'What Remains of Edith Finch': The Knotted Tale of Those Hand-Knit Gloves

Why hands are important in games

Chelsea Hash fought for Edith Finch’s hands.

The technical artist on What Remains of Edith Finch, Hash had her own hands in both production and character design. She lobbied for developer Giant Sparrow to step away from what’s become standard in “walking simulator”–type games—first-person characters whose bodies are off-screen, like in The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home or Jonathan Blow’s The Witness.

Edith’s hands — and by extension, her gloves — are the centerpiece of her character design, a thread that tangles through Edith Finch’s stories. Each part of the gloves, each color and each stitch, informs a part of Edith’s history. Knotted into the meticulously designed fingerless gloves are the themes of the game itself. It’s heirlooms, craft, and history—it’s the time spent preserving these stories. Edith’s mother and great-grandmother are both two very important parts of her character, both reflected in the practicality and complexity of her gloves.

Her hands are the second seen in Edith Finch, just moments after the game begins—the first are her future son’s, something that’s only realized at the conclusion of the game. Edith reaches out to open the mailbox that welcomes guests to the home’s winding pathway. Her nails are manicured, the rest of her hand obscured by varying cabled patterns. A fluttering, muted pink scalloped knit lines her knuckles. Multiple shades of purple, blue, and gray emerge from there to create intricate cabling and detailed knits and purls.

Developer Giant Sparrow calls Edith Finch “a collection of short stories about a cursed family in Washington State.” Edith returns to the home years after she and her mother left; her mother left her a key when she died, the key to unraveling what she’d hidden from her daughter for the majority of her young life. Players move Edith around the home’s towering additions, crawling from room-to-room, shimmying through hidden crawl spaces and climbing out windows. As she approaches memorials of her late family members, players take hold of others as Edith unravels her family’s past.

Just a moment after closing the mailbox, Edith's hands disappear to her side. Should the player look down, Edith's hands will come back into the game's frame. And that was important not only to solidify Edith’s own character, but for players to relate to the others throughout the game. “As you switch from character to character, if you look down, or if you interact with an object, you’ll see your hands, and that’s how you’ll know you’re a different person,” Hash said.

Giant Sparrow took care that each character — and their hands — fit into the world of Edith Finch. Each pair of hands tells their own stories, Edith’s an amalgamation of them all. “The process of building [Edith Finch] is what created the story itself,” Hash said. “It was the act of building those pieces [where] the game became clear.”

There’s a lot of built-in storytelling in giving characters faces, Hash added. And because Edith’s face — and the faces of the other characters —were not present when playing (unless seen in a painted memorial), the rest of their bodies became even more important; Hash hounded the publisher to make sure hands were part of Edith Finch.

“I went to parties with the publisher, and I stayed there late at night when everybody’s drinking and I’m like, ‘Nathan! Nathan, important! Ian [Edith Finch’s creative director] thinks it’s going to be too hard, but [the hands] are the only thing that’s worth it,’” Hash laughed.

Edith’s practicality needed to be immediately apparent, though there was a certain amount of whimsy that comes through, too. The gloves are a direct correlation to Edith Finch’s sprawling, fantastical home. The Finch home isn’t just some generic, Victorian mansion, Hash said.

“This is a house that has [Victorian] elements, but then you have somebody [Edith’s great-grandmother] who has been updating it with things that you can buy from Home Depot,” Hash added.

Edith’s character has a similar dichotomy, as seen through her meticulously handmade gloves, which were knitted for her by her great-grandmother. Edith mentions that her great-grandmother knitted her multiple pairs of fingerless gloves, another pair which Edith wears as a child in the game. The gloves, with their stitched together cables and scalloped edges, are delightfully feminine and intricate—almost Victorian looking. But the rest of her character design is practical.

“It was intentional,” Hash said. “We wanted it to be specific. These [gloves] are handcrafted, but she’s just wearing a waffle-knit shirt and a sleeveless khaki vest.” Her boots, too, are just standard hiking boots, pulled, maybe, from a Patagonia catalog, Hash added. “I’m realizing now that I have this complete backlog of all the ‘canon’ of the character, and, well, only a percentage of that was ever spoken [in Edith Finch],” she said. “But the rest of it lived in the objects.”

Edith’s gloves have a direct connection to both her mother and her great-grandmother, Edie. Edie’s connection to the gloves—she knit them and a series of others for Edith—is spoken of in the game. (Her mother’s connection is a bit more nuanced, based within the gloves practicality, Hash said.) But the depth of the threading goes beyond just spoken words; Giant Sparrow crafted details some might not notice, but the details are there. The idea of Edith’s knit gloves being lovingly crafted by Edie, just like the house itself, is reinforced in Edie and Sven’s bedroom. Edith paws around Edie’s bedroom, noting that her collections make it a museum. Family heirlooms are everywhere—she’s kept newspaper clippings of the family’s woes and stacks of books, paintings, and photographs.

