When I was 30 or so, my grandmother, who taught me to knit when I was little, entered a nursing home. To celebrate her, I re-taught myself to knit and made her a shawl which she wore or kept nearby until she died and it came back to me. Here it is:
Since then, I’ve kept knitting through good times and bad, finding essential order and elegance in each slow transformation of colored string into fabric with its own form and character. I read books about knitting, like these:
I cruise the Internet for patterns, like this one (remember my daughter’s shawl? Here’s the pattern chart for it:
And how it looks so far:)
and I talk about knitting with other knitters every chance I get.
It’s the perfect hobby for a mathematically-minded introvert who gets cold easily.
I don’t think of myself as artistic at all. I can’t even draw a recognizable stick figure, some days. I am much more of an observer than a creator, “a terrific audience,” as my father would say, and that suits me fine. But something about knitting brings out the creative spark, and that’s where I get a glimpse of what being an artist might be about, as the new thing takes shape first in my mind and then in my hands. Take the “Smitten,” the hand warmer for unabashed lovers, here both plain and modeled by myself and my spiffy new husband:
Knitting is a slow art, at least for me. It takes time to understand how the pattern “works,” why a particular arrangement of stitches or shaping technique affects the project as it does. Knitting is all about geometry and ratios and such, and nothing beats the “Eureka!” moments when the math comes together and it all makes sense. Life doesn’t have nearly enough of those, I find, so I hold tight to them when I’m knitting.
Knitting, like any handwork, I suppose, allows the mind to be active and alert without getting sucked too far into itself. I tend to worry unnecessarily about things I can’t control, and knitting helps me avoid that spiral–unlike, say, lying in bed where my mind can race to panic with no checks or balances. With needles in hand, I can only pay so much attention to my thoughts and emotions, I have to step back and let them ebb and flow without engaging. It’s my version of Zen and other meditation practices that focus on detaching from the inner landscape and simply observing without judgment. The result is often a feeling of emotional calm and balance, with occasional deepening of awareness or insight. Knitting allows me to sidestep the shrill, accusatory voice in my head that says traditional meditation is “wasted time,” because it’s not productive. At the end of knitting there is something beautiful, useful and likely to give great pleasure to the recipient. This one is being saved for my future granddaughter(s), by their future Mommy, who wore it until she finally got too big:
Knitting has no end. There will never be time to knit every project that catches my eye, or to learn every technique, or to track down every gorgeous yarn. There will always be better, faster, more creative knitters than I am, and always new things to learn from them. As long as I can physically hold the needles, there will be intellectual stimulation galore and the satisfaction of making something lovely out of sticks and string. At the same time, I’m connected by infinite miles of cosmic yarn to all the knitters before me, men and women who kept themselves and their families warm in winter, brightly decorated in poverty, and alive to art and beauty through the mastery of the craft.
I taught my teenaged daughter to knit and she is now accomplished enough only to need me as an occasional consultant on her projects. She, in turn, taught a dear friend from Japan to knit, and now serves as her knitting mentor, overturning language and cultural barriers to establish that connection over their shared craft. My grandmother would be very, very proud.