Knitting Peace

I received an email last Friday from my daughter forwarding an email that she’d just received from Castaway Yarn Shop (her LYS) in Santa Rosa, California.  As you probably know, early last week, whole communities in Santa Rosa were leveled by a capricious and fast-moving wildfire.  Although Castaway’s email was in part to remind customers about Stephen West’s visit that evening (which would ordinarily be pretty exciting, right?), its emphasis was on the tragedy that had just enveloped their town.  It read in part:

We want to help how we can—through yarn donations for those who lost their homes, by being a place to come to take your mind off it all for a bit, a way to perhaps feel a bit of normalcy has returned—even if only for a few colorful moments.

Please consider donating your unused yarn, needles, hooks and felting supplies to those who lost their stash in the fires. We will be collecting and dispersing throughout the next few weeks and possibly longer. Yarn should be 50 grams per ball minimum (enough for a hat or set of gloves), and please no partially finished projects.

If you lost your home and stash, please let us know so that we can contact you with donations from our customers and vendors.

When I first read this excerpt, I thought, “lost your home and stash,”’ Really?  How could “home” and “stash” appear in the same sentence?  How could losing your stash ever feel like a loss when you’ve lost all of your other possessions?  Losing your stash would seem inconsequential, right?

But then I imagined sitting at a shelter, grateful for my safety, but without anything to do other than think about all that I’d lost.  I imagined sitting and worrying about my family and friends, and I thought about how keeping my hands busy would help, how the rhythms of knitting and the feel of yarn moving through my fingers might calm me.  I reread the email and thought about how just a few days before, sitting in our Baltimore home, concerned for our daughter’s well-being, I’d sat knitting and periodically (perhaps obsessively…) refreshing my screen for updates to the Santa Rosa fire and evacuation maps. I thought about all the times over the past 25 years that I’d knitted to stave off panic in hospital waiting rooms and all the time I’d spent knitting at the bedsides of people I loved.  And I understood why, for a knitter, needles and yarn might come right after food, water, and shelter on a list of necessities.

Knitting’s calming effect is well-established.   Its “rhythmic repetitive movements seem to [keep] us in the present moment, distracting us from mulling over the past or our fear of the future. (Should You Knit?, “Psychology Today,” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/open-gently/201311/should-you-knit).  It comes as no surprise to knitters that “[knitting] can induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation and yoga,  lowering our heart rate and blood pressure, making stress-related illnesses less likely.”   (The Health Benefits of Knitting, Jane Brody, “The New York Times”; (https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/the-health-benefits-of-knitting/?_r=0)).  It’s no wonder, then, that some of us are addicted to knitting.  We’re addicted to the sense of peace that knitting evokes.

When I think about the Santa Rosa knitters whose lives were devastated by fire, I also imagine that the color and texture of beautiful yarn might lift their spirits (a bit).  A few years ago, when my husband had a medical crisis and I’d spent a few days in an antiseptically-colored hospital room, I felt the need to knit with some happy-colored yarn.  I went to the shop, gave my knitting friends an update, and left with a renewed sense of support and a bag brimming with hot pink, orange, mango, and bright green.  The yarn brightened both my husband’s hospital room and my mood.   I used it to knit Stephen West’s Vertices Unite (below), which will forever remind me of that moment – and make me grateful for today. 

This past summer, when I visited my daughter who had just moved to Santa Rosa (she is just fine, by the way (see below), I took along my in-progress Meandering Shawl (also by Stephen West), to brighten my mood and keep my mind off of the fact that my daughter would thereafter be living 3,000 miles away.  The color combination I’d chosen, a happy spring green and a neon confetti speckle, lifted my spirits, and the brioche knitting kept my mind absorbed. The meditative wrap/slip/knit rhythm of brioche calmed me. Feeling the cushy brioche fabric in my hands and lap brought me comfort.  That project is finished now, and it still makes me happy to see and touch it, although I’m still adjusting to my daughter living so far away.

It will come as no surprise that on that same visit, my daughter, also a knitter, and I spent an hour or so at Castaway.  It’s a shop flooded with natural light and yarn whose centerpiece is a seating area that invites customers to settle in, flip through magazines and pattern books, and knit.  The shop (and its post-fire email) remind me of the sense of community – and support – that knitting gives us.  When I’d gone to my LYS to buy that brightly colored yarn a few years back, I’d also wanted to escape, if just for a short time, the bubble that crisis creates, experience the therapeutic effect of seeing my knitting friends, and find pleasure in seeing and touching yarn.  Local yarn shops are our havens. As Castaway’s email suggests, they’re where we go to “find normalcy” when we face challenges and, at their best, they’re where we go to find community, friendship, and support.

Long before the fires in Santa Rosa and Castaway’s email, I’d been thinking of writing about the benefits of knitting.  I’d compiled a mental list (messy and overlapping) of the gifts that knitting gives us.  At its most basic, knitting gives us the opportunity to create.  It gives us a sense of pride in our finished objects and a feeling of satisfaction when somebody appreciates a knitted gift.  Knitting strengthens our character.  It teaches us patience and perseverance. It offers us opportunities to learn and maybe even keeps us a little sharper as we age.  As knitters, we are never idle. Our hands are always busy.

Reading Castaway’s email, however, made me realize that knitting’s greatest gift is that, like yoga and meditation, it can bring us, at least temporarily, a sense of peace. I know that I speak for all of us when I express the hope that knitters affected by the California wildfires – and knitters everywhere facing moments of crisis and challenge – are able to find a few minutes of knitting peace.  Our thoughts are with you.

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