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  • Christmas Exchange by Sarah Pope

    Sarah Pope is a mother, knitter and sheepkeeper living on an island in the Pacific Northwest.  You can find Sarah on Instagram at @whistlinggirlknits .

    All photos by Kathy Cadigan.

    Not a lot of knitters are proud to admit that their best sweaters are the ones they didn’t knit. But I’ve lost count of the number of times the answer to an appreciative stranger’s “Did you make that?” has been “Actually, no, but I made one like it. My friends and I have this Christmas exchange…”


    My friends. We’re an unlikely trio. I’m from the Pacific Northwest; Katrin was born in Estonia and Martha in El Salvador. We found each other in Portland, knitting, and ventured into true friendship.


    As the years have tumbled past, we’ve seen each other through the ruptures and expansions of adult life. Over pie and tea (or something stronger), we’ve been honest with each other about ill-fitting sweaters and ill-fitting relationships. We’ve checked each other’s gauge, puzzled through challenging cast-ons, diagnosed errors in lace motifs. We’ve helped each other move and remodel houses, raise youngsters, study for citizenship exams, and apply for doctorate programs. Along the way, we’ve kindled a tradition that encapsulates both our common ground and our individual expression.


    Each year in May or June, the texts start flying. What about this pattern for the Christmas exchange? Did you see this or that new collection? I’ve got yarn that would work for this, do you? Actually I’ve got something stashed that would be just right for you, too… We settle on a pattern. Each of us procures her desired yarn. And then we swap. In odd years I knit for Katrin, she knits for Martha, and Martha knits for me; in even years we rotate. There have been vests, cardigans, shawls, and pullovers. Only one year produced an utter failure, when nobody could get gauge on a hat that made us all look like Elsa Beskow’s mushroom-capped forest children.


    This will be the first year the Christmas exchange has to happen long distance, because I’ve left Portland for a sheep farm on an island. It’s a leap I might not have dared without the support of my girls, who willed me to follow my heart even when it meant our separation. I go into this first winter apart wrapped in the warmth of their woolens and comforted that my brave and fiery sisters are wearing the work of my own needles while they conquer literal and academic mountains. For sisters they are. We knit ourselves a family.

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