Every year, Mrs. Weasley of the Harry Potter series knits each of her seven children a Christmas sweater. The gifts are met with varying levels of appreciation; Ron, for instance, complains about his, because every year it’s the same color (maroon).
Starting with Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts, Mrs. Weasley knits him a sweater every year as well. Ron’s response is unsurprisingly negative: “Oh no, she’s made you a Weasley sweater!” But Harry feels differently. He hasn’t had the same loving upbringing as the Weasley children, and he understands that the sweater is so much more than an article of clothing: it’s Mrs. Weasley’s way of demonstrating that she truly loves him, like one of her own children. It’s the best Christmas present he’s ever gotten.
The concept of knitting as a way to show someone how much you care has roots in history. During World War II, those at home were eager to help out however they could, and it turned out that one of the best ways to contribute was by- you guessed it- knitting. Soldiers were in desperate need of blankets, hats, scarves, and especially socks. In fact, in November of 1941, the then popular Life magazine ran a cover story with knitting instructions and basic patterns, saying,
“To the great American question ‘What can I do to help the war effort?’ the commonest answer yet found is ‘Knit.’”
Even school children chipped in with the effort, like middle schoolers in Owosso, Michigan. A parent interviewed for an article in the Owosso Argus Press commended the boys for their patience, in a process that was often frustrating: “My son has had to rip one of his out four times.” But the boys kept at it, and their squares were patched together to make blankets to send to the troops. Even these young boys understood the importance of not only keeping soldiers warm, but reminding them that there were people back home thinking of them, rooting for them, and willing to give support however they could.
Someone who has never learned to knit probably doesn’t realize the amount of time that goes into knitting even a small project. A novice knitter can knit for hours, using the most basic stitch, to complete only a few inches of a scarf or hat. Many of our knitters have been knitting their entire lives, and a single scarf can still take up to three days of work.
In today’s fast paced world, where at any store, or simply with the click of a mouse, we can buy an inexpensive hat or scarf that has been mass produced in a factory, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would take the time to knit by hand- yet knitting is as popular as ever. Could this be in part because the time and energy dedicated to a project, whether it’s fully understood by the recipient or not, is part of the gift?
Today, many knitters make scarves for significant others, blankets for new babies, and sweaters for older children. Also, just as knitters in the 1940’s did what they could to support the war, it isn’t uncommon for knitting clubs to knit for specific causes the group finds meaningful: hats and scarves to donate to homeless shelters to help those in need keep warm in the winter, stuffed animals and toys for children’s hospitals, even sweaters for penguins at the zoo!
One avid knitter I interviewed makes baby blankets for every single one of her grandchildren before they’re born, and likes to imagine them growing in the womb as their blanket grows with each new stitch. For her, the slow but steady growth of the blanket reminds her of the slow growth of her future grandchild, and her continued dedication to the project is a sign of her commitment to be there for the child throughout his or her life, to help the child continue to grow every day- however slow (and at times frustrating) that growth may be.
Sure, it may be faster and easier to send store-bought hats, gloves, and sweaters, but knitters know that there’s something extra special about pouring hours of time, thought, and love into these projects, all the while thinking about the recipient, meditating on who they are (or might be), hoping and dreaming for their future, and imagining that each row will contribute to their warmth and happiness.
When we wear hand-knit items, whether we realize it or not, we’re connected in a very s
pecial way to the knitter, who poured not only hours of time, but dedication, commitment, thought, and love into the project.