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Knitting for Sanity

I am a Russian Orthodox Christian, freelance writer and photographer from West Virginia. I have a B.A. in Philosophy and Fine Art from ETSU.


Are you insane? How would you know if you were?

My grip on reality feels slippery more often than not. I have various ways of getting a grip on it when this happens. God helps me in a number of ways. He gave me the ability to teach myself crafts of all sorts, and the one that has always given me the most peace has been knitting.

The Philosophy of Knitting as Art

Knitting is soothing and centering in many ways and for many reasons. In the past, knitting was primarily something done out of necessity, but today you can buy a sweater at Wal-Mart for less than it would cost to buy the yarn to make it yourself. Unlike many modern marvels however, machine knitting has never fully replaced the handcraft itself, and I think I know why.

We are both physical and spiritual beings, and one of these aspects being out of balance with the other is uncomfortable to say the least. I think many mental disorders have as their root cause or trigger an imbalance in one’s spiritual and physical realities. Knitting serves as a perfect counterweight to my tendency to retreat from the world into my own head because it requires the full participation of my whole self.

Humans love to touch things, and knitting gives us the sensation of both exotic and common fibers of all sorts. Humans love things that are visually beautiful, and knitting gives us the beauty of form and color. People thrive on patterns and repetition, and knitting utilizes both. Our complex brains crave simplicity, and knitting gives us the simplicity of one stitch that can be combined with its reverse to create an endless array of different visual effects. In short, knitting soothes us on many levels.

Humans also like the feeling of being part of a group while remaining an individual at the same time. Knitting satisfies this as well. Many people enjoy meeting in person or interacting with online communities of fellow knitters. No two projects are ever the same, and sharing your ideas with people who really understand and get excited can be quite intoxicating.

I have found that having something I can hold and focus on while talking with people helps me overcome my introverted tendencies in an easier and more natural way. If I bring my knitting with me to social functions, meetings, waiting rooms etc., I find it gives me both a buffer between myself and others and a means to interact with them when I might otherwise not have spoken to them at all. Its not that I am intentionally rude, its just my nature to stay by myself where I am most comfortable. I still need human interaction despite my introverted nature, so knitting helps me be by myself while connecting with others.

If you can knit your own socks, you can do anything!

The one goal that kept me going when I was teaching myself to knit was making my own socks. I felt that if you could make your own socks, there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do. I was only about 16 years old when I taught myself to knit using books I checked out of the library, and it was so frustrating at first that I nearly gave it up. I wanted to be able to make socks so badly that I kept trying, and then one day the light came on and its been great ever since. I can make my own socks now, and it is truly a great feeling of accomplishment when you slip your feet into them for the first time.

Something that is also therapeutic about knitting is the individual freedom you have to follow a pattern exactly, change it to better suit you, or make up one of your own. At the least, most knitters use a different yarn than that used by the designer of a pattern, or the same yarn in a more flattering color. You are not likely to ever run into anyone wearing the same thing as you because the variations on even the same pattern are endless.

In time as you gain confidence in the craft, you can just start making something from memory or make it up as you go. The knit patterns possible are endless, but when you start doing color work, you really get an infinite variety of possibilities. Using graph paper and colored pencils, you can create patterns to incorporate into anything you make, making them totally customized for you. You certainly won’t ever get that experience from a machine knit sweater purchased at a store, even a very expensive one.

A Blast From The Past

My current project is a calf-length sweater-coat from the 1977 edition of the Ladies Home Journal book of Knitting. My husband pointed out that if I were to purchase something like it, it would cost a fortune. Big yarn and big needles are popular today for a number of reasons. I think part of it is people nowadays are used to getting things almost instantly, making them too impatient to spend months making a single item. People today also have less time to devote to hobbies, but in 1977 people were making more money (adjusted for inflation) and working fewer hours on average than we do today, and most households needed only one person to support the family. As a result, the patterns popular then are more intricate and the gauges much smaller than they tend to be now. The pattern I am following has a gauge of 6 stitches per inch and 8 rows per inch, which is very time consuming, but the end result will be a totally unique piece of wearable art that is truly priceless.

This brings up another centering aspect of knitting. You can follow any pattern and make anything you want, even something medieval. This gives you a sense of continuity and belonging to generations of knitters past. Instead of visiting the past in museums or books, you can hold history in your hands, give it new life and share an experience with people who may have lived hundreds of years ago. This is more powerful than I have words to express.

Can you knit your way to sanity?

Maybe, but different things appeal to different people. I think knitting has all the elements necessary to get our minds back into shape if we have become a bit unraveled. It’s relatively simple to learn but the variety of projects are endless, which helps eliminate the possibility you could ever get bored with it. If you have a slippery grip on reality, or just need a bit of peace and balance in your life, give knitting a try. It could be just the thing you have been looking for.

Check out my knitting blog at: www.knitting-peace.com

© 2021 Makrina Garland


Puji hartono from Indonesia on July 26, 2021:


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