“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.”
Twenty years ago, I lost almost everything I owned in a house fire. People were generous, giving me clothing and housewares - anything they thought I could use. But I will never forget the coat. It was winter; I could use a coat. And so someone kindly went to the back of their wardrobe and found a coat for me: brown and cream houndstooth, circa 1960. Today, I could sell it in a vintage clothing store; then, I remember looking at it and thinking, "But it's so ugly."
I cringe inwardly every time I hear someone say at a craft fair, of a glorious knitted lace shawl with, yes, a hefty price tag, "But I could buy something much cheaper at Wal-Mart," or in a yarn shop, after pulling off the shelves fifteen skeins of wool and bamboo and silk and cashmere off the shelves, hand-dyed in a butterfly of hues, "Don't you have any of that acrylic they have at Michaels?"
Yes, but it won't be beautiful (at least not to my eyes!).
Usefulness is important. But so is beauty. It can bring joy and life and light, things that we often need most when our lives are consumed by the practical and the useful. And of course, beauty and usefulness are not mutually exclusive. Things can be both.
This blog was prompted by my own need to respond after Hurricane Sandy, layered over a three month sabbatical when I have been able to slow down, to see beauty, to feel the stirrings of creativity.
But it was when I returned to an island devastated by flooding and downed trees and power outages, and wondered how I could help, that I thought of that brown and cream coat and wondered how to offer things that are both useful and beautiful.
I knit, and so the obvious thing was to knit for others, to knit things that are not only useful, but also beautiful, to give to those who have lost everything. It's something I've done before, with a community quilting group in New Jersey, when we were able to make 150 baby quilts to send to new mothers affected by Hurricane Katrina. Yes, it would have been easier, and likely cheaper, to buy baby blankets. But there is something powerful about receiving something that someone has made for you, something that took time and effort and has in its fibers the beauty of creation and of human compassion. This time, my local yarn shop is partnering, as we have a knit-a-thon over Thanksgiving weekend to make warm winter scarves and mittens and shawls and hats for people affected by the hurricane.
It's time to start knitting...