Worry Less & Knit More: What to Knit for a College-Bound Kid

Determining what to knit for a college-bound kid can be layered in emotion. Worry takes the fore, as one witnesses a child-turned-adult vacate the nest in favor of more grown-up pursuits. Read on to find out which college knit project writer Mary Kaiser chose to get her through the send-off and beyond.


After a six-day car trek from Alabama to New York, my daughter was settled as a freshman at the college of her dreams. I was back home, grateful to have made the trip without a hitch, but befuddled by loneliness. I missed her lilting chuckle, her mimicry, even her cranky silences.

One evening in September, weeping into the onions on the chopping board, I realized I needed a distraction. I decided I would cheer myself up by knitting Anna a pair of mittens in time for the onset of cold weather. And keep on knitting until I felt better, even if it meant knitting a pair of mitts for every one of her 635 Facebook friends.

Looking for a challenge that would demand my full attention, I found a pattern bristling with charts for cables and bobbles, a garter-stitch saddle and a gusset thumb. My yarn was a brick-red singles wool I’d bought more than twenty years earlier when I was in graduate school. The skeins had traveled with me from my first teaching job to our first apartment to our first house and then to our second house. I was knitting with a thread of Anna’s history, one that began when she was just a twinkle in her dad’s eye.

The red mittens turned out perfectly, rich in color and texture, just the right size for Anna’s long, narrow hands. Although I was intrigued with the clever thumb gusset, I still wept over the marinara sauce. On the other hand, a few weeks into her fall semester, Anna was getting deeply involved in her courses in art history.

Vicarious Living, through Mittens

Mitten project, stage two. Looking for a vicarious connection to my faraway daughter, I checked out a book of Pre-Raphaelite paintings from the library. I cast on with a fingering-weight wool dyed in bright, paint-box colors and felt the bright hues gradually warming my heart.

By the time the colorwork mitts were finished, I was obsessed with mitten construction. Which would fit better, a flat thumb or a gusset thumb? What ideal width would hug the hand but not feel constricting? My third pair was my own design, using handspun yarns left over from a summer’s dyeing in horizontal stripes.

The Guillemet Mittens from Knit Mitts are a beautiful example of stranded mitts that can provide warmth and style.

After the third pair of mittens was washed and blocked, it was time for Family Weekend. I arrived at Anna’s dorm, laden with tote bags full of supplies from home. When I laid out the three pairs of mittens on her bed, Anna seemed a bit confused by my largesse. Sure, she liked them, but it was too early in the season to wear mittens, so she stored them in her dresser drawer.

She had made a plan for our day, beginning with a meeting about the junior-year Study Abroad program. In a large classroom, we heard about programs in England, Italy, and France, Anna’s dream destination. On our way out, Anna bubbled over with excitement about taking classes in an art studio on the Left Bank, living with a French family, renting a Vespa.

Worry Less and Knit More

Three years later, Anna is in her second semester of study abroad. Next year, she will graduate from college and seek her fortune like thousands of her intelligent, talented peers. She has gained skills and knowledge, loads of stories, and friends she will treasure for life. And I have gained confidence in my newly adult child, including a growing admiration as I’ve watched her take on challenges I would not have accepted at her age.

Would I have done anything differently if I had known when she first left what I know now? Yes. I would have worried less, and knitted more. Even though socks and mittens have fairly flown off my needles in the last few years, I know now that there’s always a chilly student more than happy to get another pair. The stripes and wild curlicues have always had an appreciative audience. I’ve also learned to back away in my helicopter and hover at a distance, while my fledgling gets a chance to try her own wings.


Mary Kaiser teaches writing and literature in Birmingham, Alabama, where she lives with her husband and two teenage children. When she isn’t grading papers, she’s turning a heel, twisting a cable, or falling in love once again with garter stitch. She blogs at www.mrsramseysknitting.blogspot.com. This article was originally published in Interweave Knits Summer 2013. Header illustration created by Amber Felts.


Are mittens the ultimate college knit project?

One Comment

  1. Anonymous at 3:50 pm June 21, 2018

    It was so exciting for me to read this. Last September when my daughter headed off to college, I began to knit every night, for the first time in years. I had relocated to Arizona 4 years earlier for a busy job and between the hot climate and increased work hours, the motivation to knit had faded. I realized after about 3 months of motivated knitting that this was my reaction to her departure, my way to connect. While I live in Arizona, she was now in the Northeast and expecting cold, snowy winters. Her freshman year I finished two long bulky sweaters to keep her warm, and more hats than she knows what to do with! Knitting for her has been a great way to feel closer, give a heartfelt and valued gift, and deal with the loneliness as my children grow up and on their way. It is a wonderful outlet to have. Always nice to know that whatever you experience, there’s a community! Thanks Mary – Nancy

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