Knitting Zen

A friend phoned me the other day and we talked about how we were both coping with our various issues and troubles and woes. Sometimes it’s good to talk about them instead of just being brave. Sometimes you need to look those little scamps right in the eye and call them out for being what they are.

As we talked she told me about how she was starting to do more creative activities as a way of coping with the stresses and strains of living. Given that I have been adopting this strategy myself over the past few months, it was a conversation close to my heart.

Sometimes it seems those stresses and strains just need to be sung to sleep with a lullaby, or painted into a corner, or sewn into a pocket. You can’t let them run around creating havoc. You need to create a space to hold them, through music or art or cooking or whatever you feel is right.

It emerged she had taken her needles back up and was knitting and purling her way to equilibrium.

“It’s like meditation,” I said.

“Exactly!” she replied.

My dears, that is indeed what it is like, as I have said before, and probably will again. It’s my Great Discovery. You count and focus and keep present in the moment, otherwise your knit becomes purl and your increase a decreases and your cable in back a cable in front, and before you know it your lovely new cushion cover has turned into a beret.

As I pondered our conversation later, in the small hours of the night, I became a little fanciful. That’s what the small hours are for, I think, a chance to let our imagination gambol for a while before the everyday world requires a halt in chaos, and demands sensible behaviour.

It seemed to me that we are the stitches of a greater whole, fitting into the warp and weft of the Goddess’ Great Project, not a tapestry but maybe a sweater for Christmas. Perhaps I am a little stitch or even an absence of stitch, an artfully placed hole in the lacy bit, so to speak. Some of us may be a little knot in the yarn; we try to keep the knots at the back of the work, but sometimes they insist on poking through and creating a stubbly disruption in the pattern, for better or worse. If Shakespeare had known more about the mechanics of knitting I’m certain there would be a good quote from him for just such an occasion. Sadly you are left with me.

I’m glad my friend is finding solace before the needles. She is far more creative than I am, and has already made socks. I countered with a cabled jacket, and raised her a knitted Dalek, and then we moved on to designs for knitted covers: gadgets, teapots and sundry small storage containers. She will no doubt create amazing patterns while I continue my love affair with fair isle and further my plans for a Sarah Lund jumper before the next millennium. (Of which there may be more in due course, should you care.)

I think I have discovered that great as these hobbies are, and calming as they may be for the fractious brain, having someone who shares them to talk to is even greater.

Think then on this; it can be your homework for the day. Answers below in comments please.

If I drop a stitch when no one is there, does my cry make a noise as it falls?


Slow Killing, Slow Creation

The thing about knitting is that it is a form of meditation. Seriously, it is. When you are following a chart to create a swirl of colour and/or texture, you can be nothing other than present in the moment. I admit plain knitting is more of a background activity for the hands while letting the brain decay gently in front of the television, or turning attention to a conversation with friends. I am talking about something a little more engaging, required to produce more than plan stocking or garter stitch.  Something like this for example:

scandinavian yoke sweater

The other thing about knitting that people don’t always realise is that it is 3D maths in action. This is particularly obvious when trying to adapt a pattern to cater for different charts in, say, a fair isle or Scandinavian style.

Today I have been doing battle, in a peaceful way of course, with the pattern known as “The Sarah Lund’s jumper”.  The problem is that although the intention in Forbrydelsen, the original series, was to give her a home-made jumper, in the real world of corporate and commercial opportunity, the designers are quite rightly protective of the design. However, £230 for a jumper is a bit steep and as I can knit, and coincidentally have eyes for seeing and a brain for counting, I want to make my own.

The design itself is simple enough, and in fact I have an old fair isle scarf pattern which is basically the same snowflake shape. The pattern is a 15 stitch repeating pattern.

Meanwhile, my knitting patterns for similar jumpers cater for either 20 stitch repeat or 12 stitch repeat, which means I will have to try and adapt them; and the real fun starts when you hit the sections for increasing or decreasing stitches per row. The straight body tube of the main jumper is fine. Get to the yoke / shoulder, and the human body inconveniently slopes. Clearly God is not a knitter. Although She may be a mathematician.

The expert knitters on the knitting forums all dismiss this anxiety with an airy wave of the needles and comments along the lines of “Oh get on with it, EBL, how hard can it be?”

Well, probably not that hard once I have had a go, but I would like it to be right and I am not a quick knitter, so I want to be right first time (to be fair, I always want to be right first time, leading Sigoth to brainwash the Offspringses with the mantra “Mum is always right; even when she’s wrong, she’s right.” It has served us well in retaining familial harmony). For once, instead of rushing in, I have spent the afternoon looking up various patterns and doing long division and counting with all my fingers and toes, until I think I have a pattern I can work with.

In a seemingly unrelated comment, I met a friend in a coffee shop on Saturday and we talked about enhancing our creativity. He is keen to increase his right brain muscle and is working through a programme of activities to help him do so. Being a programmer he is terribly logical and structured, and a little unnerved by the idea of sketching a tree or writing a poem. However, he is making a start, and that is what counts. He is writing stream of consciousness every day, and that made me think of this blog. It’s what I do here – no structure or planning, just dive right in. It started from a challenge to write fifteen minutes a day.

However, then I thought about my other creative outlets, such as knitting, and I realised that what I enjoyed, and found nourishing to my very soulroots, was doing things where I slowed down. Yoga practice, meditation, calligraphy, photography, guitar practice, reading, cooking …all slow me down.

Now, when EBL was a smaller version of herself, back in the heady 1960s, her mother was fond of saying “Never mind dear, you’re built for comfort, not for speed” and it was true. EBL has never been a lean velociraptor of a body. So she makes up for it in her head.

My brain churns along at hyper-speed. My poor hands cannot write fast enough or fingers type quickly enough to keep up with my skittering, dashing, careering thoughtspray. And it is a screen, a barrier, a protective device, a form of extreme sport. I churn and flail and confuse and misdirect everyone around me until they are as muddled and exhausted as I am. When I want to be creative or achieve some kind of quality, either in product or experience, I have to slow down.

Yet I can imagine that some people may stroll casually through the workaday world, and then indulge their productive side by leaping and turning and throwing themselves physically or metaphorically into spinning, buzzing confusion, generating new ideas and thoughts like shining sparks arising from the furnace of creation.

So do you slow down to create or speed up?