Reflections on unravelling and creative recycling

Hilary Blake, Joy in Enough’s Development Officer, shares some insights on unravellings and new possibilities:

In 2018 I knitted a cardigan for my son. It was warm and cosy with a beautiful cable pattern. It was a bit snug and he was two years old and growing fast, so he wore it a lot. In 2019 my son died. I washed the cardigan and put it in a box under the bed; I wasn’t ready to give it away yet. Later that year I pulled out the box and found that Kester’s beautiful handmade woolies had become food for moths. I wept. Then I put them in the freezer, still not ready to consign them to the compost bin, but needing to keep them away from more moths.

In 2020, my third son was born, and being a knitter, I started to think about what I could make to wrap up this new precious bundle. Being of a frugal disposition, I wondered what I could make without buying anything new. Kester’s cardigan was mainly chewed in the chest area and I thought about keeping the sleeves and lower body and re-knitting the chest to the same pattern, with some other yarn. This didn’t seem the best way to go about things though, and in the end I unravelled the whole of the cardigan, composting the lengths of wool that were too short to be re-knitted. I then found a new pattern with a beautiful picture of sea, trees and mountains round the yoke. I combined the unravelled dark blue wool with scraps left over from other projects. The new sweater is beautiful and warm. And because it’s made from scraps and unravellings, it was free to make and gives me a lovely reminder of other people and the clothing they wore.

I read a piece that talked about Western society unravelling with the challenges of climate change, inequality, covid and the weaknesses inherent in capitalism. I wonder if the writer realised that they were using a knitting metaphor? Unravelling sounds scary – there’s a loss of control and structure. But in knitting, when you unravel carefully, you can save the lengths of yarn that are still useful, compost the other bits (if they’re made of natural fibres), and make something beautiful and new. Crafters with a creative recycling mindset understand that damage and unravelling do not need to be the end. I wonder if we can extend the unravelling metaphor to economics, politics and society, and maybe even the church. What needs to be composted in our current ways of doing things? What lengths can be saved? What beautiful new things can be carefully created to wrap emerging new life in love?

Hilary Blake is Green Christian’s Development Officer for Joy in Enough (when she’s not knitting, sewing, mothering or preaching in Methodist churches in York). Fellow knitters and crocheters can find her on with the username hmb.

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