Mindful Knitting: Inviting Contemplative Practice to the Craft by Tara Jon Manning aims to help knitters become more meditative in their knitting practice by making them mindful of forming each stitch and passing positive emotions into the work as they knit.
Manning is a "dharma brat," raised by Buddhists and a Buddhist herself, who is also a knitwear designer. She combines these two passions in a book that is thoughtful and useful as a brief introduction to the philosophy for knitters (and other crafters, for that matter).
Learning to Meditate
Mindful Knitting is more for knitters who want to learn how to meditate than it is for people who meditate but want to learn how to knit. Meditators who are new to knitting might find it useful as a way to integrate the two practices, but it works much better as a guide to mindfulness for knitters.
The book begins with basic information about meditation and mindfulness that isn't directly tied back to knitting. This is helpful for people who've never meditated before and includes information like tips on creating a space for meditation, posture and the basics of how to actually go about meditating. But it is a little jarring to pick up a book you think is about knitting and mindfulness and have the first section not really address knitting at all.
Later chapters get into how to use mindfulness in your knitting practice and how to use knitting as a meditation. Manning recommends knitting very slowly, using exaggerated movements if necessary, when beginning to learn how to knit more mindfully. She calls it "contemplative focus," the ability to really pay attention to the knitting, the feel of the yarn slipping through our fingers, the kind thoughts we want to send to the recipient of the finished product (even if that person is us).
"This quality of deliberate focus -- also referred to as bare attention -- can be thought of as an intense form of paying attention. This is a wonderful metaphor for knitting. As we knit, on some level, we relate exactly to the precision of what our hands are doing. For the new knitter this attention is indeed deliberate, as you slowly and carefully try to make each stitch...As you become more proficient in your knitting skills these motions become automatic, drawing attention to the next level. You can start to incorporate a wider perspective, including the drape of the fabric you are making, the interaction of the colors and textures within the yarn, and the essence of what or for whom you are knitting."
Each chapter of the book goes a little deeper into how a knitter might work with mindfulness and incorporate mediation into her craft time. Each one includes a sort of meditation lesson as well as a knitting pattern -- for a Garter Stitch scarf, washcloths, a blanket, hats and a cardigan -- to use to practice the techniques of both meditation and knitting.
More projects in the back of the book include a tea cozy with built-in aromatherapy sachets,a lacy scarf, a cabled cardigan, a silk purse and a layette for baby made up of a sweater, hat and blanket all knit in organic cotton.
The book emphasizes giving these projects as gifts or to charity, and includes a few ideas for charities that might accept your finished knit items.
But whether you're knitting for yourself or someone else, you can still infuse your knitting with the good feelings you cultivate by being mindful of what you are doing and in the moment while you are knitting. This is a big difference from the way a lot of us knit -- often in front of the television or while impatiently waiting for an appointment to begin.
Even if you don't want to start meditating, you may find after reading this book that you think a little more about the attitude you bring to your knitting and how those emotions might pass from you through the work into the person who is receiving the finished project. Manning says that difficulties in your knitting are often a metaphor or extension of some problem in your wider life, so it pays to pay attention to what your knitting is trying to tell you.
Mindful Knitting is also sprinkled with tips that can help improve your knitting if you're a newer knitter, and it has a glossary of knitting terms (which includes some technique instructions) and a glossary of Buddhist/meditation terms for the uninitiated. There's an ample bibliography for knitters who want to learn more about bringing this Eastern tradition into their lives.
This book provides a nice overview of mindfulness and meditation for knitters who won't be put off by a little metaphysics. The patterns are relatively simple, but that's the point -- you're supposed to be focused on the movement, the act of knitting and what it means, rather than on the complexities of the particular pattern before you.
Publication date: June 2004