Saturday, January 28, 2012

In defense of knitting when times are tough, part four

When I KIP (knit in public), one of the things I most often hear is "I don't have the patience for that." If I am in a less-than-charitable mood, I might say "Then you are precisely the person who should learn to knit!" Because doesn't knitting teach patience? We spend many long hours working--with not often much assurance that the result will be worth all those hours. Not only patience but  interminable optimism are within the skill set of knitters.

What does it mean to travel through life with patience? It means that we're the ones in the doctor's office who are happy when the nurse reports that the doctor has been held up in surgery--as long as we have our knitting. It means that we don't mind getting stuck in traffic--as long as we are truly stopped . . . and have our knitting. It means that we are the ones to wait in line or hold seats for some family event--as long as we have our knitting. It means that we stay calm through the passage of time.

And what does it mean to travel through life with optimism? It means that we will not be deterred by one bad result. It means that we start problem-solving to fix what has gone wrong. It means that we learn from mistakes and know that we are made better by the experience. It means that we will not be defeated!

I cannot think of many skills more essential when the going gets rough.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

In defense of knitting when times are tough, part three

Rudolf  Steiner was a very brilliant man, and if interested you could research to see the width and depth of his involvement in thought and culture of the 19th and early 20th centuries. What he is most known for is his establishment of the Waldorf Schools. And what makes him so very very brilliant is that his curriculum teaches every 6-yr old to knit . . . because he thought it the perfect human activity!
He knew that knitting put us into the right brain where we would be more receptive to new ideas (and what educator doesn't want that?). But he also knew that knitting developed
  • hand-eye coordination
  • spatial relations
  • the math skills of arithmetic, algebra, and geometry.
We probably know about the hand-eye coordination. And we may even know that we are developing spatial relations (as we hold that sock up to see if it will fit). But many of us knitters--women of a particular demograpic--are resistant to the third because we are a little math phobic. Yes, knitting is math--from simple addition and subtraction through multiplication and (if you write your own patterns or adapt existing ones) blazing right on through what we might call "higher" math skills (the stuff we loved to hate in high school).

But here's the deal: if you don't use a part of your brain, it atrophies. Okay, we know that. Some of us might have let our math-brains run a little low . . . and  are not even sure why we ought to care? But here's why we ought to care.There were some scholarly nuns in Pennsylvania who lived a very long time with no evidence of Alzheimers. Because they were scholars, they dedicated their brains to science so we could learn from them. And the results were astonishing! There did have Alzheimers--in pretty much the same proportion of the rest of the population: it just did not manifest!

Because they studied all sorts of things--and kept all parts of their brains alive and firing--when one part of the brain was affected, another healthy, well-developed part of the brain took over the work of the affected part. They did have Alzheimers, just no evidence of it!

If we put Steiner together with the research on nun's brains, it suggests we should knit more, and stuff that is even more challenging than when life is easy! Isn't it obvious that tough times warrant healthy, fully-functioning brains to deal with all that life presents?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

In defense of knitting when times are tough, part two

 When I ask people why they knit, the first thing I usually hear is that they like the "meditative state" they go to. So what's that all about?

Where they go is to the right brain, because activities that are 
  • physically repetitive
  • intellectually undemanding (which knitting isn't always, but perhaps we love it best when it is?)
  • and visually stimulating (although this one is optional)
put us in the right brain.

As we all know, we have two sides of the brain that specialize in different tasks. Here's what they are.

The left brain is the linear-thinking, pattern-recognizing side of the brain which works with the stuff of verbal, logical, analytic thinking. It loves language because it is a familiar, well-used pattern. It looks for clarity and logic in situations full of ambiguity and paradox. It loves rules and regulations because they are familiar patterns that simplify complex situations. It likes to separate things and place them into recognizable pidgeon-holes. This side of the brain holds our judge, our critic, our skeptic, our rule-follower. It does not like what it has not seen before so does not entertain new ideas. And it is very much aware of the passage of time. Much of our lives is dedicated to left-brain activity.

The right brain is the lateral-thinking, anything-is-possible side of the brain which works with the stuff of visual, relational, intuitive thinking. It loves non-verbal communication because it can process much incoming stimuli at once. It welcomes ambiguity and paradox, looking for relationships between things that don't normally go together. It prefers the truth of perception to the truth of rules. It likes everything and everyone to come together and be happy. This side of the brain holds our imagination, says "yes" to the universe, loves to imagine what it has never seen, happily entertains new ideas, and is unfailingly optimistic. It is also unaware of the passage of time. Not much of our lives is dedicated to right-brain activity.

