I sit down, gathering my ball of white yarn to the left of me, and hold my sage-coloured knitting needles in my hands. Reaching for the white yarn, I tie a slip knot around the right needle. Pulling the string from behind and wrapping it around the 6mm wide needle, I cast on 25 stitches. My mind is somewhere else; either deep into whatever show I put on before I sat down or maybe even somewhere further, stretching into the thoughts and worries that I had been ignoring all day. I have a loose plan in the back of my mind for what this piece will look like, but I’ll probably unravel it all a couple times before I get there. There’s a voice in my head as I move on to the next row of stitches, reminding me to change the type of stitch. Purl. Knit. Purl. Knit. Purl. Knit. Purl. Knit. Purl. Knit.
The purl stitches pop up and out of the row, resembling a tiny pebble. The knit stitches hang back, supporting the purl stitch and holding the piece together. The purl and knit stitches span my entire garment, reminding me of the seafloor, sand moving with the water to create tiny bumps in the bed of the sea. The knots secured together feel bumpy and soft when I run my fingers across it and the tiny specks of colour that were sprinkled into the yarn will fall away if I pull on them too hard. The piece will be delicate, or at least I’ll treat it as such. I tend to treat the things I make as if they could fall apart at any moment – maybe I’m just proud of them. The knots are sturdy and rely on one another to keep together, but will unravel quickly, one knot after the other, if pulled by one end.
I began knitting in elementary school; I was one of the four children of my school’s knitting club circa 2009. This was the last time that I would go to a large school with an abundance of clubs and opportunities, and yet I chose knitting. I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time; my pieces were muddled with wrong stitches and loose spaces. I can remember the teacher flitting frantically between our seats, trying to teach a bunch of 8-year-olds how to knit for the first time. A difficult task, but one I owe a debt of gratitude towards. I often struggled with the patience required to learn, but I carried the satisfaction of a perfect row or even section with me as I grew up. Once you get the hang of the basic movements, everything seems to fall in place. Once a week, for about the duration of a school year, the three other girls and I would eat our lunch and practice the same stitch repeatedly.
There’s something in the repetitive motions of working with yarn, preferably synthetic, that calms you. Repetitive motions are widely known for having this effect; we see it in kid’s fidget spinners and adult colouring books alike. There is an abundance of studies and reports on the benefits of repetitive motions, such as the 2010 Tel Aviv University study by David Eilam. Any sort of mindlessly monotonous task tends to have a calming effect, especially for those wired with an anxious brain. Knitting certainly isn’t the only tool based in repetition for managing anxiety, but the projects bring you back into the physical world while you release built up energy. Yarn work can be as mindless or as focussed as you want. The same can be said for crocheting, of which I only tried this last summer. Having one tool instead of two makes the creation of the piece almost effortless, but the stitches require a bit more precision.
Knitting and crocheting are commonly passed on through generations, sometimes ending with someone’s grandparents as it is viewed as an activity only for those that qualify for the senior shopping hour at the grocery store. Limber joints, lower blood pressure, and increased cognitive function are benefits of knitting during the later years that gained recognition with more studies. For the most part, however, the elderly gravitate towards knitting for the same reasons I do; relying on body memory to complete projects allows you a state of relaxation. Learning new stitches and techniques, about needle and yarn sizing; how to decrease and increase stitches is engaging and can work as a distraction if needed. It’s not niche by any means– there is a vast amount of information out there on knitting. There are millions of videos and articles on different things you can do with yarn, needles, and a crochet hook. My progress can be seen in each new top I make, improving a little more in each one. As I watch more videos and absorb more information from skilled knitting experts, from teenagers to eldery alike, my new piece ends up a cut above the rest of mine each time.
Every piece made from some needles and some yarn has a one-of-a-kind feel. While you may copy a pattern or create replicas of your own items, handmade pieces always have disparities. These disparities, like a messed-up stitch or a slightly looser pull on the yarn, show the story behind the piece. Looking at my own, seeing their faults, and remembering back to when I made those faults are all part of the joy I get from knitting. You don’t have to make hats and scarves exclusively, and you certainly don’t have to sit in a rocking chair with your eyes about an inch away from the needles. I gravitate towards knitting tank tops or tube tops the most, and I’ve been dabbling in making crochet triangle headbands. The options are limitless, and around the clock more people are sharing their ideas and ingenuity online. All you need is yarn and two sticks; I once made an entire tank top with thick chopsticks and leftover hot pink yarn I found in my basement. So grab your knitting needles and BYOY because we’re knitting tonight.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Sadie Levine