No matter how happy I am about my move to Germany, it was painful to say goodbye to my favorite people and places of Oakland. For the past few months, I was living at my childhood home again, and I got to see my mother, father and one of my sisters every day; they are the three people it most broke my heart to leave.

Goodbyes are so difficult. I don’t know about you, but I have no idea how to go about them. Well, I know what motions to make: I hug. I say “I’ll miss you.” I don’t smile, but make a kind of wistful face with lips a bit squeezed together, and eyebrows atilt. Yet these ritual words and movements are pathetic and inadequate; they fail convey the love and sadness.

I thought a lot about the goodbye-moment in the days leading up to my departure. After a lot of reflection, I felt that maybe, just a little, it might help if I made something small to give to the people I was leaving. Something handmade that would help them to still feel connected to me and comforted by my love for them no matter where I am.

I came up with these squeezable knit balls, patterned with the name I call each loved one: mom, abba, dans.

I wanted each ball to be small so that it could be carried anywhere, squeezed unobtrusively in the hand no matter where they were. When I presented my family members with their ball, my father had the idea that I add a string, so he could hang the ball on the bulletin board over his desk with a pushpin.

I wanted to share the pattern with you so you could make this little comforting gifts for a loved one or two in your life. Of course, each ball is customized with a name, and that you’ll have to design on your own. The best way is to take a pencil and a piece of graph paper and color in the letters you want. One square = one stitch when you knit.

Don’t make your chart of letters more than 12 squares tall or more than 38 squares wide. And if you want the name to be on just one side of your ball, instead of wrapping around the whole circumference, keep it to 25 or fewer squares wide.

Okay, once you’ve got your letters on graph paper, here’s the pattern

Personalized gift knit ball
needles: size 3, straight
yarn: a little bit of fingering-weight in two, contrasting colors
finishing: a tapestry needle. a bit of polyfiber fill, or cotton balls or even old rags to stuff 
kfb = knit front and back of one stitch, making 2 stitches
k2tog = knit two stitches together into one stitch
ssk = slip two stitches onto the right needle; insert left needle into the two from the right and k2 together

Cast On 5 stitches with your background color
Row 1: kfb across (10 stitches)
Row 2: purl across
Row 3:  kfb across (20 stitches)
Row 4: purl across
Row 5: kfb across (40 stitches)
Row 6: Purl
Rows 7-18: complete in stockinet stitch.
These 12 stockinet rows is where you incorporate your graph-paper letters. If your letters are 12 squares tall start the letters in row 7. My word “mom” is only 7 squares tall, so I waited to start it until row 9, just so it would be more centered. Also “mom” is 18 squares across, and each row is 40 stitches, so I knit 11 stitches, knit the “mom” pattern, knit 11 more stitches.

The trick to following a pattern chart, for me, is to flip the chart upside-down, and right-side-up in each successive row. Starting with a knit row, flip your chart upside down, and begin in the upper right corner (what was the bottom left corner) -since one usually knits from right to left. For me, this was the stem of the first “M” in mom.

For “Mom” row 9 is k11 blue, k2 red, k9 blue, k2 red, k 16 blue
flip chart right-side-up. Follow the pattern of the 2nd row from the bottom, right to left.
For “Mom” row 10 is p11 blue, p2 red, p3 blue, p1 red, p2 blue, p2 red, p1 blue, p2 red, p3 blue, p1 red, p 12 blue
flip chart upside-down
For “Mom” row 11: k12 blue, k1 red, k3 blue, k1 red, k1 blue, k1 red, k2 blue, k1 red, k1 blue, k1 red, k3 blue, k1 red, k12 blue
flip chart right-side-up
For “Mom” row 12: k12 blue, [k1 red, k1 blue] 3 times, k1 red, k2 blue, [k1 red, k1 blue] 3 times, k1 red, k12 blue
flip chart upside-down
For “Mom” row 13: p, following the colors of the previous row (red on red and blue on blue)
flip chart right-side-up
For “Mom” row 14: k12 blue, k 2 red, k 1 blue, k2 red, k2 blue, k2 red, k2 blue, k1 red, k1 blue, k1 red, k1 blue, k1 red, k12 blue
flip chart upside-down
For “Mom” row 15: p12 blue, p2 red, p1 blue, p2 red, p23 blue
For “Mom” rows 16-18: complete in blue, stockinet stitch

Once you’ve finished your chart, it’s time to reduce stitches for the top of the ball.
Row 19: [k2tog, k6, ssk] 4 times (32 stitches)
Row 20: purl
row 21: [k2tog k4 ssk] 4 times (24 stiches)
row 22: purl
row 23: [k2tog k2 ssk] 4 times (16 stitches)
row 24: purl
row 25: [k2tog ssk] 4 times (8 stitches)
cut your yarn about 6 inches from the end of your knitting, and pull the end through the remaining 8 stitches. Sew up your ball using the tail end. When there’s only a half inch gap left open, stuff your ball, then sew up the gap completely.