Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Knit one, purl one, breathe…repeat

My grandmother was a champion knitter. Two of her handmade sweaters still sit in my closet, 38 years after her passing. One is a pullover she made for my late father when he was a teenager. The other, with a repeating diamond pattern of sequins, she made for me.

Wherever she went, she brought in-the-works projects. Sweater sleeves. Yarn balls. All sizes of knitting needles.

I would watch her click-clacking away, passing the hours, the days. She would wrap skeins of yarn around my outstretched hands, so she could untwist and wind them into more usable balls. She even let me knit a few stitches of her projects, under her close supervision. Back then, it was a passing interest for me. I don’t remember ever knitting anything myself.

Now I often find myself thinking of knitting. Maybe it’s because I am dog-tired of spending so much time in front of screens (computer, iPhone, Kindle, TV). Maybe it’s because I find knitting almost as calming as meditation.

On my last visit to my mother’s apartment, I tapped her stash of knitting needles and yarn. At first, she kept pressing me about what I wanted to knit. This would determine the size of knitting needle and the particular yarn. She didn’t quite get that I wasn’t looking to knit anything specific—I just wanted to knit. To practice the activity, not achieve an outcome.

I then tapped the great educator that is the internet, searching for knitting lessons. I quickly discovered there are two styles of knitting: English-style and Continental-style, which is what my grandmother taught me. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind came memories of how she cast on stitches, held the yarn, fixed a dropped stitch, and worked her knit and purl stitches.

The last thing I tapped were those memories, as I picked up a set of knitting needles and began. The process was soothing and peaceful. I could feel when I was doing something right and see when I made mistakes—which were many. It didn’t matter because the only point was to knit.

I would get to a certain point, then rip out all the stitches and start over. The ripping out was just as relaxing as the knitting, because all it took was one pull to make everything unravel.

It feels very Zen to knit, even—or especially—without knitting some thing. To knit is to be present, to stay in the moment, to let go of distraction. It’s a kind of woolly meditation, one with its own texture, sound, and rhythm.

Just knit one, purl one, breathe…repeat.

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