Megan Spiegel and Kaitlyn Teer

A Pattern – A collaborative essay

She chooses colors — the green of new leaves, brown of earth, blue of juniper and spruce, fresh cream, and one skein that contains all of these, the colors of growing things — and sets them out to admire their blending, their contrasts. In worsted weight the delicate shawl becomes a blanket.

My view: a thick pane of glass, cool to the touch, frames it. Across the bay, coastal islands huddle under gray blankets of fog and mist, a gentle tucking in of Douglas firs, madronas, and alders. Craggy mountaintops crest above weepy stratocumulus, so barely detectable that I can blink away the rock clouds. The demarcation between sea and sky blurs — the same opalescent shadow blue, a steel coating obscures the horizon. My fingers trace the scars of an ancient continent, of tectonic folds and narrow inland passages, row after row.

Begin with a single stitch — embryonic — and grow by one stitch more each row, widening to full zenith before waning, decreasing back to a single point. The hap grows as her belly grows, round as the moon. Slip the looped edges onto the needle; gather the diamond into a round, a sac. The knitting now spirals about the periphery; waves of hap shell lace surge over her belly, over the baby in his amniotic sea. She drowses between repeats, loses her place, the yarn over, knit, yarn over, knit, yarn over, knit more powerful than any lullaby.

My fourth-floor office window reveals the full length of an irregular shore, sinuous as scrap yarn. Where the hill slopes south toward the water, I observe the waning green of a maple tree; its roots sap the leaves of their nutrients, storing up reserves for future growth. It seems that the outermost and uppermost leaves have crinkled; curling ovate lobes folded inward, burnt as they are after a summer of light. The deep recesses of the tree remain dark and verdant. Near the leaf stems, layers of cells prepare for separation, bundle scars, abscission.

Old Shale tides complete, turn now by ninety degrees to the jagged shore’s edge. The ridges form in quick rows, wrong side and right, and join the seafoam by knitting two stitches together where they meet. Her weariness with the endless edging arrives along with her weariness at everything else, her restlessness. Her belly now at full moon, high tide, she walks; prunes the grapevines; bakes bread. In those last waiting days she hasn’t the patience to follow directions, to knit from the chart.

On the street below the window, a woman in a red and black flannel shirt walks along the sidewalk, and after her purls a trail of eddying fallen leaves. I notice first the gleam of her hair. It shimmers palely. I marvel at its luster — not blonde, near lilac, not white, a rippling silver. An illusion of age, surely, for she carries her body easily. She pauses at the white dashes of the crosswalk, and turns toward me. Parted in the center, the other side of her hair is starless, glassy waves of ink.

Awkward at first, loops pulled tight or left too loose, she fumbles her newborn’s heavy head — dropped stitch. Soon the motions grow fluid, needles flicking out smooth rows of stockinette without the need to look. Her son, still curled like a snail, sleeps against her breast, heart to heart. Her hands reach out to catch him even before she understands he has started to slip.

Instinctively I pull my scarf closer to my chin, fold my hands to my cheeks and lean my forehead against the window glass, startled by the contrast embodied by one woman. It seems we are walking around, an accumulation, past and future tenses plied together, the source material of all we are becoming. My fingers worry the knots of my scarf. I’m thinking about the gray of my knitting now, and what I can’t see emerging on the underside of the work; the present is the one knot that focuses my attention, the one loop that leaves my needle, always leaving.

*

Organic texture and profusion of fluid forms — ocean’s spill and hillside’s heave, depth and growth unfathomable.

In the art gallery, textiles stretch at a colossal scale, wool to blanket a sea bed. Muted colors pool as silver deepens to black, a subtle gradation — zones of oceans: sunlight, twilight, midnight, abyss. At high tide, seascapes spill over a white sofa on a platform of shipping pallets, modern minimalism.

A woman in white stands profiled before her creation, arms draped in front of her, hands folded to meet at her womb. Does she know she has assumed the posture of pregnancy?

These textiles divulge the treasures of the sea, the teeming weeds, the fogs that feed the sequoia.

