Click, click, throw the yarn. Click, click, unwind the ball. Click, click, turn a row. My childhood was spent at the feet of my great grandmother, Hedwig. She in the overstuffed light blue La-Z-Boy, and me cross-legged on the old plum and purple oriental that covered the living room floor. I wanted to be close enough to see her hands working the needle and yarn. I didn’t understand it, but I wanted to be near it.
Hedwig was a typical hardworking German immigrant whose parents made her leave her country and her family to come to America where she and her sister would have to create a whole new life with nothing except the hope that they could forget about the oncoming war. She had dreams of designing clothing but became a seamstress instead. She spent her days tailoring suits, disguising her accent, and spent her evenings knitting to wipe it all away.
Hedwig was stern and difficult to bond with, as you can imagine somebody with that name might be, but I was fascinated by the way she connected the needles to each other and then the needles to the yarn to create something out of nothing. She was an impatient woman, so it wasn’t from her that I would learn to knit, but from her notes. She was the record keeper in the family, and it would be her daughter, my grandmother, who would one day uncover the notes she’d left to teach me the skill that is now one of the most important things in my life.
Knitting is not something my great-grandmother did because she had nothing else to do. No, she did it so that she could allow herself to do nothing. She knew how to work hard but she didn’t know much about relaxing. Even after her daughter took the car keys away, we’d find her in the street tidied up in a pressed outfit she’d designed and made herself years ago, purse swinging slightly at the crook of her elbow, trying her mightiest to run errands any way she could because she just couldn’t sit still.
When Hedwig picked up her knitting needles, there was no telling how long she would be at it, but as each evening wore on, the fabric grew. With each rock of that ugly chair, it seemed like she had added another row, and the next thing I knew, I had another blanket. Watching her make those blankets was magic. She didn’t use patterns and didn’t keep track, but somehow, the blankets were immaculate combinations of cable and lace patterns. Of course as she got older the mistakes began to appear, and she started losing her place, but until then, she just sat in that chair and stared into her work as if hypnotized, her hands working far faster than her mind.
The first few times I tried knitting, I lost patience and lost interest. When I finally dug in, I was 15 and working all the time, and having to sit down to knit was just about the only way I could make myself slow down. I discovered that not only was it a tool for relaxation, but also for paying attention. I was a busy body myself and sometimes I needed to knit just to sit still in class and pay attention. Interestingly enough, there have actually been a few studies conducted about the positive effects of knitting on both your physical and emotional health.
Betsan Corkhill, from knitonthenet.com, says:
The rhythmic repetitive movements of knitting are important … . Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that they induce a form of meditation very similar to Mindfulness. Recent research has shown that Mindfulness can be very effective in treating depression and chronic pain… . It’s a state of mind where you’re not mulling over the past or fretting about the future.
The rhythm of these movements has a calming effect which is already being used successfully to manage disruptive behavior and ADHD in children. Many … use their knitting to manage anxiety, panic attacks, phobias and conditions such as asthma, where calmness is important. Of course the portability of knitting means you can carry your calming remedy around and use it when and wherever you need. This portability makes knitting, along with some needlework projects, unique in the craft world.
If you find yourself worried, distracted, or generally stressed out, try your hand at knitting. You will probably find some relief, and you might just leave your great-grandchild a legacy.
If you’d like to learn to knit, there is help available. Try the following local resources:
Purl’s Yarn Emporium, 10 Wall St., Asheville, 828.253.2750
Earth Guild, 33 Haywood St., Asheville, 828.255.7818
Yarn Paradise, 6 All Souls Crescent, Asheville, 828.274.4213
Black Mountain Yarn Shop, 203 W State St., Black Mountain, 828.669.7570
Ryan-Ashley Anderson studied Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina-Asheville and has a background in Fine Art. She made Asheville her home five years ago and is proud to call herself a member of a thriving craft community. Find out more at frayknot.com.