I’ve been spending more hours than I should knitting since life wound down for the holidays. I’ve had two nearly completed projects to motivate me and the prospect of planning something new very soon. Staying with family I am goaded into giving a justification for my compulsive behaviour to those who see only a monstrous, frustrating task.
Often, when knitting, I am sat on a sofa in front of the television – partly to keep the mind busy while ploughing through long sections of stocking stitch and partly to at least have achieved something productive through all those dead hours of screen gazing. However, during this season there can be such a glut of tv that the point comes when you absolutely cannot watch another thing. So after plundering the catch-up, the dvd shelf and even the archival vhs shelves of early 90s children’s drama I find myself – just knitting.
Turning one’s mind to the rhythm of one stitch after another, there is a calm, steady physicality waiting. The pace and ease of the repeated movement is much like walking and choosing to align one’s breathing in step with every second or third stitch can achieve a profound meditative effect.
This therapeutic effect is increasingly becoming the subject of studies in pain management and anxiety or compulsion disorders, as Betsan Corkhill has been working to co-ordinate via Stitchlinks – a hub for those researching and deploying crafts as a therapeutic tool. Their first conference last year shows the rich variety and potential for work in this area – and also the problems health care professionals and researchers foresee regarding the public perception of knitting. The necessity of couching investigation in reductive scientific language rather than presenting, as felt, the effects well known for those who have extensive experience in this area is unsurprising but, joined with the recognition of an instinctive societal belittling of women’s handiwork, one is alert to the power dynamics alive in seeking endorsement and asserting expertise. Also considered was the unwelcome potential for dissipating therapeutic effects once they are re-situated within the institutional frameworks already failing to cultivate the wellbeing of those in their care. The minefields of modern therapy aside, I find their achievements to date most inspiring and plan to upload my knitting story on the website very soon.
Beyond the immediate embodied experience of balancing yarn and loops there are thoughts to be thunk. A single stitch is a strange place to occupy when you have a fully attentive mind. Pausing with the needle inside the next stitch: the undifferentiated skein is tucked under one hopping loop at a time, cutting it up into individual entities which can’t exist on their own. The time bound movement is isolated but keeping count of the stitches themselves is a funny business. A loop on its own isn’t even a loop. So their time of birth is an essential part of their individuation. To look at the individual stitch in its sea of a garment is to look at time parceled up into the smallest moments of endeavour. And to look at the next individual stitch in the unfinished garment is to see into the future but a future pulled into being by this tiny effortless incremental perpetuity.
We can view things differently of course. And to look at this:
in comparison with this:
without desiring every momentary stitch that lies between, you can understand why the tiny meditative movement I love could metamorphose into something monstrous.
But this is at the heart of knitting and its lesson for us all. Its not about ‘spending’ time or producing a superior garment and certainly not a cheaper garment. Its about being and doing differently. Loving every stitch. Turning an endless stretch of time and material into something interconnected – a structured whole. Not breaking it down into manageable tasks but multiplying it into an inexhaustible plenitude. There are heights of course, such as the sharpest disappearing points of each ‘wisteria’ branch:
but a cable stitch is still just another stitch. This knit stitch is just another knit stitch but begun differently and from a special place in the growing garment. The cable draws its significance from (and depends on for its very existence) those individual knit stitches taken in the right way at their time.
I’m sat typing this in my newly finished jumper. It keeps me warm as the rain pounds against the window of my poorly insulated and empty flat and it scratches softly and insistently at my neck. But looking at a single stitch I can contemplate the months made up of moments – many of them blurred over with bad telly and scrambling back to food or a nuzzling cat. I can vividly remember The Boy reading aloud the escape from the wood elves as I completed the second sleeve. And then, expanding into infinity, the breath taken in with perhaps this stitch and out with the next.