But to the right brain is where our craft takes us--and we love  it. The right brain is a wonderfully positive and--yes--addictive place to which we go when we work with our hands.

Our left brains would like to tell us that this place is lazy, non-productive, and a waste of time. And so we feel guilty when we scrounge for time to knit. But the left brain is wrong!!! The right side of the brain is essential to the survival of humanity and should be regularly exercised and lovingly cherished! It entertains new ideas--and where would we be without those? It feeds the imagination--and where would we be without that? It is unfailingly otimistic--and how would life be without that?

We might well conclude that when times are tough we need the work of the right brain even more than we do when life is a smooth sail. And it is knitting--and acitivities like it--that take us there.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

In defense of knitting when times are tough, part one

I posted this on my website long ago, but now that I have a real blog I am repeating it--and it's nine companions--here.

It's hard not to think about growing economic uncertainty. Whatever the outcome, we will probably face changes that mean examining how we spend. And what will happen when we have fewer dollars to spend on our knitting--this activity that calms, inspires, and sustains us? How do we justify knitting in tough times?

But it does seem that knitting has always been with us through tough times: during the depression; during previous centuries when the concept of disposable income was unheard of for most; during the early days of our country's settlement, when leisure time was equally incomprehensible.

So why has knitting survived? And why must we continue to knit?

I have many more reasons, which I will explore over successive posts. But here's part one.

Knitting clothes us.

When I was young, knitting was cheaper than buying. If I wanted a sweater, I went to the local yarn shop and bought the yarn to make the sweater I wanted. This was the less expensive option. And if I bought a sweater, someone might ask "Why would you buy that when you could knit it?" Good question! Most of what we wore was simple and easily knit.

What happened in the intervening years, as we all know, was globalization. Sweaters became cheap (based upon cheap labour and cheap oil), yarn became expensive (because it could). Knitting became something women with disposable income could afford . . . with little concern as to how the garment fit because she could easily buy what she wore. In the last 50 years, someone might ask "Why are you knitting that when you could buy it?"

What we gained in those years was an appreciation for knitting as process. (A Norwegian woman saw me knitting socks and said "I used to do that: I don't have to do that anymore." She clearly never learned a love for knitting-as-process!) It was a glorious time, and I'll certainly speak about knitting as process in subsequent posts.

But what we lost was knitting for product. Some of us are perceive as having lost the ability to make our garments fit. (A woman I met made The Gray Cardigan from MOTHER-DAUGHTER KNITS and had the following reaction: "What a beautiful sweater! I thought it looked hand knit but then realized it couldn't be because it fits you so well!") And some of us lost the sense of knitting that simply clothed our families. (I also met another woman who said she wanted to knit her son a sweater--so asked what he wanted. His answer was a red crew neck sweater. She said "If you only want a red crew neck sweater, you just go buy one!")

We can, and should, re-gain knitting for product. We should take every pattern-drafting class we can. We should look at our closets--at what we wear often and well--and knit versions of it. We should learn to fit our families. We should re-join women from the depression, from previous centuries, and from our country's birth who clothed themselves and their families.

Our disposable income will go to the knitting of sweaters we will wear. At the same time, we'll stop buying. We might produce 3 garments that we cherish rather than 8 that fill our closet without giving us the same satisfaction.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

last book to bed

I recently put what I describe as my "last book" (which will be launched spring 2013) to bed! For the first time in 15 years, I am not on a book deadline! Yippee!

But that also means housekeeping! Things I have neglected for--let's hope not 15 years--are being attended to (like cleaning out the bathroom cupboards). One of the bigger things was to make my BLOG into a real BLOG (that you could subscribe to)!

In the past, my BLOG was just a document I wrote and posted on my website. But now I have subscribed to (and how easy what THAT?!?!), so people can subscribe. I will eventually transfer all those old posts. But you may always visit my lots of free patterns, an offer of free knitters' graph paper, knitting tips, my schedule, etc. Hope to see you there, hope to see you here, hope to see you somewhere!

PS The subject of the book is pattern drafting. I am very excited about it: it's wonderfully comprehensive, and it's probably the material I love to teach most.

Some call this work "design," but there is a difference. Design is finding the vision of the garment you want to make: drafting is turning the vision into a garment.

My first suggestion to anyone approaching this material is to
  • go to your closet
  • find something you love that you did not knit
  • use the material of the book to measure, draft, knit it!
This way we create something we will wear and love! And we will honour our craft by doing so.