garter stitch is so meditative

no thinking, no decisions

the stretchiness is good

it will wrap around their body well

I hope it’s comfortable for them

it will get so much use because they can boil them and sterilize them for re-use

how must that feel to get a new handknit bandage from someone you don’t know

from an American when you’re Vietnamese?

how must it feel to need a new bandage and not have one?

I can totally finish this

I will finish this

this is nice

it’s good

this time is nothing, really nothing in the big scheme of things

what was that quote from Mother Theresa about doing small things

something about miracles or changing the world or something

it was something about not underestimating the power of small things with love

Aunt Kappy is loving this

So am I.

9 thoughts on “a meditation on slow knitting

  1. That was very inspiring stream-of-consciousness! I’ve never thought of knitting bandages (other than what I read in ‘Gone with the Wind’….)! Somehow the thought of doing that in the present time never occurred to me! Wow.

  2. What a wonderfully uplifting post of old fashioned compassion! It has inspired me and made me feel warm on a cold night.

  3. Hi

    I’m impressed by you tenacity as a child to do such a good thing for others. On another note, I think I have to learn how to knit bandages for a survival race and would like to know if you can provide some insight for me.

    FYI I’ve never knitted.



    1. Steve – use the specs I describe in the post. You just need to master the knit stitch, which you’ll be doing on the front and back (aka the garter stitch). There are numerous online videos that teach one how to knit but I would think that with my specs I would think that you could find someone in your family or among your friends or co-workers that could show you how to knit bandages. Good luck.

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