Knitting as a Spiritual Practice

I have enjoyed yarn crafts for almost my entire life.  For the past several years, I have become a passionate and dedicated knitter.  Knitting keeps me calm in stressful meetings; it helps me stay focused on what is happening; it relaxes me after a difficult day.  Knitting inspires my creativity as I think about color, design, and texture in the hopes of creating new and beautiful things.  But knitting is, for me, also a deeply spiritual practice.

When we knit we take something that is almost useless and turn it into something appealing and functional.  The practice of knitting teaches patience.  The finished object that I see in my mind’s eye is months from completion, yet stitch by stitch it gets closer.  When facing a task in life that seems daunting, I remember the baby blanket that I crocheted for by niece.  It was months of the same stitch in the same yarn.  At first it looked so incredibly bland and boring.  But when it was complete, oh when it was complete it was a work of art and, more importantly, it kept her warm in her first fragile months of life in the NICU and when she finally got to go home.

Knitting also helps us learn the skill of when to give up and let go, and when it is worthwhile to go back and fix.  I always loved the idea that Native Americans believe that a work of craft (usually beading, I believe) should have one error in it, a place for the spirit to move in and out of the art.  I use this idea to allow me to let small mistakes go and become a part of the design, a piece of what makes the knitted object unique and handmade, as opposed to sterile and stamped out.  This is an important lesson in the art of life, as well.  It makes me wonder if the reason that humans are so imperfect, even though we are made in the image of G-d, is that it is our imperfection that made us G-d’s special hand-crafted art-work.

A big error in our art should not be let go, however.  Sometimes it is worth the effort to rip back a lot of rows of knitting to fix a large and glaring mistake.  (Knitters call this “frogging” because you “riiiiiip it, riiiiiip it!”)  Frogging can be a heart-wrenching activity.  You watch the hours of loving work unravel in a kinked mess of yarn.  What may have taken weeks to create comes out in minutes.  Yet, without being willing to let it go, the finished object may not have fit, may not have been functional, may not have been beautiful.  A glaring mistake in life can be even more difficult to undo.  Addictions, for example, can take years to recover from, but the recovery is still a painful necessity in order to be able to move on and make something beautiful out of life.

Knitting helps us envision a future more idyllic and more complete than the present.  It is like the prayers at the end of the worship service.  “May the time not be distant, O G-d when…”  As long as we can see that perfect future when nations live at peace, we can work towards making it a reality.  I’m casting on for that future right now.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Joanne Neff on March 18, 2010 at 7:43 am

    You have captured the spirit of the craftswoman. Working on projects elates me,too, despite the occasional tedium, and there is no question that it has a spiritual dimension. You have expressed your ideas magnificently.
    – Mom


  2. Posted by Carol Patelsky on March 18, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Wonderful blog. I enjoyed this very much.


  3. Sally,
    Beautifully written article!!!! Great analogies…..
    You could turn your article into a humorous one if you so desire. It might not be your style, though. Let me think- what would I write?

    Knitting keeps my hands busy. G-D wants us to use our hands to Love, to Work, and to Create. Not to eat a second Subway Sandwich for Lunch. When I knit, I’m in control. My clothes fit perfectly. I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m satisfied. A distended belly makes me feel slovenly, as far from spiritual as I can possibly feel.


  4. Posted by Judy Miller on March 20, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Dear Cantor Neff,
    I was truly moved by your words and just had to write to you. As a wife,mother, grandmother, head of a Jewish community day school and a passionate knitter, I salute you! Knitting has helped me in so many ways throughout the years and I know my knitting has touched others, too. Your analogies between life and knitting were beautifully expressed and I just wanted you to know you have a fan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    Thank you,
    Judy Miller


  5. You captured my feelings – thank you!

    teabird / ravelry


  6. Posted by Pam Lien on March 25, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Thank you for your thoughts. You’ve stated what I also feel as I knit – caps and blankets for the hospital, shawls and gifts for friends. I will be sharing this blog with the members of our Prayer Shawl Ministry (Presbyterian) and our next monthly meeting.



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