Feet on the Mind: The Fuzzy Flip-Flop Project

Knitting can serve many purposes, and different kinds of projects make different demands on the knitter. For example: one should never attempt to knit a multi-cable or entrelac sweater unless one is in a frame of mind that makes reading War and Peace or Moby Dick seem like a good idea.

I should say that, although I’m an obsessed knitter, I’m not an especially advanced one. Occasionally I’ll take on a challenging project, but in truth my primary compulsion to knit relates to its effect.

Knitting provides me with a kind of meditation. It calms me when I am nervous. It centers me when I am scattered, when I am suffering from what the Buddhists call “monkey mind.” When I set my fingers to do the focused, repetitive, organized work of knitting, my brain is often able to find its footing again. Knitting is work that I can hold in my hands; it is a tangible record of time well-spent. And, perhaps most gratifying of all, I have found knitting to be something I can accomplish when I haven’t the physical or emotional energy to do anything else—as has often been the case these past few months.

At this writing, October 2005, my mother is terminally ill. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor six weeks after my father’s sudden death in early January, and seeing to her evolving needs has been my family’s priority since we moved her to Seattle last April. During this time, I’ve forgone any knitting projects that are too complex or too cumbersome to take along to the various waiting rooms, rehabilitation centers, and nursing homes where we have spent so much time. (This explains why, up until June, my boys have been the beneficiaries of numerous pairs of socks.)

In early summer, I was avoiding writing and familial responsibilities in one of my favorite ways: by visiting a yarn store. (In this case, it was The Wooly Monkey, a store in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle very near the intersection where Wanda is hit by the minivan.) While ambling around, hoping I could find some new tasty yarn that demanded my attention and my money, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of a pair of flip-flops. The straps had been covered with candy-colored eyelash yarn. They were adorable, and I immediately asked the owner if I could get the pattern.

“It’s free,” she said. “I got it off the internet. I’ll get you a copy.”

I credit the owner of Wooly Monkey and the designer of this copyright-free pattern, whoever they are, for providing me with some very necessary frivolity during a very difficult few months. Requiring rudimentary skills and a minimal time commitment (each flip-flop can be completed in the amount of time it takes to watch a “Law & Order” rerun), and using all the leftover silly yarn accumulated over the years from many scarf projects (I mean, really, how many ersatz boas can one give away as gifts?), The Flip-Flop Project has truly been a sanity-saver. Knitting these goofy-looking gifts, I’ve been able to feel connected to absent friends and hold fast to much-needed support from their imagined presence. And even though summer is long past, I’m still at it, continuing to inflict fuzzy flip-flops on friends from age three to fifty, women and men alike. They’ve gone on feet from here to Italy to Brooklyn. They even made an appearance at an outdoor wedding—on the feet of the bride, no less!

For those of you who knit, here’s the pattern:

Using something like Lion’s Brand “Fun Fur” or Crystal Palace “Splash” and #9 needles, CO 25 stitches. Knit every row (garter stitch) for 13 total rows. Bind off, leaving a long tail for sewing. Make three more strips like this. Fold a strip in half like a lengthwise tube over one of the toe pieces of the flip flop and stitch the tube closed, using the long tail from the bind off. Repeat three more times until all rubber pieces are covered by knitted tubes. If desired (and to keep the rectangles from sliding around and/or turning on the straps), you can also stitch each pair of tubes together at the V of the toe separator.

That’s it.

More reflections on footwear to follow, but in the meantime, happy knitting!