Do you think that knitting is one of those obscure, old-fashioned activities that only old women do in their church basements or Senior Centres? Think again. With many new yarns that are environmentally responsible, and exciting patterns, colours and textures, people of all ages and both genders are falling in love with and learning to knit. Fibre art is in.
And it seems there are health benefits also. A recent worldwide study of 3,500 knitters provided some surprising results. Whether new or experienced in this craft, over 80% said that after each knitting session, they felt calmer, less stressed and felt a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
For many, the activity creates a space where problems take on a different perspective, and new resolutions revealed. Another study – on young women suffering from eating disorders, showed a marked and positive change and a speedier recovery by those engaged in knitting.
However, for others there are deeper benefits. Knitting can be viewed as a spiritual practice. “Just think about it – you can have this really calming, centering experience while making something beautiful at the same time,” said one young woman at the knitting store I frequent.
So what was it that our grandmothers knew that we are just beginning to learn? Taking time out – whether for five minutes or much more during a busy day – enables one to be quiet and to readjust thought. And, it’s good for us to come together with others, share ideas and create something that’s beautiful and useful. But, it’s really more about what we’re thinking during that quiet time. It is an opportunity to feel close to the divine.
It is no accident that the ancient scriptural writings in both the Talmud and the Bible reference the making of garments as an act of love. But also revealing, is a prayer that the apostle Paul made – that we may all be “knit together in love.”
He felt this because he saw everyone, regardless of creed or race, as children of one God.
The modern adaptation of the Jewish prayer shawl is an interesting example of how an idea can embrace so many. In the Jewish faith it is worn by men, but the updated version is not tied to a particular religion. The shawls, knitted or crocheted, are made for anyone who is going through a hard time, so that they feel enfolded in loving thoughts and prayers.
Suffering from migraines, one woman shared how she felt when she received a shawl from a church knitting group. “I felt the fear and pain melt when they gave me a prayer shawl one of them had made. I felt loved.” Clearly, receiving this gift had touched her so deeply it impacted not only her thinking, but also her health. I couldn’t help but think also about the individual who knitted it. In a real sense they were knit together “in love,” and it brought this woman freedom from pain.
English fibre artist and modern knitting pioneer Rachel Matthews understands this aspect of her craft. She recognizes the importance of spiritual qualities in the creative process. While staying with her recently, I asked her what she loves most about knitting, she answered:
“What I love most… is that you can express love through knitting. The application of love through this craft is endless because it is portable and so applicable.”
Watching her get up early one morning just to knit up a tie for her boyfriend before he attended a challenging event, illustrated for me just what she meant. Every item Matthews makes comes from a deep spiritual love for others and for the art. It shows in her work, whether it is a simple garment, a beautiful fibre art picture or a challenging 3D art form.
In a fast paced world where we expect everything to progress within a one hour TV time slot or from an instant message, activities like knitting illustrate that a deliberate, slower pace can refocus and renew our spiritual connectedness with the divine and therefore with one another.