Tucked away in a corner, there’s a pile of yarn hanks. (Hanks are a specific way yarn is stored, as opposed to skeins, balls, or cones. Hanks and skeins need to be wound into balls or cakes before they can be used easily.) The yarn, like the gloves, were a challenge to create. Because of the sincere meaning imparted in the character design, Giant Sparrow needed to get the yarn right.

It’s not easy to create realistic-looking yarn, nor is it painless to craft detailed, hand-knit fingerless gloves. But Hash’s persistence on having them in game won the team over; she created prototypes to show that it’s important, using lots of references to create something believable. “That’s the thing with magical realism, in general,” Hash said. “You’re trying to make something larger than life, but it’s still grounded in something that’s possible, or at least possible-adjacent.”

Free resources from textile enthusiasts Vogue Knitting provided useful in crafting all of Edith’s gloves. With actual cabled stitches and tons of patterns at their disposal, Giant Sparrow had tangible goals to reach. Character artist Dan Valvo hadn’t knit before in real-life, but he was tasked with creating the pattern in 3D modeling software.

“You can’t just put the whole likeness [of the gloves] into the engine,” Hash said. “You’re actually creating the likeness of a stitch in 3D and then applying that stitch in a semi-realistic fashion.”

It’s a time-consuming process creating something so intricate, and so knittable in real life. “The 3D brush sculpt of Edith has tubular mesh for each one of those stitches,” Hash added. “All of those stitches are real—or, a real surface that was pulled together.”

And the gloves look like there might be some pattern out there somewhere on the internet; gloves that you or I could recreate given the tens of hours it’d take to knit them. (Knitting is a very time-consuming process and some patterns can take weeks to finish, even if you’re knitting a few hours per day.)

“We actually did get an email from a fan that wanted to knit the gloves,” Hash said. “ She said, ‘because obviously these gloves exist in real life.’ Yeah, she’s like, ‘They look as if they were actually knit in the real world and their likeness transferred into the game.’”

“The gloves are part of the yarn, which is part of Edith’s thread,” Hash said. “We went through many iterations to make it clear and possible to discover if you missed any of Edith’s side comments where she calls out that her grandmother made [the gloves.]”

Edith wears the gloves—and thus, the memory of her great-grandmother—even years after she’s left the house. Hash said it’s easy to read Edith Finch as a horrific, sad tale, but that’s not the way she sees it. The gloves are a reminder that Edith, despite what the house and its curse did or did not do to the family, loved growing up there.

“I guess it would be hard to interpret [Edith Finch] as uplifting,” Hash said. “But I never think of it as a sad story for Edith. She had the opportunity in retelling these stories to be very aware of her life and her mortality and I think that calm awareness was an important part of making [Edith Finch] feel genuine.”

Some players have found Edith’s great-grandmother to be a ghoulish figure—the harbinger of death in keeping these stories. Depending on the interpretation of the game, some found her the danger to the mother’s safety.

“But by Edith wearing the gloves, you could see that she didn’t —

depending on your interpretation — [feel that way],” Hash said. “She loved growing up in the house despite all the challenges and bizarreness of her family, and being a product of the family and loving all of them.”

Hash’s voice began to crack, as if she were about to cry. She apologized for getting emotional. “And that’s why I think this wasn’t a sad story. Edith was open,” she said. “And that’s why I think this wasn’t a sad story. Edith was open.”

A second pair of hand-knit gloves appear in Edith Finch. First, they lay draped on Edith’s childhood bed. In the next moment, a young Edith appears at a table—years ago—with her mother and great-grandmother. It’s the night before the characters were supposed to leave the house, just a week after her brother Lewis died. The player looks in from above, almost a ghostly fourth-person perspective; it’s the first time the player isn’t viewing the story from the first-person view.

Edith is a child, then—but she’s easily recognized as herself, wearing a smaller, simpler version of her hand-knit gloves. Edith Finch returns to first-person soon after, with the player taking control, once again, of Edith. Her little hands reach out to open a secret cupboard or flip through the pages of a book, and there’s the reminder: You’re Edith. You have your fingerless gloves.

“Please remember!” Hash joked. Please remember that Edith’s great-grandmother knit her the gloves, remember the hanks of yarn piled in her bedroom, the tiny gloves draped on Edith’s bed. Please remember the muted rose tones of her scalloped gloves or the gray cabling that runs over the palm.

The act of knitting is transferring loops from one knitting needle to the other. Back and forth. It’s the tiniest of movements that create a fabric, a fabric that can sprawl on for yards. Edith Finch’s storytelling is knotted up in similarly small moments. And those small moments are what make the game relatable and moving—Edith Finch isn’t a set story. It’s all of our stories.

“Probably my favorite feedback I’ve gotten from anyone who’s played the game is when they say, ‘I feel like I need to call my cousin,’” Hash said. “That was very much the hope. There wasn’t some perfect canon of the Finch family, because the story was about the idea of the strangeness of being alive and the way that you’re related to people.”