Lisa Van Allen
The Wishing Thread
Ballantine / August 27, 2013 / $15.00 print, $9.99 digital
The Van Ripper women have been the talk of Tarrytown, New York, for centuries. Some say they’re angels; some say they’re crooks. In their tumbledown “Stitchery,” not far from the stomping grounds of the legendary Headless Horseman, the Van Ripper sisters—Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie—are said to knit people’s most ardent wishes into beautiful scarves and mittens, granting them health, success, or even a blossoming romance. But for the magic to work, sacrifices must be made—and no one knows that better than the Van Rippers.
When the Stitchery matriarch, Mariah, dies, she leaves the yarn shop to her three nieces. Aubrey, shy and reliable, has dedicated her life to weaving spells for the community, though her sisters have long stayed away. Bitty, pragmatic and persistent, has always been skeptical of magic and wants her children to have a normal, nonmagical life. Meggie, restless and free-spirited, follows her own set of rules. Now, after Mariah’s death forces a reunion, the sisters must reassess the state of their lives even as they decide the fate of the Stitchery. But their relationships with one another—and their beliefs in magic—are put to the test. Will the threads hold?
I am not an especially crafty person, but I am fascinated by the creative process whether it be sewing, cooking, or knitting. I also adore books around folklore and legends. So the synopsis of Lisa Van Allen's The Wishing Thread proved to be irresistible.
Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie’s ancestor Helen's first attempt at stitchery magic arose because of her foolish husband. The British forces were holed up in Stoney Point, an almost impenetrable fort, especially to the Carolinians in the valley. But if the British aren’t stopped, they then would be able to proceed up the Hudson River. If they took the Hudson, they then would control the Northeast.
General Anthony Wayne came up with a doomed scheme. He planned to have a company carrying unloaded rifles wade through the murky swamp, then furtively climb the steep rocky incline and break into the fort. Once there, they would wave their empty weapons above their heads, bellowing “the fort’s our own,” distracting the British from the real attack. Few thought the scheme would work—in fact, the men in the decoy company were given the nickname, The Forlorn Hope. And Helen’s crazy, unwise husband volunteered to join this group.
Distraught and apprehensive, she remembered a folktale told about her grandmother on her father’s side. Her grandmother had always knit one red thread into her husband’s garments to protect him. Everyone laughed at her foolish superstition until her husband was the only one to survive an attack by a band of marauding Mohawks.
Helen appealed to the other women, telling them her grandmother’s story. While few truly believed, they were keen to have a task. In the face of their helplessness, the women knitted, putting a red thread into their works. Then:
A woman suggested: Perhaps we should make an offering. Just in case. And each wife, sister, or daughter agreed to give up something important to her- just so God knew they weren’t asking to get something for nothing.
All the men with the red threads survived and so that is how a tradition of sacrifice was interwoven into Helen’s grandmother’s original tale. Helen and her husband built the Stitchery, and later Helen put all her focus into knitting, serving the women of Tarrytown. She passed the guardianship down to her daughter. And so it went, with each ensuing generation of women serving the populace of Tarrytown. Each of them were taught:
From the Great Book of the Hall: We must never knit when we’re feeling sad or hopeless, or mean. Our stitches get filled up with our thoughts and emotions and se we must be careful. Blessings are often made with trumpeting and pomp—our hearts cry to God, to the Universe and say “Blessed be!” Our blessings bless us because we feel so pleased to utter them.
Mariah taught Aubrey, Bitty, and Meggie:
The trick, Aunt Mariah had said, is to clear your mind. To let your thoughts drain. At any given moment, a knitter was always knitting with at least two yarns: one that was the actual fiber, and another that was an invisible thread, the essence of the knitter, that accompanied every stitch. A wish held and sustained with clarity of mind while knitting would somehow wend its way into the fabric and later when the fabric became a sweater or a hat that wish would materialize. In this way, making magic was nothing more than intense, focused wishing.
So the guardian of the Stitchery takes requests. But the individual making the request must, like the women of the past, give up something important. Still there are no guarantees:
“I’m sorry,” Aubrey said. “I have no control over when a spell will work. Just have him wear it a little while longer.”
Blanca’s tough face was no longer so immutable. “You and I both know that’s not going to help.”
Aubrey didn’t know what to do. She turned away from the girl and fussed with a bit of yarn in order to compose herself. “Mariah explained it all to you?”
“Yes,” Blanca said. “Maybe I didn’t give up the right thing. Maybe the locket wasn’t enough.”
Aubrey said nothing.
“But it seemed like enough,” she went on. “It really hurt to give it away like that. It hurt so much. It was like getting my heart ripped out. Like losing my mom all over again.”
“I’m sorry,” Aubrey said.
“The scarf’s not going to work.” Her voice sounded small. “So . . .can I have the locket?”
There were moments when Aubrey hated the Stitchery and wished it would burn to the ground. “I’m sorry,” she said.
Aubrey turned to her. Blanca was holding the red-and-black scarf in her hands: she clasped it near her sternum like a child hiding behind a blanket. Aubrey shook her head.
Blanca’s face went red. “Are you friggin’ kidding me? First you tell me you can help me, then instead of helping you take the one thing away from that’s most important in the world?”
Bitty and Meggie rejected their heritage, only to be pulled back by Mariah’s death. Aubrey embraced it too completely. Can these three sisters find their way back to each other, and learn what is truly important in life?
If you looking a book rich with legends and myths, the complexity of family relationships, and the burden and joy of history and tradition, then be sure to check out The Wishing Thread.
Learn more or pre-order a copy of The Wishing Thread by Lisa Van Allen before its release (August 27, 2013):
Leigh Davis, Blogger