Use needle size 8 and a worsted weight yarn. I start with a durable yarn, one that can withstand multiple washes and battering.
Cast on 84 stitches. One for every year my grandmother’s been alive.
Begin Knitting the Body in Seed Stitch: When my grandmother was pregnant with my mother, waddling down the cereal aisle with a black eye, she carried the egg I’ll be born from in her uterus.
Row 1: *K1, p1*; rep from * “He hit me, but he’ll never do it again,” my grandma had said.
Row 2: *P1, k1; rep. From * “He hit me, but he’ll never do it again,” my mother also tells me this many times throughout my childhood.
Work until your piece measures 2”. I live with my grandmother until I’m nearly two, because my mother isn’t ready for me. She’s too young to be tied down with a kid.
Begin Wager’s Welt/All Fool’s stitch. When my grandma was young, she wagered on a fool of a husband. But one row changes the appearance of the entire pattern. One choice can change everything.
Row 1: Knit My half-aunts were molested by my grandfather, so my grandmother fled. He tore through the town in his Chevy, Ruger handgun clenched in his fist. My grandmother searched up and down streets for a place to hide, while her six kids frantically shuffled in the back seat.
Row 2: Purl She spotted a house with a porch light still on. Clambering out of the vehicle, shaky hands pounded on the door, and a half-awake woman answered in her nightgown. My grandmother begged her, “Please let me park my car in your garage.” The woman obliged, rubbing her tired eyes.
Row 3-8: Knit My grandmother hid—my mother’s curly tangle of hair nested in her lap.
Repeat until the piece measures 8”. Over the years, my grandmother tells me this story, word for word, as if repeating it could change its outcome. The first time she tells me, I’m eight years old, sitting on her davenport. My mom has sent me away for a time, so she can try to work things out with my dad.
Begin Double Seed Stitch. It looks the same on both sides, like the insides of a juicy pomegranate. Like some raunchy, seedy, forbidden fruit. I move back home. But nothing is better.
Row 1 and 2: *K2, p2; rep from *. My father throws my mother’s Precious Moments figurines–girls with sweet cherub faces holding lambs–against the wall, shattering them; I learn the word cunt before my father throws my mother into the drywall.
Row 3 and 4: *P2, k2; rep from *. Two police officers ask, “Are you okay?” Weaving their words with care. Two times I see the school’s social worker; she hands me stiff Kleenexes.
Continue until the cape measures 10”. I repeat this for months, praying every night they’ll divorce. I keep fabricating some kind of happy ending in my mind, where my father and mother dance in the living room until dawn, sparkles in their eyes. This marriage lasts until I’m ten.
Add a stitch marker. When they divorce, my father becomes a stranger, speeding past me in the high school gymnasium at games, past me in the grocery store. He never says hi. I’m just a spot for him to scrub out.
Knit the Yolk of the Shoulders. My shoulders slope when I walk. My cape’s holes let in a winter’s chill, but I feel helpless, because my grandmother never taught me how to mend. Never taught my mother that either.
At the end of each row, bind off two stitches. Repeat for 2”. Two years later, my mother marries again.
Begin Broken Rib Pattern. This pattern is rough and nubby, adding texture to the wrong side.
Add a stitch, for an odd number. Add a parent.
Row 1 (right side) –K1, *p1, k1; rep from * My stepfather buys a shack that used to belong to a garbage man. “Be grateful,” he says when he wakes me up at sunup to sort the junk pile–metal screws and glass cutting into my fingers.
Row 2–Purl I pick at my food during dinner, unable to stomach pinto beans again. He lifts me by the foot and drags my face against the rough carpet.
Continue until the cape is 17”. I stay at home until I’m seventeen, and I question what material I’m made of, or if I want to be made of anything at all. My cape should be at least ten inches longer. I debate throwing the whole thing into the rusty burning barrel, roast it like my dreams.
Knit the Collar for 2” in Garter Stitch. Where can I hang my belief in heroism? On whose shoulders? I’m not sure if heroes are real, or if I can be saved.
Add a stitch marker. I decide to braid my own narrative and attempt to add length to what I already have. Though, it’s so little.
Bind off and weave in the ends. I graduate high school and huddle inside a dorm. There, I meet a gentle young man who nestles me in his arms. He tells me my cape is beautiful because it’s something I am making. But I go back and forth, between intimacy and hiding, wondering if his love will fray.
Make ties for your cape.
With size 8 double pointed needles, make two I-cords. My boyfriend’s wedding finger is size 8, and I tell him I do on the beach at dusk.
I become pregnant but constantly test the security in the stitches of my new life. I can’t help it–abuse is felted into my fibers.
Soak your cape in cool water. Roll it into a towel to remove excess water. Lay flat to dry.
I cast off, holding my cape to the light. The stitches are coarse. The piece barely resembles a fricken cape. I cringe at the stains, knowing water won’t wash them away.
In the living room, my daughter settles for her nap. A lump moves in my throat. I dash from the room, so my husband doesn’t see me crying again.
My cape isn’t strong enough. It isn’t good enough to protect her. With fury at my own insufficiency, I take out my kitchen shears. My fingers ache as I shred the cape.
While she sleeps, I stare at the red yarn covering the island, unsure if I’m brave enough to begin again. Unsure of what material I’d even use to start.
Header photograph by Timothy Day.