When I was a child, I was known as a day-dreamer. I spent most of my time wrapped up in a fantasy world, often with my head in a book, but just as often not. I could spend many hours happily in my own company, and rarely felt lonely. I took up handicrafts very early, in the beginning mostly embroidery, needlepoint, weaving, macrame, and ceramics, later mostly knitting.
I know that I enjoy the creative aspects of craft; it fills up a very important place in my psyche. But from a very early age I was also aware of the peaceful aspects of handicrafts, especially ones with repetitive motions, like knitting. I liked being in my head while engaging in the creative process. It is restorative, like meditation or yoga. Looking back on it now, I think that maybe there was more to it: being in your head makes people uncomfortable. The saying “idle hands make idle minds” may not be said all that often anymore but I think it invaded much of the philosophy of child-rearing when I was young. If I was caught day-dreaming, that was bad – it showed me to be a dreamer (and not in a good way). If I was caught knitting, regardless of the fact that I was just as much in my head, I was seen to be industrious and creative.
This reminds me of a story my husband tells. As a young man he worked in a paper mill in the summer. As he tells it, if you took a break to smoke a cigarette, this was acceptable. You could stand by yourself and have ten minutes of peace. If you tried to take a ten minute break without a cigarette in your hand, you were seen as being idle and were told to get back to work. It didn’t take long, Doug says, until the whole crew took up smoking.
This “being in your head” is not idle – some of it involves elements of fantasy, while it also encompasses thinking about philosophy, history, politics, fashion, books you’ve read, problems you are trying to sort out, designs you are creating, people who you know or would like to know, paths you want to follow. I find this space both peaceful and invigorating. I also find it necessary. It rejuvenates me.
Knitting, therefore, has many different functions for me. It is a creative outlet, it produces beautiful items, it allows me to develop skills and mastery over an ancient craft, it links me to a history and fellowship of needlework, and it also allows me space and freedom to be in my head.
As my life has gotten busier, I find that I have tended to relegate my knitting time into a multi-tasking experience. I knit, usually, while doing something else: watching TV, chatting with friends over coffee, waiting in line. A few years ago, I went through a time where I resented the fact that knitting took up reading time and vice versa, and to solve this I started buying audio books and knitting while listening.
I recently noticed that my knitting time was thus almost always accompanied by noise. If I picked up my needles, I would turn on an audio book or tune into a podcast. Sometimes, I would suddenly become aware that I had missed some of the book, and would have to re-wind and listen again, often three or four times as my mind would wander. I came to two realizations at almost the same time – I was not enjoying the knitting as much, and I was finding quiet to be lonely. I was rushing to fill up blank space.
Doug has been gone for a few weeks (day before yesterday he was climbing the Great Wall of China) and I have had a very busy teaching schedule. But, while he was gone, I set my alarm clock for very early every morning, got my cup of coffee, and settled down to knit, in absolute silence. And I came to a conclusion I already knew as a very young child: there is power in quiet.
I am knitting something new, which I am designing myself, and enjoying every stitch. I am feeling more at peace with quiet. I am feeling more in my head. I don’t NEED there to be quiet to enjoy my knitting – I still knit while watching TV (currently “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”) or listening to an audio book or podcast. But creating a space for knitting in silence is good. I have come to appreciate, once again, that there is a specific joy to be had in not multi-tasking, in enjoying the peace of knitting all by itself, and listening to the quiet.