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Knitting: good for the soul


My current project.

In my post on "The Mythology of Normal," I pointed out that my life has been a bit on the chaotic side lately. In all the chaos, I've realized that knitting has this almost magical way of restoring my mental order after a crazy day.


If it's to the point where I feel my blood pressure going up into a brain fog of exhaustion and over-stimulation, and I try to prescribe myself 30 minutes of knitting and a cup of tea. Just sit and knit for half an hour, and I feel my blood pressure dropping and my head clearing. When the tea is empty and I am admiring a few more rows added to my project, I feel like I'm ready to get up and tackle whatever is next in the day.


Lately, I've been trying to ponder what it is about knitting that's so therapeutic. I know I'm not the only person who's thought this. Elizabeth Zimmermann, who could be considered the Godmother of American Knitting, once said:


“Properly practiced, knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn't hurt the untroubled spirit either.”


Here's some reasons why I think knitting is so effective for "soothing the troubled spirit:"


It appeals to the deepest needs of the human condition.

Well, I'm starting big, huh? But here's my rationale. In the book Futureville, Skye Jethani wrote about how before the Fall of Mankind, the Garden of Eden was supposed to be a place of "beauty, order, and abundance." After mankind rebelled from their Creator and severed its pure and perfect relationship with God, the need to fulfill those three areas hasn't gone away.


Maybe this is a stretch philosophically, but knitting, "properly practiced," fills all three.


By nature, knitting is orderly. Patterns are often mathematical (Zimmermann's Pi Shawl is literal evidence of this - the pattern is based around the formula for pi.), and as the stitches line up in an orderly, predictable fashion from a ball of yarn, the object that the knitter desires to create emerges. If anything can be a metaphor for the human desire to bring order to the messiness of the world, it's the fact that we can shave a sheep and end up with a sweater.


And if we do it right, beauty comes from the orderly process of shaving the sheep, cleaning and spinning the wool, and then knitting it into whatever project we desire. The more orderly the pattern, the more beautiful it turns out to be.


Finally, knitting is a way to add to abundance to the world. Sometimes knitters just create something pretty for beauty's sake alone, but more often, we're an industrial bunch, busting out hats and socks and sweaters and blankets. Things that keep people warm and bring comfort are our specialty.


So there we have it. Knitting is the very picture of beauty, order, and abundance.

My husband's Grandma gave us this handknit afghan for our wedding 15 years ago. It's still on our bed.

Knitting has a gentle learning curve.

It doesn't take long to get to the "properly practiced" stage of being a knitter. I'm the first to admit the initial stages of learning a new skill, any new skill, can be frustrating, but it's easy to start small with knitting - finding success with a washcloth or baby blanket, and then testing new skills as your comfort level and confidence increases. A washcloth isn't far from a blanket, and once you learn increases and decreases, you can make a hat or sweater. Patterns may start out looking like a secret code, but gradually, with a good reference source, abbreviations and charts mentally translate to stitches, and all becomes clear. However, and this is leads to my second point, if a project becomes too frustrating:


Knitting is a forgiving craft.

A term for tearing out a knitting project and starting over is "frogging." At first, I felt like "frogging" all that hard work was incredibly frustrating, feeling annoyed at the time lost for those rows that I messed up. However, as I grow as a knitter, I've become more comfortable with just ripping out rows and starting over when I mess up. Because once I've started over and gotten it right, I am more satisfied with my end product.


Unlike other hobbies where you only get one shot with the materials - such as ingredients for baking, or the mantra "measure twice cut once" for sewing or woodworking, the yarn isn't spoiled if you make a mistake or decide to scrap a project and start completely over. Your mistake can be rolled back up into a ball and into something new as many times as you need it to. Your try at homemade bread may end up in the garbage can or you may have cut your quilt pieces all wrong, but your yarn will always be ready for another go.


Knitting is tangible and sensory.

In a world where so much is on screens, so much is "flat" and so much is handed to us in plastic bags, I'm starting to wonder if sensory deprivation is a first world crisis. In knitting, I just sit there, work with my hands with yarn I can feel, and making my brain work in a way that makes the yarn do what I want it to. A 3-D object comes off the needles. That object has color, texture, and weight. If it's a blanket, it'll start to warm my body as it gets big enough to cover my legs. If it's for a baby, the soft yarn goes through my hands and I can say a prayer for the child that will be wrapped in it. If it's for a friend, I can think about the friend and their personality and needs, and consider how I can craft a gift exclusively for them to use in a tangible way. I don't have the science that it feeds some neglected part of my brain, but I have a hunch it does.


Knitting is my own.

In the chaos around my life, knitting gives me a sense of control over at least one area. Even if a project doesn't turn out exactly as I hoped, I can still knit on my own time, my own way, and it's my own creations. I can choose my patterns and my yarns based on what I like, or what I think someone else will like. It's like my own orderly little escape from the craziness of life.


A dear friend made me this clutch for a special event. It was a crazy time of my life, and on top of everything, I was scrambling together formal wear. Amidst the chaos, I was describing to her the type of purse I wanted to make - if I had the time. She took the yarn I already bought, and came back with this beautiful gift. Also, this gives me a chance to acknowledge crochet in my tribute to yarn craft.

So...friends who knit (or crochet!) - What do you think about the role of knitting in your overall mental state? Comment below!

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