Tag Archives: kindness

Knitting love into Christmas stockings

For the past 3 Christmases, I’ve found myself knitting Christmas stockings for folks who don’t have one.

Honoka's christmas stockingThe first one was for our exchange student, Honoka. Christmas in Japan isn’t anything like it is in the U.S. and, even if she had a Christmas stocking, it’s not like she would have thought to pack it and bring it with her.

I had no idea what I was doing, really, but I’d knitted enough socks that I decided I could figure it out. I poked around on a few websites and came up with some designs and just went for it. It turned out pretty well, for a week-before-Christmas project, knitted on the sly to surprise her Christmas morning.

Cecilia's personalized Christmas stockingIt went over so well that, when we hosted, Cecilia, a French student intern, the following year (last year) I decided to knit another one. I didn’t want to keep the same pattern, though, so I got out some graph paper and experimented a bit. The snowflakes didn’t quite turn out the way I’d envisioned, but Cecilia was polite enough to smile and say thanks anyway.

This year, I had no one to knit a Christmas stocking for and I was a little sad.

Then, an online friend of mine posted that she was having a hard time this Christmas. We met 12 years ago on an online forum while we were both newly pregnant with our first kiddos and have kept in touch over the years, along with many of the other women also on the forum at the time. I was one of the first of this group of friends to get divorced and have my family change form. She’s one of the more recent friends to go through the experience, and this Christmas is particularly tough for her in terms of who has kids when.

Not only would she not get her kids until the afternoon of Christmas day, she said. But their dad, her ex-husband, wanted the stockings that his mom had knit for the kids. Fair enough. But it really bummed her out. She’d been the Santa of their family since the kids were born, the one staying up to fill the stockings and place presents under the tree. I’ve been through that first Christmas without the kids. I know how it feels.

Hand knitted personalized Christmas sstockingsSo I asked if I could knit them new stockings. It seemed like a small enough gesture. It wasn’t going to fix not having her kids Christmas Eve or morning, but maybe it’d bring a little Christmas joy back to her life — to know she’s loved and that, while traditions may change, it can still be OK. I couldn’t change any of the family stuff, the grief of loss after divorce, the heaviness that the holidays can sometimes bring. But I could make sure her kids had another set of Christmas stockings, hand knitted with love.

She gladly accepted, gave me the kids’ favorite colors and I got to work. Red for Charlie, yellow for Jack and purple and blue for Eva. Ten days later, the 3 stockings were done, and (with some financial help from the rest of our online group of mom friends) I got them in the mail (global expedited) to fly across the country to her in time for Christmas. Phew!Personalized Christmas stockings

I’ve decided to incorporate spontaneous and deliberate acts of kindness into my life. I want to live in a world where people do good things for others. Where people leave love notes from the universe on car windows and toilet stall doors. Where people buy coffee for the people behind them in line. Where friends reach out to each other and offer unexpected ways to help and offer love and support. Where schools are funded, neighbors offer hot showers when your power is out, and people come together in times of need. And a whole lot of other things, too, but you get the point.

I’ve always liked the (mis)quote attributed to Ghandi – Be the change you wish to see in the world.

Here’s the actual quote, which works even better for me. For me to live in a world with those qualities, I must embody them, in my actions, my thoughts, my words.

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Back to the Christmas stockings. If you’d like to have a go at making them, here’s my version of a pattern to guide you. You can also download the PDF here.

Hand Knit Personalized Christmas Stocking Pattern

Here are the basic knitting instructions. I knit these toe up on 2 circular needles. I use Lion’s Brand Vanna’s Choice yarn, as it’s nice and thick and has a good loft, on 5.5 mm needles.

Choose several Christmas-y colors (red, green, white, blue, purple, gold) and choose one color as the main color for the toe, heel and cuff.

