Knitting: ‘Meditation, with a jumper at the end of it’
Dyed-in-the-wool knitting enthusiasts speak of how it helps them relax, sharpen focus, retain information better and improve self-worth
Spring Wools, Ballymount Road, Walkinstown, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Bella Fitzpatrick’s tattoo. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Bella Fitzpatrick at Spring Wools, Walkinstown, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Lucy Clarke at Spring Wools, Walkinstown, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Zita Spring of Spring Wools, Ballymount Road, Walkinstown, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Socks aren’t the most obvious stress reliever. There’s nothing obviously soothing or cheering about them. They’re just socks. But whenever I find myself feeling overwhelmed by the many distractions of modern life, I pick up five spiky bamboo needles and a ball of yarn and get sock knitting. And I’m not alone.
In Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting, a beautiful new collection of essays edited by Ann Hood, well-known authors including Barbara Kingsolver, Anita Shreve, Andre Dubus III, Jane Smiley and Sue Grafton write about how knitting has enhanced their lives. Knitters will relate to many of their stories.
I learned to knit at primary school in the 1980s, producing several strangely rectangular teddy bears. In my early 20s, I picked up the needles again, inspired by the American feminist magazine Bust, whose editor, Debbie Stoller, would later publish the best-selling knitting book Stitch ’n’ Bitch.
And although my first project as a born-again knitter, a scarf knitted on sparkly lurex yarn, was a wonky, scratchy disaster, I was hooked. I haven’t stopped since.
In 2010 Bella Fitzpatrick and her friend Hannah Cagney founded Trinity’s Knitting Society (Knit Soc). Having knitted their way through lectures together, they decided to expand.
“[Cagney] was teaching me some new techniques and that’s when we decided we needed to set up a group,” says Fitzpatrick, who has several knitting-inspired tattoos. “It made a huge difference to my skills as a knitter, as incredible knitters came out of the woodwork and we had a technique class every week.”
For Fitzpatrick, there is more to knitting than fun. She has a short-term memory disorder and dyslexia, which makes it hard to retain information.
“When I just read, it was like the words were going from a conveyer belt from the page, into my eyes, into my brain and straight into a furnace never to be seen again. Writing down helped me remember, but it was extremely time-consuming.”
But when she started knitting during her lectures, “I found that I recalled the lectures better,” she says. “I tried consciously to read more deliberately and with greater intent, so as to reroute the information to my long-term memory. I found that if my hands were busy knitting while I read, it was less of a strain for me.
Many say knitting helps them focus on the present. Although non-knitters may presume that someone knitting a jumper isn’t paying attention to anything else, we knitters know that it only enhances our ability to focus on the world around us.
Zita Spring’s parents founded Spring Wools in Walkinstown (springwools.com), and she now works in the family business. “For me knitting is such a natural physical process it makes me feel very much in the present,” she says.