Within a smattering of hours, the topic of knitting flowed through my mind like fish in Koi ponds, in and out. Although I didn’t feed them, they refused to leave. So, I reeled in a sparkly yellow, metallic koi announcing to myself, a fillet for my blog!
In the morning hour with bees busy pollinating zucchini blossoms, my friend, Christine, was already at work in the community garden. She mentioned how her church group is knitting covers for Australian animals harmed in the fire. Later, I found out on FB that my sister, Jórunn, and her crafty girlfriends in Iceland are also knitting to comfort the Australian wildlife. The same day, an acquaintance emailed asking I show her how to knit using the European method. (There are two, American and European. The results are the same.) Then my son-in-law, Will, sent me a picture of grandson Eli wearing a yellow neck warmer I’d just sent him after he’d taken a liking to mine.
Knitting is no longer just for grandmothers. It never was in Iceland. I began my knitting life in home economics at the age of six, where I heard tales of children learning to knit before they learned to crawl. But that little “yarn” belongs in the dubious column. I still remember my first knitting project, a cover for a coat hanger. My mother knitted traditional Icelandic sweaters to supplement the family’s income. My father would jest that he’d probably eaten so many bits of Lopi (Icelandic yarn) that’d ended up in his food that he now had enough Lopi for an adult size sweater.
Knitting has been an essential part of Iceland’s economy for hundreds of years. Archeologists believe the practice migrated from England, the Netherlands, and Germany. Women of the Viking period (800 AD to 1100 AD) spun the wool of sheep and weaved into material (textile) for clothing, but knitting needled wouldn’t find their hands until around 1600. Excavations in Denmark around 1700 unearthed thousand of socks, mittens, and sweaters knitted in Iceland and sold abroad. Even today, I say with a good amount of sureness that most adult women in Iceland can make a scarf and 50% of my daughters can.
My twin purling princesses, Elísabet and Sofía, grew up watching their Amma knit. They loved wearing the sweaters I made them and were eager to become knitters. Not sure of how genuine their desire or the stick-to-it-ness would be, I waited until they were ten years old to teach them. It turned out to be a gift for a lifetime, a tool to create inner contentment—yoga for their hands. And unbeknownst to us at the time, today, ten years later, knitting is trending with young women.
Famous women, Marilyn Monroe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Sarah Jessica Parker, have revealed in interviews that knitting made them feel productive and calm. The rest of us, those never interviewed, agree. For me, knitting is like writing, an act of discovery. Instead of watching television, I knit and watch television. I knit while listening to audible books. The last sweater took me through three books, The Passenger, The Girl on the Train, and Nickel Boys. Packing for a long trip, some husbands ask, did you bring your glasses (hearing aids, sneakers, or bathing suit)? Tim asks, “do you have something to knit with you.” It calms me at the doctor’s office and makes my wine taste better at book club. Though to be clear, you don’t knit to calm yourself; you are calm because you knit.
Knitting and crocheting have a profound power to connect women and offer comfort to the soul. Dr. Herbert Benson, the founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute and author of The Relaxation Response, writes that a repetition of a word, sound, prayer, or muscular activity induces the relaxation response—decreases heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. The Craft Yarn Council created a “Stitch Away Stress” campaign to celebrate National Stress Awareness Month (2014).
When you knit a shawl for a friend, you give of your life, human effort and time, preserving the simple, unchanging act of handwork, shared with women through the ages. Knitting a simple scarf or an intricate lacy shawl is based on two stitches, knit and purl. When you learn to knit, it doesn’t feel easy or calming. But if we are blessed with patience and ten working fingers, once the skill of those two stitches is mastered the rhythm of the needles will be meditation for your soul.
Grace Brett is 104-years-old and probably the oldest person I’ve learned about who is a part of a secret and underground street gang, the “Yarn Stormers.” Instead of wearing their shawls, they take to the streets and yarn bomb city landmarks, telephone booths, or just a local park bench. Grace is a street artist sharing her talents to make the world brighter. And I bet it has contributed to her long, purposeful life.
Using yarn, Julia Riordan in Stockholm (and London) creates and installs public art, the kind that brings smiles and is easily removed. Julia’s artwork is placed on walls like traditional street art, adding flair to otherwise humdrum buildings.
Lynn Zwerling from Columbia, Maryland, knew how to sell used cars and how to knit. When she retired, she wondered how to use these skills to bring more meaning to her life. She could give car information to friends, but that would only go so far. And if she did it too often, it would get irritating. Then, Voila! She could teach knitting. Nobody showed up for her first class. In two years it grew to 500. “I looked over the room,” Lynn recalls, “here were people who didn’t know each other, had nothing in common, sitting together peacefully like little lambs knitting.”
Her knitting story doesn’t end there. In 2011, speaking to 600 male prisoners, she asked if they wanted to learn to knit. What started as a post-retirement activity is now a non-profit, Knitting Behind Bars. They knit hats and mittens for children in our inner cities.
Two Fort Collins knit stores, My Sister Knits and the Loopy Ewe, have weekly knit circle groups—an environment where you are accepted no matter your skill or age. The feeling I get walking into a yarn shop is how my friend Molly describes entering church, awe. Knitting is always on my to-do list. It’s how I make sure I can check something off by the end of the day.