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A knitter once told me this joke:

One day, a young woman goes to her priest with some questions.
"Father," she asks, "may I pray while I knit?"
"Of course, my child!" the priest responds. He is delighted that this young woman seems to understand the necessity of constant prayer, the instruction to pray without ceasing.
The young woman, too, is pleased with the conversation thus far, and so she decides to continue.
"So Father," she adds, "may I knit while I pray?"
"Absolutely not!" the priest exclaims.

This story, while obviously taking a light-hearted approach, hints at the deep relationship that many knitters feel between knitting and spirituality or meditation. The physical motions involved in knitting certainly lend themselves to a contemplative or even trance-like state. Knitting is repetitive, especially in its simpler forms. It does, however, take a certain amount of concentration. As a result, the knitter can find part of her mind wandering while the rest stays centered on the movements of her hands, the particulars of her pattern.

Sally Melville addresses this issue in her book The Knitting Experience, Book 1: The Knit Stitch.

"We are a left-brain dominant society . . . we need to get out of the dominant full-of-rules left brain and into the more innovative, solution-advancing right brain. And we get into the right brain by engaging in activites that are:

  • physically repetitive
  • intellectually undemanding
  • visually stimulating
This explains the wonderful place to which my mind goes when I'm knitting. "

I first discovered this "wonderful place" and the power of knitting as a companion to contemplation on a rainy afternoon. I find that one of the best ways to put myself in a meditative mood is to take a walk outside. However, there are certain days when it's just not very pleasant to be outside. I needed an alternative practice for those days.

One day, it occurred to me to try knitting. It worked! The repetitive motions of my hands were the perfect substitute for the repetitive motions of my body while walking. The knitting kept me busy and centered but freed my mind and heart to dance around whatever issues or problems were currently bothering me. I say "dance around," and not "think about," because while the needles were in my hands, I found that they provided a certain distance between me and the problems of my daily life-even those problems that had seemed so huge, so all-encompassing just hours or minutes before.

I soon learned that this distance gave me more than just a blessed reprieve from worry. As I sat quietly and knit, my mind would slowly calm. Soon, ideas and worries would start to bubble up to the surface one by one, slowly, instead of all together in a furious boil. I found that if I simply acknowledged them and then let them simmer, rather than try to actively concentrate on them, amazing things would happen. Vague hints of solutions would begin to appear in my subconscious. By refusing to think too hard, I could open my mind to all sorts of answers that I would never have considered otherwise.

Most importantly, I would gradually come to a feeling of peace, of hope or anticipation or contentment. My mood after a knitting session is virtually always drastically improved over how I was feeling before I picked up the needles that day. Even when the problems that worried me were essentially out of my control-war, for example-or insoluble, such as grief for the loss of a loved one, after knitting for a while, they would seem less horrible, less terrifying. Quite simply, knitting made me feel better.

Never one to leave well enough alone, I decided I needed to know why this was. The fact can seem so obvious that we don't even consider the reason behind it; why should knitting make us feel better? On the most basic level, knitting is doing something, and we almost always feel better when we are accomplishing something, anything. Knitting can also provide an escape. By losing ourselves in a particularly challenging pattern or stitch, we can shut out our worries for a time.

This sort of escapism can be found in many other activities as well, like cooking or reading. But while concocting an elaborate meal or curling up with a novel usually makes me feel better for a little while, neither seem to have the lasting effects that knitting has. The peace they bring is more superficial, more fleeting. Why, then, is knitting so particularly suited to soothing away problems and bringing peace?

The answer to this lies at the very heart of the craft, and is so obvious that we all too often overlook it entirely. Think for a moment about what is happening in the actual, physical process of knitting. The knitter takes a strand of yarn and manipulates it, as if by magic, into a piece of cloth with shape and texture. From what is basically a piece of string, using only a few sticks, comes an object, a real thing of warmth and beauty.

Knitting isn't really magic, though. And this is the most important part. This amazing transformation of some raw materials into a useful, beautiful, and unique knitted object is done with the knitter's own hands. When your project is done, you can show it to the people around you and tell them "I made this."  That alone is extremely empowering.

But it's not just about a sense of accomplishment, either. When we knit a ball of yarn into a sweater, we are constructing a whole, bit by bit, stitch by stitch. We can go as slowly as we like, but each stitch is progress. When we make mistakes, we can go back and fix them-or we can decide that we actually like them perfectly well as they are, thank you very much. Both approaches involve a great deal of courage-the courage to admit our mistakes and take the time to fix them, or the courage to accept our imperfections and blaze our own trails.

Knitting teaches us self-confidence, and establishes us firmly as co-creators of our worlds. We soon find that what we can do with yarn, we can do also with our lives. Knitting prepares us to take the plunge into living fully and actively participating in our lives. If we can take some yarn and sticks and make a beautiful warm sweater, we can certainly construct our own happiness.

The self-actualization that knitting brings is most fully realized when we knit for ourselves. In her delightful book Zen and the Art of Knitting, Bernadette Murphy writes:

"And when I knit for myself, the resulting sweater is a tangible reminder that I can make my own warmth in what is often a cold world. When I knit, as when I write, I find myself in ecstatic participation in a divinely animated world."

So what are you waiting for?  Knitter, heal thyself. Knit a sweater or shawl that will be both a literal and a metaphorical token of the warmth, beauty, and peace that you have the power to create for yourself. Pick a pattern that you find truly beautiful, or even create your own. Choose soft, luxurious yarn in beautiful colors. Make sure that both the process and the product bring you joy. Don't work on this particular project when you are in a bad mood or going through a difficult time, or you will always associate that negativity with your knitting. Instead, turn your negative energy into something positive for the world by using some charity knitting to get through the anger or sadness.

Work on your healing project when you are feeling positive and hopeful. Put on some comforting music or a favorite old movie, make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, put your feet up, and knit yourself an enduring symbol of your ability to knit yourself together.


Melville, Sally. The Knitting Experience, Book 1: The Knit Stitch. XRX Books, 2002.
Murphy, Bernadette. Zen and the Art of Knitting. Adams Media Corporation, 2002.


Katherine Welsh is a knitter and writer living in New Hampshire with her roommate and the most beautiful kitten in the universe, who enjoys helping her mommy knit and type.