Then pick the designs you like most for the foot and leg. If you’re new at intarsia knitting, go with simpler designs with two colors. Knitting intarsia in the round is also different from knitting it regular style (whatever that’s called – flat knitting, I think), as you’ll need to keep the yarn moving around the piece, rather than having several separate balls of yarn. You’ll also have a lot of yarn in the back of your work. Apparently this method breaks the rules of intarsia knitting — and yet it works just fine for me. Remember to not pull the strand(s) of color you’re not actively knitting too tight. Don’t leave them all loose and loopy, either, but allow them to have a bit of give. (It turns out I probably don’t do intarsia “correctly” in flat knitting either, but I manage to live with myself.) If you’d like to make some designs yourself, I used stitchfiddle.com to make the ones below.

Clearly, I’m not much of a rule follower and usually follow knitting patterns about as well as I follow recipes or anything else I’m told to do. I use them for the structure and foundation of the piece. And then I change things… So use this pattern as a guideline and feel free to make changes as you see fit. You hereby have my permission. 🙂

Toe:

With main color, cast on 16 stitches using Judy’s magic cast on.

Round 1: Knit all stitches

Round 2: Increase 1 stitch on each end.

On first needle, K1, M1, K each stitch to within one stitch of the end of the row, M1, K1.

Turn to second needle and repeat.

You’ll increase 4 stitches total.

Repeat these 2 rounds until there are 32 stitches on each needle (64 stitches total)

Foot:

Knit 30-32 rounds in pattern and colors of your choice.

Now you get to decide on the pattern you want to use. You can do plain stripes or fancy them up a bit with squares different colors. It’s your choice.

Heel:

Switch to main color and knit 2 rounds.

Turn heel using your favorite method. I use a short row method, wrapping stitches, that I learned from a book about knitting toe up socks. If you’ve got some other method that works for you, go for it. If you do it the short row, wrapped stitches way, knit short rows until there are 16 live stitches (that aren’t wrapped) and 8 wrapped stitches on either side.

Once you’ve turned the heel, knit 2 more rounds in the main color.

Leg:

Time for more pattern creativity.

You’ll knit about 50-52 rounds of pattern before you knit the name. So choose an intarsia pattern or two. Most of the main patterns are about 21 rounds (snowmen, santas, large trees, poinsettia). I usually do 1 main pattern plus 1 smaller pattern (small trees, zig zags or holly), then 3 more rounds of fancy stripes.

Name:

Create a chart for the name you want to knit onto the stocking. I use a chart I once found online at crochetdoilies.com, which I can no longer find on their website (but here it is on Pinterest). This chart is a little problematic for longer names as the letters are quite fat, but you can find lots of charts online and I like to adapt them with some graph paper and my imagination.

Knit 2 rounds in the color that will be the background for the name. Then knit the name chart, and knit 2 more rounds.

Cuff:

Switch to the main color (if it’s not the background for the name.) Knit 2 rounds.

Next round: knit 2, purl two in ribbing.

Knit 7 rows of ribbing.

Bind off loosely.

Hanger:

Cut 3 strands of yarn in the main colors used for the stocking and braid. Knot together at the cut end in a loop knot. Thread one end of the loop through the top of the stocking about 3 rows down and pass it back through itself to create the loop of the hanger.

The patterns:

Fancy stripes

fancy stripes for Christmas stocking

Holly

Holly knitting pattern for Christmas stocking

Simple tree

Simple tree pattern for Christmas stocking

Zig zags

Zigzag pattern for Christmas stocking

 Poinsettia

Poinsettia pattern for personalized Christmas stocking

Santa

Santa pattern for Christmas stocking

Snowman

Snowman pattern for Christmas stocking

Christmas tree

Christmas tree pattern for Christmas stocking

The best Valentine’s gifts — kind-hearted children

“We’re bringing home report cards for Valentine’s Day,” the 9-year-old told me after school recently. “My teacher said it’ll be your Valentine’s gift.”

