Needles of Power is a series of short stores written solely to delight my partner, Mathilde. Given that most publications tend to reach a wider audience, this one has the honor of being the first chriscrob.com exclusive work of fiction. Hope you enjoy!
Knit one. Purl one.
Knit one. Purl one.
Knit one. Purl one.
Eloise meditatively added another row to their latest project, a pair of socks they were knocking out before starting an intricate sweater that would take months to complete. The blur of the needles snagging loop after endless loop can be deceiving. To the uninitiated, the rapid movement would seem to be the efforts of someone rushing to meet a deadline—a frenzied attempt to knit a bit faster than human hands should move. To Eloise, this was a soothing, relaxed pace on an easy pattern. They were coasting.
The buzz of a smart watch interrupted their trance. Eloise begrudgingly set their knitting down. It was Alex. She was outside. The pair had planned today’s trip to the antique show weeks prior. As much as Eloise wanted to stay in and knit, it was too late to reschedule now. The show only came around every other month and they always preferred to visit on Friday, before the voracious weekend crowds could strip the vendors of the best deals. But the socks!
They kissed Alex on the lips as they climbed into the passenger seat of her Jeep. It was immaculately clean, as always. Eloise could not say the same of their old Honda; Alex normally drove when the two hung out.
“I want to find a new chester drawers for the spare bedroom,” Alex said.
“Chester drawers?” asked Eloise.
“I know it’s actually ‘chest of drawers,’ but you’ve met my parents. I’ve been saying it that way my whole life,” answered Alex through smiling lips.
“I’m hoping to find a quilt for that jacket I’ve been wanting to make.”
“Scandalous,” said Alex.
There was an ongoing war in the online sewing community. Quilters were livid about the latest fad: people were cutting up old quilts and repurposing them into items of clothing. Quilts were apparently meant to be immortal. Sacrosanct. Preserved in plastic, stored in cedar chests, maybe even used for warmth, but never altered. Or so the hardcore quilters seemed to think, at least. Eloise had a hard time understanding this religious fervor; they actually thought it was kind of cool that these old works of art were being displayed in new ways. Even so, they made sure Alex knew better than to bring it up in front of the vendors. For today, they would pretend to be a collector, not a sewist.
Alex found her chester drawers right off the bat. The elderly man who rolled it out to the parking lot for them had a kind face, at first. His visage transformed when he saw Alex holding Eloise’s hand, but he didn’t verbalize the judgment plastered on his face. Having grown up in the south, the pair were unfortunately used to it by now.
They were sharing a mediocre baklava from the food court when Alex asked, “So how go the socks?”
“So close to being finished. I almost brought them with me for the ride.”
“You should have! I know you’re desperate to start on your dream sweater,” Alex replied.
“I guess ‘dream sweater’ is a pretty accurate name, huh?”
They had been literally dreaming about this sweater every night for weeks. The dreams were strangely vivid and specific; the weirdest part was that they were serialized. The events in the dreams were happening in order. Each night, they picked up knitting the same sweater from exactly where they had left off the night before. Eloise expected to finish the sweater in their dreams tonight; hence the rush to finish the socks. At the start it had been loosely based on a pattern from a quarterly magazine, but every morning they awoke with some new alteration in mind. Unlike most of their dreams, Eloise remembered the sweater perfectly. A note by their bedside had a nearly complete and completely original pattern written out, one night’s revelation at a time. Only the collar remained. They had worked a double earlier in the week to get tomorrow off; the plan was to get started right after breakfast, but, let’s be honest, they were going to order in and be knitting before they got out of bed.
Flirting and browsing their way through the various booths, it took a few hours for Eloise to find just the right quilt. They had held off on visiting Nancy’s Nonsense and Notions in the same way someone might save the best bite of food for last. Nancy was always set up in the same corner; her stall was pretty close to heaven, in Eloise’s opinion. Every inch of the table in front of them was covered by vintage fabric printed with ornate floral patterns and art deco designs; one—their favorite—even featured pinup style cowgirls in various poses. Behind the table, dozens of quilts were displayed on racks in a semi-circle; antique sewing machines and other paraphernalia made this spot a sewist’s dream. There was even a loom this time!
Eloise had spotted exactly the right quilt from three stalls away, but browsed the rest of Nancy’s wares before grabbing it—keeping a careful eye on anyone who wandered too close to the quilt that would be theirs, of course. Eyes filled with longing, Eloise wanted to hand Nancy the keys to their bank account and fill every bag they could carry, but they still needed to buy yarn for The Sweater. As dreadful as it felt to leave the overpriced cowgirls behind, they were holding the quilt and only the quilt as they approached Nancy to check out. She was seated behind a table with a crochet hook—bright with ergonomic foam—in her hand. This was a relatively recent development. Eloise had been coming here for years; Nancy’s arthritis had been getting worse with each visit. Nancy looked up from the blanket she was crocheting and smiled in recognition.
“I wouldn’t miss your booth for the world,” said Eloise.
“How did that silk work out for you?” asked Nancy.
It took Eloise a second to remember. That was two months and a dozen projects ago.
“Great! I made some PJ’s for that one,” they said, gesturing at Alex, who also seemed to be enthralled by the cowgirls.
