Bird by Bird

A week or so ago, on a day that wasn’t going so well, I posed a question to the members of a small knitting forum I’m part of. I asked people to share an experience in which knitting had helped them through a difficult time.

There were a number of responses. Some were instructive. Some were moving. All were warm and encouraging and helpful. One in particular suggested knitting a bird. My knitting friend said,

. . . one thing that helps when I feel stressed is to knit something really quick and easy, which I can complete in one go. I especially like Bluebird of Happiness. There’s a sense of achievement from just being able to complete something, especially if you can’t solve or fix or control everything else that’s going on around you.

I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling all that hopeful. But trusting that another knitter wouldn’t steer me wrong, I thought, “what the heck; I’ll knit a bird.”



I cannot explain it, but knitting this little bird (and the several that followed) changed my outlook. The thinking about it, the picking out the yarn, the getting involved in the pattern . . . watching the little body start to take shape . . . The whole endeavor was monumentally soul soothing.


Before the bird, I was feeling depleted and pretty down. But then I knit the bird. And I felt a little better.


And you know what’s funny? One bird led to another in the most beautiful way.

And then this morning, as I was snapping some photos of my little birds of happiness, I glanced over at the pile of books near my desk, and my eyes came to rest on Annie Lamott’s incredible Bird by Bird.


Do you know this book? Its subtitle is Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and boy is it ever! I recommend it to everyone, even to those who have no interest in writing. Because of the life part. It’s fine advice.

Here’s where the title comes from:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Sometimes when I’m feeling like I have to do everything, fix everything, understand everything . . . I become untethered and lose touch with what knitting is always trying to teach me–the only way forward is one stitch at a time, or as Lamott says, bird by bird.


  1. Oh how nice to hear more stories of knitting as calming and soothing. I love to have a project on my needles that I know by heart and can take with me and pull out in stressful situations. Just knowing that I know that pattern eases my mind and helps me relax. Your birds are just about the most adorable things I have seen in a long time!

    • melinda

      Oh, yes! Exactly that, Melissa!! I can’t take any credit for the birds at all. Sara Elizabeth Kellner’s Bluebird of Happiness pattern is perfect in its simplicity and outcome. I’m deeply grateful to her for making it available. Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. Hope you are doing well and enjoying wrapping up another semester!

  2. I love that bird pattern, and I’ve often thought that I would make a while flock of birds that I could hang somehow. Now I’m inspired to put the birds on my projects list again.

    Life can be so overwhelming and depressing sometimes… I like the one bird at a time outlook. I often tell myself “first things first” when facing down challenges. Tackle the one thing in front of you, don’t worry about what you can’t change, and just keep moving forward. And keep chocolate oon hand. 🙂

    I hope things get better for you soon. I love the birds!!

  3. Beautiful post. I knit on a sweater for my eldest while my Dad was having bypass surgery more than 15 years ago. That sweater got felted and later turned into a portfolio bag made by me for my daughter in law one Christmas when I was struggling. It soothed me twice. I was working on a sweater for me as I sat by my Dad’s bed in his final hours. It didn’t fit me and it was difficult to sell it because of it’s soothing sentimental value.

  4. I crocheted about a dozen toys when I was in a really low point in my life. Focusing on all the little details and creating something lovely without any particular reason other than “because I wanted to” really helped me. There’s something soothing and almost therapeutic about it.

  5. I am a big fan of Anne Lamott’s work, and I use her “bird by bird” phrase to soothe myself when I am overwhelmed. This passage in her book resonated with me so much so that I can see the scene “videotaped” in my mind. I wish I had a had a loving parent/mentor to put his or her hand on my shoulder and say it to me. Yes, that would be so nice…

    The other book I rely upon when overwhelmed is “The Power of Now,” where I am reminded that the only reality that exists is in the present moment. When stressing, I ground myself in the moment by taking in every sensation around me. Don’t think about either the non-existent past or the future, which are filled with regrets, recrimination, and anxiety. In its message, as Eckhardt Tolle avers, there are no problems in the current moment. I remind myself to be present, limit speculation, and do what I can in the Now to be as ready as I can for what the future might bring.

    Keep knitting those birds and log cabin squares to ground yourself in the sweet Now.

    • melinda

      What a wonderful, thoughtful comment, Jane Ann! Thank goodness that as adults we can not only learn strategies for supporting ourselves but also choose friends (in our regular lives AND online) to help us. It’s wonderful to know that Anne Lamott has been important in your life as well. And thank you for telling me about The Power of Now. I had to go look on my shelf because that book has been recommended to me before, and I thought I’d even purchased a copy, but I can’t find it. Maybe it was lost in one of the moves . . . Anyway, I’ve just ordered a copy from Amazon and will read it as soon as it arrives. I was tempted to download it on my Kindle, but it seems like one that I’ll want to be able to mark in. I will definitely be knitting some more birds as well. Take care, my friend. ❤️

  6. Absolutely gorgeous reflections and birds, Melinda! They are so adorable, and make me happy just seeing them. I can understand how they would be soothing and a delight to make, and there is something so lovely about seeing it in the palm of a hand. These birds capture a tenderness I can’t describe. 🙂

    And it’s wonderful, the resonances between the pattern and Lamott’s book. That is uncanny and also a beautifully conspired message! (I’ll definitely put Lamott’s text on hold. Your description makes me want to read it!). Wishing you birds and happiness. 🙂 <3

  7. melinda

    Thank you so much, Shirley! ❤️ I feel the same way about the sweetness of the birds. They really touch my heart. And I’m so glad you’re going to check out Bird by Bird. It’s such a rewarding read! Hope you are well and keeping warm while Chicago waits for Spring! 🙂

  8. Kat

    Oh my! Those little birds are just too cute! And, what a great idea, to just sit down and knit something that will be soon completed as you contemplate something. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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