The Zen of Needlework

Christmas tree angel


My mother taught me at a young age how to sew, embroider, and knit. I have done all three extensively over the years, but my favorite is knitting. When I was 7 or 8, and mother’s women’s group were knitting squares to make blankets for soldiers, mother let me join in.  She cast on stitches with a ball of red yarn and showed me how to hold a long pointed needle in each hand and wrap the yarn around one to make a stitch. It didn’t look hard when mother did it, but when I tried, I found the yarn had a mind of its own and I couldn’t tame it. The yarn kept slipping off the needle, which then fell in my lap, causing all the stitches to fall off of it. My clumsy fingers weren’t able to make the smooth rhythmical movements I saw mother’s friends doing, all the while gaily chatting, stopping only to sip their tea or take a bite of cake.

My fingers eventually came around and today I’m seldom without a knitting project. Drawn to interesting patterns and yarns, I’ve knit socks, adult and children’s sweaters, vests, hats, scarves, capes, baby clothes, and blankets. I inherited my mother’s collection of knitting books and patterns which, added to my own, form a sizable library. Choosing and executing a pattern is both an intellectual and a creative challenge.

Needlepoint was a later addition; I didn’t start needlepoint until I had children. Mother and I consulted books and learned together as I discovered another creative outlet.  Eschewing ready-made painted canvasses, the designs and patterns from global cultures spoke to me. Expressing a chosen pattern with a variety of stitches, colors, and textures, is what I love about needlepoint. Composing my own arrangement is part of the process. I have spent hours turning over in my mind the best combinations. Needlepoint pillows, of course, but also framed designs, Christmas tree angels, and a doll house rug, are part of my repertoire.

My public career has been in business and community work. I’ve never mentioned that knitting and needlepoint have been an important part of my private life. It hasn’t been relevant. Now I feel as if I’m coming out of the closet to talk about the important role they have played.  As I look back, I see that these hobbies have served an important purpose, what I’ve come to call the Zen of Needlework.  As I concentrate on executing a pattern, or listen to the measured clicking of knitting needles, I can let the outer world fade away, replaced by inner stillness. Needlework has been a way for me to unwind after a busy day, to calm my mind, to ponder decisions.

There’s a practical side too. The Puritan ethic stalks me but I can justify sitting in my easy chair and watching TV if I know I’m being productive doing needlework. And as the leaves change color and the air turns cold, I start thinking about the holidays. Christmas gifts have my attention. If I start now, I have time to make special presents for my family.

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