Empty nets, patternless. There are no instructions.

Try language to capture the mysteries of the deep. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. The incantations of ancient scriptures trawl for delicate meanings, which slip the nets.

And yet.

Here, in the work of two women, visions combine, an aesthetic convergence. Oversized stitches, knots and braids, transform into tangled seaweed, rope, anchor chains.

We might trace the paths of individual threads, map the familiar gestures, stitch by breath by stitch; strands of bull kelp and fingers of brackish water, bewildered.

We do what we can.

*

Low-slung clouds overhead, formless gray wool, like so many October days. A father walks bareheaded in the rain, hands enclosing the tiny feet of the infant strapped snug  in the carrier against his chest. On the way to school, the mother’s eyes dart from yard to sidewalk to street, missing nothing, wary of everything surrounding the child skipping half a block ahead. The father rides his bicycle on the traffic side of his son.

The gray tangle of yarn didn’t resemble a gift at first, but I saw what the repetition of stitches could bear. So I cast on in our house by the bay. Thoughts of what could be stirred my needles mornings while we sipped coffee; the front window showed us the street with its strollers and bikes and buses rolling by. I purled, slipped, knit in the weak light of chilly afternoons. And on, increasing and decreasing while we watched television after dinner, leaning against each other under blankets with blinds closed against the dark and the rain. Still, on the front porch before bed while drinking tea and listening to the wind.

elephant 1

She decided she needed a new dictionary. The one on the shelf, crisp as the falling leaves that autumn she left for college, was now three editions outdated. Had it been so many years? What had she become in the meantime? She wanted words to name the intangible.

I spent autumn knitting toys, gifts for our nieces and nephews. And just like that an elephant led to a kitten, which led to a dog and a fish, which led to three bears and a mouse. Soon, a wool menagerie occupied the unused half of our kitchen table.

What else are we, mothers and fathers, pulled along in this oceanic ebb and surge? After she tucks her children into bed at night, beneath quilts stitched by grandmothers and great aunts, alongside handknit toys — the pink bunny, losing an eye, the oversized octopus — who is she? Is there a word?

How to knit my care into textiles, sew it up in the stuffing? Here, for my family to hold: tangible proof of connections. And yet, I know now, mothers worry when their children play with proof. Gifts rendered too precious for use instead sit on nursery shelves, distant and out of touch. I remember an afghan my grandmother made me, in childish pastels, satiny ribbons woven into slips and gaps. All those hours spent crocheting and thinking of me, for the blanket to end up folded and boxed.

Sometimes parts unravel, roles stitched together according to an untested pattern, held tenuously by a thread. Strange menagerie. No piece makes up the whole.

Interminable — my longing for a pattern. When I doubted my progress, I could put my finger to the page and skim the rows to come. Does this look like an elephant yet? How about now? I held up a gray swatch of knitting for inspection. The comfort of a blueprint, abbreviations, the code for getting from here to there. The promise of seeing a shape finally emerge, a selvage edge for seaming. Loops of yarn pulled through, threaded around my index finger. Tidal, the rhythm of making gains.

Perhaps we find ourselves in the space between stitches, that elastic aperture that opens when we learn not to hold so tightly.


Megan Spiegel and Kaitlyn Teer met in the MFA program at Western Washington University. “A Pattern” is the first collaborative essay they’ve published together. Spiegel takes forever to finish knitting or writing anything, which is why she prefers knitting hats and writing fragments. Fortunately she sometimes finishes essays. Teer can knit and assay, but she can’t crochet or write fiction.
 
Megan Spiegel is hybrid forms editor at Bellingham Review. Other work has appeared in Fugue.
 
Kaitlyn Teer served as managing editor of Bellingham Review. Her essay “Ossification” received Fourth Genre’s 2015 Michael Steinberg Essay Prize. Other work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Midwestern Gothic, and Camas.
 
Spiegel’s favorite dessert is fruit pie, slightly tart, preferably served for breakfast. Teer likes to make cakes from complicated recipes. They have never baked anything sweet collaboratively.

 … return to Issue 8.2 Table of Contents.