Yarn: Remembering the Way Home by Kyoko Mori

The current popularity of knitting as a craft comes from its versatility and creativity. As a teenager in 1960s Japan, Kyoko did not view knitting in such positive ways. For her, it was a symbol of repression.

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home is New York Times noted author Kyoko Mori’s memoir of her life in Japan, her decision to leave Japan the first chance she had, and how she developed a successful life in the United States.  

In her seventh grade home economics class, Kyoko was required to knit a perfect pair of mittens. With mismatched stitches and uneven knitting, Kyoko’s mittens earned only a D-. She had little use for knitting and for many other skills taught to teenage girls; skills she saw as symbols of repression thrust upon Japanese women. She had witnessed how the strong patriarchal society had destroyed her mother, leaving her with suicide as her only means of escaping an overbearing husband.

Having no intention of repeating her mother’s life, Kyoko readily accepted a scholarship to attend college in Illinois. Later, she earned a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. It was at the end of her graduate studies that a student from Germany taught Kyoko a freer style of knitting, a style much more in keeping with her sense of self. Thus began Kyoko’s avocation with yarn – creating sweaters, hats, shawls and scarves.

Yarn and its related fiber arts serve as a metaphor for Mori’s life. Intarsia is a method of knitting with multiple colors of yarn. Together they form a pattern, but the different strands of yarn run parallel to each other. Intarsia sweaters are sturdier, but less flexible. The same could be said of Kyoko’s marriage. She and her husband led independent lives yet were very supportive of each other. Being married provided Kyoko with some stability (and family), yet in other ways marriage stifled her. While learning about knitting, Mori also learns about love, friendship, writing, the value of creative outlets and how to weave one’s own path in life.  

Interspersed throughout Mori’s memoir are snippets of the history of fiber arts. Some of the first depictions of knitting are found in 14th and 15th century paintings of the Virgin Mary, who is shown knitting while the Baby Jesus plays at her feet. Queen Elizabeth I introduced knitted stockings, articles of luxury, to the British royal family. Fearing that her cousin was plotting to assassinate her, Elizabeth ordered the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Wanting to go out in style, cousin Mary wore blue-and-gold knitted silk stockings to her execution.

Previously published works by Kyoko Mori include essays, fiction and poetry. She quotes one of her former professors as having advised that one should write about what one knows, but does not understand. Mori took this to heart as she explores through her writing parental abandonment, marital infidelity, family ties, the impact of culture, the role of women and the nature of love and loss.

I was initially drawn to this book because it pulled together two of my favorite topics: fiber arts and Asian culture. What I found was an inspiring story of a woman who knew tragedy but lacked self-pity or anger; who was strong while at the same time gentle and sympathetic; independent but ready to be one’s best friend; creative yet practical, driven and determined while at the same time able to find contentment.

About the Author

Pam Jenkins is the manager of the H&R Block Business & Career Center.

Further reading: Learn more about the Library's resources for knitting and fiber arts.