September 19, 2013

The Needles & Damage Undone (or How Knitting Saved My Life).

One of my biggest passions in life, one that’s arguably even bigger than my passion for yoga, is knitting.

In the past decade or so since I first picked up the sticks and string, I have made dozens of scarves, sweaters, throws, pillows, etc.

Basically, if it can be knitted, I can make it.

Knitting isn’t just my hobby—it is also my livelihood. (Over the years, I have sold various knitted objects and patterns, and one of my favorite jobs ever was working as a handwork assistant at a Waldorf school were all the students were taught to knit starting in the first grade.)

When people ask me why I knit, I often jokingly reply that it’s because it’s cheaper than therapy. However, I am dead serious when I say this: knitting saved my life.

I turned to it when I was going through what was one of the darkest periods in my life. I had just ended a long-term relationship and was battling severe depression. I was trying everything: therapy, yoga, anti-depressants, but nothing worked—or rather, none of the other things kicked in until I took up knitting.

For years, I had wanted to learn how to knit. My maternal grandmother did amazing needlework. (In fact, when I envision her, I always see her with a crochet hook, embroidery hook, or some other crafting implement in her hands.) She taught me how to do cross stitch, embroidery, and basic crochet at an early age but when it came to knitting, she had no patience.

After two brief, unsuccessful attempts to teach me, she put away my mini plastic knitting needles and ball of hot pink acrylic yarn and gently said, “Maybe you weren’t cut out for this.” She never attempted to teach me again, but the desire to want to know how to knit remained in me.

It came up again when a new therapist suggested I take up knitting as a means to help me relax. (It makes sense. Research has shown that knitting and other needlework releases alpha waves which lead to a sense of relaxation.) At this point I figured why not, took an introductory class at my local yarn shop and was immediately hooked.

Over time, I became very good at it, but the reason that I continued to knit had little to do with that. Rather, I continued for the following reasons:

1. Much like yoga, the finished product didn’t matter nearly so much as the joy I was receiving at the moment.

2. Concentrating on those row of repetitive stitches taught me what really “being in the moment” meant even more than my yoga practice ever did.

3. Knitting forced me to slow down both physically and mentally. (It’s impossible to follow any sort of pattern or directions if you’re mind is traveling at warp speed, which my mind often does.)

4. Making my own clothes and accessories not only allowed me to be made me appreciate the work that went into creating them, but made me stop to think of all those nameless, faceless women who did this for thousands of years before the industrial revolution and probably never got the appreciation they deserved for their talent and labor. (It also made me think about how most clothing is made now. Mass-produced, machine-knitted garments often lack the character and originality that comes with hand knitted items.)

5. Knitting was a way to allow myself to be creative and think outside the box. (I could tweak patterns as I desired. I was not limited by the color choices shown in the sample.)

I noticed that as I gained confidence as a knitter, I was also gaining confidence in other areas of my life as well. I don’t think that was a coincidence either. Deciding to knit a sweater and actually have a wearable, tangible item to show for it fulfilled me in a way like nothing before.

While I sometimes forget many of the mental tasks and accomplishments I have made over the years, I will never forget that sweater which I still have hanging up in my closet. (It’s by no means perfect or the most interesting thing I have ever knitted, but I am still proud of how I accomplished it and remember how it all started out as merely a few balls of yarn and a plan.)

As a teaching assistant, I noticed the same joy and rise in confidence in the children I taught when they proudly showed off their finished objects. They also showed how it was possible for nearly anyone to learn how to knit. Some of the kids I taught had learning challenges like ADHD or other difficulties. Every single one of them learned how to knit, though.

Interestingly, some of the best knitters were those who had learning challenges.

Nowadays, there is a lot of talk about boosting children’s self-esteem and both private and public schools have introduced things like more non-competitive sports and activities, mindfulness classes and yoga. While I applaud these things, I would like to see more schools start knitting/needlework clubs.

While some may roll their eyes and say that there is no way that most kids would want to do this, I disagree. Even outside of the Waldorf school environment, I have found that even high school aged kids of both sexes have shown curiosity and expressed interest when they have seen me knit.

A few weeks ago, I was at a rural, public middle school and many of the sixth graders—including boys in camouflaged hunting shirts—said they wished they knew how to knit.

Also, if my own experience is anything to go on, I think many adults could benefit, too.

While I do not think “yoga is the new knitting” like some do, I do agree with those who say the two are “perfect bedfellows.”

One day, I hope to see as many people carrying knitting needles and yarn as I do carrying yoga mats.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise




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