Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mindful Knitting

I learned to knit when I was about four and a half. I didn't get good at it till later, of course, but I remember being in school and, tongue sticking out, trying to get the wool around the needles and pull it through the loop to make a stitch. It felt like a huge achievement every time I managed it. I remember the classroom, with it's small children's chairs and tables, the pale wood of the floor, polished to a high shine, the smell of the lino in the hallway and the rustle of the nun's habit as she glided, seemingly on wheels, between the tables, to see how we were doing.  I was inordinately proud of myself that day and raced home to my mother to tell her what I had accomplished.  For some reason, it came easily to me and I turned into the knitter in the family.

I knitted jumpers for everyone I knew. I crocheted 'cloche' hats with flowers on the side which I wore over my long curly hair. I made them for my sisters and friends. I knitted egg cozys and mittens, on four needles; socks; baby clothes; anything and everything.  I have knitted countless sweaters for husbands, boyfriends and lovers.

For many years I didn't knit because I had a job that meant I was traveling all the time.  I was usually too tired to do anything at the end of the day but read a bit and sleep so all my crafts went by the wayside.  I missed it.
From Rowan Yarns

When I came back to Ireland, my sister called me in a panic one day because her daughter was knitting something for the first time and my sister couldn't remember how to cast off. She said 'I'll be the worst mother in the world if I don't do this for her!'  I was about to open my mouth to tell her what to do when I realised I couldn't remember myself! 

It made me realise, though, how much I missed knitting and so I took it up again.  I became a wool acquisitor. Everywhere I went I bought skeins or balls of wall, whether or not I had a pattern for it. I found gorgeous red cashmere skeins in Venice.  I bought patterns, books and wool in Amsterdam in a little shop I found called De Afstap.  I haunted that place.  I had a growing pile of wool but was traveling so much I rarely had time to actually knit anything and, when I did, it usually took months of picking it up and putting it down. I ended up with boxes of non-started or half-started projects.

Flash forward a few more years and my collection of yarns has traveled with me from country to country and at last I am in a place, both physically and figuratively, where I can knit. I share a house with my wonderful friend, Hazel, and her two amazing daughters, Ishthara and Kashmira,  Hazel is a knitter too and we oohed and aahed over each other's collections of wool and patterns.  

I had had a pattern and yarn for a small handbag in cable knitting, that I had got as part of a free gift from Rowan International and had stared at it many times wondering how to do it. I had never tried cable as it always seemed an insurmountable learning curve.  One day, I just decided to get cable needles and give it a go. I found it was easier than I thought but that I really had to focus on the pattern to get it right. The bag was knitted, I was very proud of it, despite the, to me, obvious mistakes in it.  So I decided to knit it again in a different colour. (Remember, I have mountains of yarns to use!).  

At the same time, I had discovered the joys of audio books and was listening to Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I realised that listening to the book and knitting would be a great combination so, every evening, I retired to my room, set up my PC on my bed with headphones and got my knitting out.

To my surprise, I realised that my knitting improved dramatically!  I had always had  loose tension when knitting and usually had to go down a size in needles to accommodate this as otherwise whatever I was knitting came out too big or loose.  I also often made mistakes and had a few stitches that were bigger or smaller than the others, or I dropped a stitch without noticing.  

Knitting listening to my book, I concentrated on every stitch I made and was able to watch everything I did.  I had always knitted in front of the television and, of course, you are then either not watching the knitting or not watching the TV.  Now, I was watching everything and listening at the same time. 
See the difference in the size?

The first cable bag was made watching television. The second listening to my book.  The difference between the two bags is the difference between doing something mindlessly or mindfully. After more than 40 years of knitting (with a hiatus for travel), I had found the secret to making my knitting sing.

Not only did the second bag come out smaller, tighter and better knitted, I had a sense of accomplishment that I had missed for a long time.  I felt elated at this discovery. I noticed that by knitting mindfully I was also able to knit it in two sittings.  I noticed that when I was knitting I felt like I thought my mother felt when she knitted for us. I felt she was with me, inside me, moving my hands and saying 'See, darling, how good you can be when you put your mind to it'.
See how much looser this is to the one below?

Now, I am going through my box of yarns and patterns, wading my way through the Outlander series on audio books (all 300+ hours of it) and finishing all the half started or never started projects I've dragged all over the world with me.

What have you always wished you had accomplished?


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