We hear a lot these days about the therapeutic benefits of knitting. Amongst other things it’s claimed that knitting can lower blood pressure, reduce depression and anxiety, slow the onset of dementia, even be a distraction from chronic pain and reduce loneliness and isolation.
But I’ve got to level with you. It’s not always like that.
When Elizabeth Zimmerman wrote her famous line about how knitting could calm the troubled spirit, I suspect it wasn’t after helping a knitter whose 12 stitch lace repeat had gone wrong on their 387 stitch row for the 5th time, or on the 4th attempt at guiding a knitter through their 3-row button hole that involves 5 different techniques which needed re-reading and video tutorialing 3 times, or in the course of making sense of short row shaping that references turning after one of 3 different stitch markers.
In thinking about all of this, I’m put in mind of the Beginner Class student whose hands were stubbornly resisting the in-round-through-off routine when she cautiously asked, ‘When do we get to the mindful bit?’.
And the answer is: You will. I promise you will. Elizabeth Zimmerman knew what she was talking about.
You’ll know when you’ve got there because you’ll feel it. It’s about tuning into the stitches and seeing the repeats appear in a way that make sense. When you wrap the yarn and pull it through, the stitch that comes out will feel right and fit in the fabric that you’re making. You’ll know to lean your increase left beause that’s the side of the raglan you’re on, and you’ll feelwhich way it’s got to lean. The shapes of the lace stitches below will let you know if they want a K2tog or an SSK to continue their curvey lines around the holes from the rows below
You’ll know when you’ve got to the mindful bit because it’s like the needles are taking your fingers along the row instead of the written pattern. The pattern is showing you the road ahead and it’s important that you read it carefully – but beware of holding onto it with a white-knuckle like grip. Take a deep breath and step back. Knitting, just like those woods that get obscured by the trees, is inclined to get overwhelmed by instructions. If you’re feeling like the mindful bit eludes you, my advice is to put the knitting down (with stitches carefully pushed down away from the needle tips), go and make a cup of tea, drink it, then come back and look at the fabric again. Stroke it out and see what the pattern is trying to do. Your stitches make sense when they come together in the fabric. And when your knitting understands its place in that bigger picture, that’s when you’ll feel it working.
The mindful bit is there in the fabric to come and when you get there, you’ll see that it sort of works with the rest of life too.