Knitting Faerie Tales with Alice and Lisa Hoffman

August 20, 2017 Musings


The Queen surveyed the castle. Once filled with voices and love, rooms and hallways were now silent and empty. The desk that had always invited her no longer beckoned, and when she sat there she noticed thick, thorny vines covered the windows, blocking the sun.

Each day she practiced yoga, but one day, she stepped off her yoga mat to gaze into a magic mirror:

“I need to heal,” she said.

There was no lead-up to the declaration; it seemed to come from nowhere. People of the kingdom understood it as part of the natural course of grieving but the Queen took it as an epiphany. Yet when she invoked those words she had no idea what healing might entail. The mirror did not respond, yet it worked in mysterious ways and since that day, seemingly random experiences began happening, each one bringing unexpected gifts:

During meditation the Queen felt gratitude for her life and for the years she had shared with those who had gone before her. For a time, her busy, unhappy mind quieted.

A Chinese healer took her pulse and vowed to help unlock the Queen’s constricted heart and this brought her a newfound measure of peace, solace, and hope.

These unforeseen revelations made the Queen long to escape the dark, lonely castle, but thorns blocked her exit.

I did not question the decision to purchase airline tickets to travel to East Nassau, New York for the Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon 2017 Summer Retreat. It seemed reasonable, and seeing author Alice Hoffman’s name — A Knitting and Literary Journey with Lisa Hoffman and Alice Hoffman — clinched it. It was a spontaneous act but I figured it was one aspect of opening my heart. One adventure within my healing Odyssey.

Of course, there was that little part about not knowing how to knit. Then again, I’m not Odysseus and there was no Cyclops. How hard could knitting be?

The night before the retreat my eyes were fatigued yet I nervously made a slip-knot and practiced casting-on. What if I had not learned enough since registering for the retreat? What if attending was a mistake? My insecurities had caught up with me. Still, when I had unexpectedly run into Laurie Kimmelstiel, and Alice and Lisa Hoffman, they had welcomed me in a warm, open, grounded kind of way. Common sense won out over insecurities.

Both days of the retreat were marked by sunny, blue skies.  Warm summer days meant to be spent outside.  And so we did. 

Without question, my favorite part of the retreat was sitting on the porch listening to Alice Hoffman read to us from her soon to be released prequel to Practical Magic, entitled, The Rules of Magic. The spell her words cast made me long to hear more.

Alice also spoke of faerie tales and read one she had written. Then she encouraged us to write one. Lisa Hoffman showed us beautiful knit pieces she had designed to coincide with the faerie tales Alice wrote. They’re turning the knit designs and faerie tales into an enchanting book to be published by Simon and Schuster in the Fall of 2018.

Alice mentioned that sometimes the obstacle found within the faerie tale is overcome, sometimes not. I recalled the tales of my childhood, and although there were magical elements, there was often also an underlying sorrow. I was in the right place.

Becoming entranced by Alice Hoffman’s writing is nothing new. What was surprising? How thoroughly I enjoyed the knitting! Although I had already discovered the pleasure of knitting, Lisa Hoffman’s design for the blue heron shawl was way beyond my beginner’s skill level. It didn’t matter. The other attendees were generous, accepting, patient and kind. Every time I messed up on a yarn-over Louise or Mary helped me correct it.  As did Lisa, who encouraged and helped me correct mistakes with a matter-of-fact, patient, approach. Her lovely pattern slowly began to make sense to me.

The best part of knitting above my skill level was learning new things, surrounded by women who had traveled the path before me and succeeded at mastering the skills. If I kept at it, I could improve. I was grateful to be in the company of good women who intuitively understood what it meant to have open hearts that accept newcomers into their fold. I had seen it back in Savannah at The Frayed Knot and now I was experiencing it at the Ethelridge Road Knitting Salon.

One day, as the Queen gazed from the tallest turret, she saw that thorns had not yet covered its stones. As she descended the winding staircase she discovered skeins of yarn; 50% alpaca, 30% merino wool, and 20% silk. She could not resist their lofty touch! Through dark nights and long days she knitted a sparkling golden net with knit and purl stitches fine and strong. With each stitch, a feeling of peacefulness settled over her. When the net was complete, by the light of a full moon, she threw it over the tallest turret and used it to escape.

Filled with hope, she traveled the kingdom until she found a room filled with women, quietly knitting and murmuring encouraging words. They were not unlike her, and she sat between two of them, and pulled out her needles.

There are no magic elixirs for grief and healing is a process unique to each of us. But a key had turned in the lock and the Queen felt her heart expand more than a little. For there was potent enchantment in a room full of knitters and the Queen had scaled walls covered with thorns to find it.