As the small-talk continued, Eloise had a weird feeling that Nancy saw right through their little white lie about a quilt collection, but she didn’t seem upset. They made a mental note to put a reminder in their phone so they wouldn’t forget the lie next time. Nancy obviously had a memory like a steel trap and Eloise liked her. It wouldn’t do for her to find out they were lying.
The needles caught Eloise’s eye just before their card slid into the reader. Their jaw dropped as they yanked their hand back. In an elaborate pewter case lined with velvet rested the most beautiful set of knitting needles Eloise had ever seen. Not that they normally worried about the aesthetics of knitting needles; the beauty was in the process and in the garments it produced. Needles were just tools. Well, needles were normally just tools.
These were a work of art. For one, they were crafted from some strange material. It had the iridescent fire of labradorite, but it was a closer to mint green in color and oddly translucent. They seemed to glow against the red velvet of its case. The surface appeared perfectly smooth—needles had to be—but it looked as if someone had carved intricate patterns and then covered the whole thing with resin. Except the resin was this weird translucent stone. Eloise had never seen anything like it, on a knitting needle or otherwise.
“What are those?” they asked.
“Those are a bit special. One of a kind,” said Nancy, “I’ve been doing this awhile and that’s the only pair I’ve come across. I’ve had them for years; thought they were too pretty to sell. But when I was packing up yesterday I decided it was time to let someone else have a turn. Don’t knit much, myself.”
A memory struck Eloise with all the ferocity of a lightning bolt. They had been so focused on The Sweater that they hadn’t even noticed, but there was no question. Every night, they had been knitting a sweater in their dreams. Every night, they had been knitting with exactly those needles. They had to have those needles.
Trying to hide their excitement, Eloise asked, “How much?”
Nancy’s prices were fair, but those were special. Fair would likely be out of Eloise’s price range. They’d surely have to haggle and maybe borrow some money from Alex until payday. They weren’t leaving without those needles, but they couldn’t let Nancy know that.
The woman eyed Eloise warily.
“Those are one of a kind. Really special, you know?” said Nancy.
Eloise felt Alex slide her fingertips down their spine; they got the message: “I want you to know that I’m back, but I don’t need your attention right now.” Alex was always thoughtful like that.
“I can tell. I think I want to buy them,” answered Eloise.
“I’d like for you to have them. They should be with someone who will use them and appreciate them, but…” Nancy trailed off.
“Well, why don’t you tell me about this quilt collection of yours?”
Alex flinched. Eloise felt it.
“I…” Eloise paused to consider their words.
“I lied. I plan on making a coat out of that quilt. I just know how some people get and I didn’t want it to become some kind of thing, you know? I love your shop and I respect you and I didn’t want you to think less of me,” Eloise said in a single breath.
“Thank you for being honest. Sometimes I just know when somebody’s lying to me. Not always, mind you, but when it happens it feels as real to me as my own name and every time I’ve tested it, I’ve been right. I like to think it’s a superpower you can only earn by spending decades in sewing circles, but that’s neither here nor there.”
“I’m so sorry I lied. I shouldn’t have.”
“I believe you, hun. And, since we’re being honest, I didn’t actually pay much for these needles. Could you do five dollars for them?”
“Oh, I couldn’t take them for that! That’s not enough,” said Eloise.
“If I charged what they’re worth, would you be able to pay for them?” asked Nancy.
Eloise grimaced and shook their head.
“Don’t fret, love. Like I said, I don’t have much in these. I’d rather they end up with someone who’ll treasure them than in some rich bitty’s curio, or worse. I told some spoiled teenager they were already sold earlier; she was going to use them as hair pins. Hair pins! Said they’d go viral, whatever that means. The brat had the audacity to come back with her mother; might as well have had the woman on a leash. Anyway, the point is I want you to have them. If you don’t have $5, I’ll take less.”
Eloise willed moisture from their eyes as they checked out, a steady stream of “thank yous” flowing from their moth.
“How about I knit you something with them? It’s the least I can do.”
“I’d like that. Nothing big though. Like a hat or some socks. Maybe some gloves? Fingerless if you do, so I can work in them.”
Alex checked out with twelve yards of fabric covered in pinup cowgirls. Alex didn’t sew, but she regularly commissioned projects from Eloise (and paid them fairly!) Eloise assumed there would be matching outfits in the couple’s future and they weren’t the least bit sad about it. Nancy handed them two large paper bags.
“I stuffed a bit of yarn in the bottom there. Came with the needles. Felt right to keep it all together.”
Eloise was eager to find out what kind of yarn had come with those needles, but the bags were full and Alex had already placed hers in the trunk of the Jeep. Eloise begrudgingly followed suit. They were quickly distracted when Alex slid in close and whispered her afternoon plans into their ear, though. The couple rushed to Eloise’s house, leaving the bags in the car and their outfits like breadcrumbs between the front door and the bedroom.
Hours later, Alex headed back to her place, handing Eloise the bags before she left. They rushed inside to unpack. Somehow, they weren’t surprised when the bag was filled with skein upon skein of yarn, including the exact shades of pink they had been using every night in their dreams. They had touched miles of yarn over the years and had gotten pretty good at identifying different materials by feel alone. Still completely unsurprised, Eloise had never felt yarn like this. It almost hummed as they pulled it through their hands. The Sweater was going to be special. It wasn’t even dark yet, but Eloise couldn’t wait to fall asleep.
The story continues — check out Volume Two!