Thursday, December 05, 2013

Make Do and Mend

I have a favourite sweater. It is a grey handspun Merino/silk pullover, knit in a travelling cable pattern and I designed it and made it almost 8 years ago. It is that go-to sweater that I pull over everything. Warm enough to fend off our 40 below winter days, light enough to toss on over a t-shirt on a cooler summer evening. Sturdy enough to wear as winter outerwear, soft enough to wear against bare skin. I love this sweater.

I love this sweater not only because it is practical and pretty and I made it with my own two little hands. I love this sweater for what it represents.

I bought the fibre for this sweater,  roving in a blend of "Oreo" Merino and Tussah silk from Silver Valley Fibres, as my reward for completing Level 6 of the Olds Master Spinner Program in 2005. It was a difficult year, fraught with personality conflicts and teacher drama, and I deserved a treat. I packed up my lovely fibre and brought it home, intending to use it as my reward spinning as I produced each sample for my In-Depth Study.

Meanwhile, life moved on. I gardened and hiked and enjoyed the rest of the summer. After all, spinning wool, in my mind, was a winter thing, anyway. I joined the cast of a student-directed production of The Rez Sisters and had a wonderful time learning the role Annie, the aspiring country singer. And, yes, I was learning to sing. Then, on our first rehearsal on stage, disaster struck. While rehearsing a house exit, I was tripped by another actor while we dashed down a concrete ramp. I bounced off my right knee and I whacked my left wrist on a metal railing as I went down. Torn ligaments and cartilage in my knee, but, far worse, I had broken the scaphoid in my left wrist and there was a possible hairline fracture in the radius.

I was in a cast for almost 3 months, with my knee bandaged and supported. I spent most of the fall of  2005 on the couch, heavily drugged and fearing that my life as a spinner was over. I was in pain and scared and depressed. And then, when the cast came off, my worst fears were confirmed. My wrist was locked and there was incredible pain and inflammation in the joints of my wrist and thumb. I was referred for an MRI, which showed an inexplicable inflammation of the tendon. The surgeon decided that the best option was to simply slit the tendon sheath and allow the tendon to move more freely, assuming that the inflammation would then resolve itself.

It took 2 surgeries to eventually correct the issue, which left me in casts for nearly another 4 months, off and on. I was going stir crazy and I was certainly not about to give up the craft that not only had become my source of income, but was often my only tenuous link to sanity in a busy house full of teens. I managed to teach myself to knit while holding the left-hand needle tucked between the exposed fingertips at the end of my cast and letting the right hand do all the work. And I decided to try an unsupported long draw. At first, I was not very good, mostly because I spin left-handed. My right hand was not as attuned to the feel of the fibre, the tug of the twist. I struggled and fought. But, pretty soon, I got the hang of it, and that was when I went looking for more roving to spin. I found my reward fibre.

I spun the yarn for the sweater using a completely unsupported long draw with the hand less accustomed to spinning while in a cast. This is something of an accomplishment, as any spinner can tell you. And, once I was out of casts, I used knitting as my physiotherapy to recover. Doctors and physiotherapists comment often on how great the range of motion is in that thumb, and I give all the credit to this sweater. I called the sweater Phoenix, because it chronicles my rise out of the ashes of injury and my renewed flight as a maker and teacher. The story of the sweater is a great one, and a reminder to me that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome.

However, over the past few months, I have met a new obstacle. The pain and stiffness of RA make the frustration of spending months in a cast pale by comparison. Side effects from medications are making day-to-day living challenging. And this week, I had a full physio assessment that has shown me exactly how bad this flare is. I not only have inflammation in my hands and feet, but in my jaw, shoulder, spine, hips, knees. I even have inflammation at the points where my ribs meet my sternum. I am a mass of messed up joints, and some of the joints in my hands are showing signs of permanent damage. The headaches, the sore neck, the shortness of breath, the lower back pain--all of which I had attributed to being out of shape and lazy--are all disease. I am actually ill. I am wallowing in frustration and fear and pain, with little hope of a speedy resolution to the mess. I am, once again, facing the fear of losing the thing that defines me as an individual, my craft, my career.

So, in this state of mind, I pulled out the Phoenix sweater to warm my achey joints on a very cold Northern Alberta morning. As I pulled it over my head, I noticed a spot where there was light shining through. A hole. In my precious sweater. The sweater had survived the Great M*th Attack of ought-twelve. It has been washed and worn and stuffed in the bottom of gym bags. It has ridden around on the floor of the car. And now, after sitting in the closet for a few months, it has a hole.

I will freely admit that I cried. I stood staring at this hole and cried.

Then I remembered that I still had a tiny ball of that precious yarn that I had fought so hard to make. I had kept it because it reminded me that I could. I could find a way around the problems. I could make things, even under adverse conditions. I could persevere and recover. And I could mend my sweater.

The mend is not pretty. The hole was in the spot between the reverse stockinette stitch and the knit stitches of the cable pattern, plus the hands doing the stitching are stiff and clumsy these days. But the hole is gone. The patch will make the sweater last another 6 years, or more.

Sometimes, when a thing gets damaged, we are quick to discard it. It is easier to just get another one, or do without. But, sometimes, something is worth mending. It will not be perfect anymore. It may not look the same as it used to, and it may even be totally different, but we still have it. We just have to take the time to make do and mend.

As a tiny footnote to this story, I would like to share this with you: The physiotherapists were amazed that with the amount of inflammation and joint damage that exists in my hands that I still had better than average range of motion. They attribute that to the fact that, in spite of the pain and the slowness of the process with swollen fingers, I am continuing to knit and spin. And they encouraged me to keep it up.