I always look forward to report card time, because I like to see how the kids are officially doing. Unofficially, they seem to be doing well — all but one of them actively enjoys going to school, and even she’s usually happy she went by the time she comes home.

So while I hope to see columns of Ms and Es for the younger kids who don’t yet have grades (meets and exceeds standards), it’s not my primary concern (although I can’t deny being glad neither kid had any Ns for “Doesn’t meet expectations” this term).

What I really love about report cards are the teacher comments. Specifically the ones that say things like this: “Berry is a creative, polite and good-hearted student.” And, “Duncan is a kind-hearted, bright and respectful young man. Duncan is kind and caring toward others.”

The Ms and Es are great and all. I want my kids to be child geniuses just like any other parent. But knowing my kids’ teachers see their kind hearts is what makes my eyes well up with joyful tears. That, more than anything, is my Valentine’s gift.

What also gives me moments of mushy Mummy happiness is when I realize they’re not alone. Their friends are kind, too.

As I sat on the playground after school, absorbing their report cards, I watched the kids play in the fading sun. They’d made up a game on a weird piece of playground equipment, but there was only room for four kids. Currently, that was Duncan and three of his male classmates. Berry, two grades younger, a slight girl in a pretty green dress, stood beside them, becoming more and more forlorn as the biggest kid bossed the others around.

When she climbed up to join in, he told her to get down.

“Get down, Berry, there’s no room for you.”

I saw her face crumple and called her over for a hug (combined with some potential solutions: call out the bossy kid on his bossiness, ask Duncan to play a game with her, find other kids to play with). Somewhat renewed, but still reluctant, she went back.

It turns out she didn’t need to speak up for herself. One of Duncan’s friends advocated for her instead.

“It’s Berry’s turn next,” he kept insisting. “Berry needs to have a go.”

After repeating himself a few times, and Berry reassuring the big kid she was up for it, she happily enjoyed the bumpy jostling game, then took her turn to jump up and down to bounce the next kid around. (I can’t adequately describe this playground oddity — interconnected, hinging bars covered in padding that go up when you jump on the opposite side).

That’s what matters, I thought. Kindness. What a good kid. I’m so glad Duncan has kind friends.

How do kids learn kindness? This article in the Washington Post suggests that we as parents (gasp!) teach them how to treat others. And given the number of times my mother has accidentally slipped out of my mouth, I know that’s true.

How we are to others — especially to our kids — imprints them with the behavioral patterns of how they learn to be themselves. One day, perhaps next week or years from now, our words and tone will come out of their mouths. We almost can’t help ourselves from becoming our parents. Or our children from becoming us.

During bath last night, Berry complained that her brother doesn’t properly understand The Golden Rule.

“Duncan thinks that if someone is being mean, then that means they want people to treat them mean, so you should be mean to them!” she said. “But it doesn’t mean that. It’s about leading by example.” (My seven-year-old really does talk this way. Ask her about the meaning of life sometime.)

I know where she’s coming from. Duncan and I have gone over this concept a bunch of times. He doesn’t seem to get it, no matter how many times I explain that The Golden Rule is only about yourself — treating others as you want to be treated, not changing other people but changing yourself. He doesn’t quite get it, although he wants to understand, he really does.

And yet, he’s kind, anyway.

I can only take partial credit for this kindness, and that’s mostly genetic credit. Perhaps a bit of genetic predisposition encouraged. After all, what we focus on matters.

I could push the kids’ competitive buttons so they become more academically driven. Or I could belittle and shame them and help them tune into potentially latent mental health issues. They have those things inside them as well (and so do I — I actively filter my parents from coming out of me). Or I can instead focus on and praise acts of kindness, of community-mindedness, of caring — in themselves and those around them.

And that Golden Rule? They’ll get it eventually. Berry understands it intellectually and acts on it more and more as she matures. And Duncan — well, even his teachers agree, he’s a kind-hearted kid, caring toward others. In the end, isn’t that what counts?