There are many different reasons that people choose to pick up knitting needles and make something. Some people long to create, some need something to do while they're trying to quit smoking, some want to make expressions of love for the people they care about.
Bernadette Murphy sees that there is often a spiritual component to why people knit, or something about knitting that allows people to feel more in tune with the spiritual world. She tries to explain this in her book Zen and the Art of Knitting: Exploring the Links Between Knitting, Spirituality, and Creativity.
Knitting for Creativity
Murphy is an essayist, book critic and fiction writer as well as a longtime knitter, and she has a lot of the same observations about how knitting and writing go together that I've often had myself.
Something comforting, magical, and other-worldly happens when I knit. My hand tell me that I'm being active, that I'm not wasting time just staring out a window. I don't consciously think about the writing challenges I'm facing; rather, subterranean forces do what must be done to work out the issue. Usually, the benefit is when I become centered enough to rephrase the question or to sit quietly with the not-knowing. The process doesn't always work as quickly as I'd like, but it always works.
I think this experience of coming up with just the right answer for a writing dilemma is able to happen because knitting isn't about words and it isn't about your head. Instead, it's all about your hands and creating something visual, which gives that word-centered portion of the brain a little break.
Even if you're not a writer you may find that knitting helps you solve problems in other areas of your life even when you're not actively thinking about them. It's almost like asking yourself a question before you go to sleep and waking up with the answer -- knitting allows you to tap the subconscious in a way that's not normally available in our busy lives.
Knitting as Meditation
There are people of different faiths represented in Murphy's discussion of knitting and spirituality, and most people she asked seemed to see a spiritual connection with their craft.
Again this may have to do with the clearing of the mind and the type of focus that knitting requires; it becomes a sort of meditation that can break you out of your normal routine and connect you with something other than yourself. You might see that something as all the knitters who have formed a stitch before you, nature or God or something else entirely, but according to Murphy many knitters experience this opening up when they knit.
This is what my knitting tells me: that I have faith in tomorrow. That we are all joined together. That each stitch is vital to hold the garment together, just as each person is vital to this world.
Knitters can even use their craft as a form of prayer, as when they think about the person they are knitting for and send hope and healing to that person in the knit article.
The Knitting Experience
The book includes stories from lots of knitters who share what knitting means to them and how they use stitching to connect with other people and the world around them. There's talk of knitting for charity, knitting to heal yourself, knitting as part of the educational experience (as at the Waldorf Schools, where kids learn to knit before they learn to read) and much more.
The stories are heart warming and inspirational, reminding us why we knit and what it means to be a knitter in a world of modern conveniences and mass-produced everything.
The book was written in 2002, so it has a meditation on knitting after September 11, 2001. Some of the discussion about celebrities knitting and knitting as a fad feel a little dated at this point, but otherwise the book is still quite relevant to the lives and experiences of knitters today.
You can simply read through the book and enjoy the stories, or you can work through the project ideas at the end of each chapter (there's also a pattern for a basic circular-knit pullover in the back) to deepen your experience.
Either way this is a fun little book that will connect you to the world of knitters past and present and perhaps get you thinking about your knitting in a deeper way than just making something out of string with sticks.
Publication date: September 2002.