Some Guidelines for Contemplative Knitting

How much do knitters talk about swatching? For some of us, it’s like cleaning and sanding an old surface before applying a new coat of paint. It’s necessary but not fun. For others, swatching is their play time. Trying out new yarn, seeing how it behaves, and figuring out how to make it work in a pattern is something they love to do. In a San Francisco yarn store, I discovered balls of yarn in a huge bowl next to a vase filled with knitting needles. The owner encouraged customers to make a swatch of any yarn they had in stock. She called it a “yarn tasting”.

The majority of knitters know how important it is to swatch even if we get defiant about it. It only takes one hugely oversized sweater to understand why gauge is important.

But swatches are guidelines. More advanced knitters may decide to go “off road” and knit a sweater out of fingering yarn when the pattern calls for a DK weight because they like the drape of the fingering yarn or the color. This requires some math but it can be done. Guidelines are the beginning, they are the roadmap that help us find our own way. They give us the information to move forward or to make the changes that we want.

Here is the gauge for Contemplative knitting. What follows are some guidelines for your prayer time. They are just that – guidelines. Just as you might have to change your needle size, you will need to decide what you need to change to make it work for you. You may decide not to follow any of these guidelines. And that’s ok because there are many ways to pray.

Four Guidelines for Contemplative Knitting

  1. Choose a sacred word – Find a word or two at the most that expresses your intention to be with God. This word or words must be meaningful to you. What’s important is that you invest an importance to the word for yourself. Maybe it’s peace or shalom. Maybe it’s Yes, or Amen (so be it). As you prepare to embark on knitting through Lent try out different words and see what sticks.
  2. Ground yourself – Sit comfortable with your knitting on your lap. Feel the yarn and the needles. Bring yourself into the present moment and introduce your word. Say it slowly. Begin to knit. Find a comfortable rhythm.
  3. Let your thoughts go – Thoughts will fly into your head. I forgot to defrost the soup, what do I need at the grocery store?, has the laundry been mildewing in the washing machine for three days?, and so on. Let them go. Watch them go by like a stick on a river with a swift current. They are like birds flying into your head. Don’t let them build a nest. Don’t engage. It’s important not to get frustrated with the distractions. Say to yourself, here they come. I know you’ll be around after prayer time, I’ll pay attention to you then. Use your sacred word to bring you back to your prayer time. Say it gently and slowly.
  4. Give yourself a minute at the end – When you have completed your rows/time or however you are measuring your prayer time, give yourself a minute. Put your knitting down, take a few deep breaths, and then reenter the world.

Count Down to Lent – 9 more days!

How Will You Track Your progress?

What will you find out about yourself during the forty days of Lent this year?

     A contemplative practice not only helps us connect with God; it helps us connect with ourselves.  Each time we commit to a practice we learn something.   The important part about learning is not to become judgmental or get frustrated.  

     Nothing sends me over the deep end faster than trying a new technique.  I’ve been knitting for fifty years and I feel like I should be able to do anything by now.  However, when it takes three attempts to do a tubular cast on for a simple hat, I have to remind myself to be patient with myself!

     I’m going to suggest you create a method of tracking your contemplative knitting prayer time as a way of learning about yourself, not to make you feel anxious or guilty. Tracking commitments is critical if we want to sustain a practice.  It helps us notice when we begin to lose focus or get off track.  Sometimes trackers can be the exact motivation we need.  How many of us jumped through hoops to walk the 10,000 steps when our Fitbit or walking app reminded us that we were at 9500 steps for the day?  I had a friend who paced back and forth in her tiny New York City apartment each night just to hit her step goal. (I know, who wants to be controlled by an app! I promise I did not turn the car around on the way to the gym when I forgot my watch.)   

     There are many different ways you can choose to track your progress during the next forty days.  It could be as simple as checking off a box on your to do list or making a mark (or use a sticker) on your calendar.  You could decide to text a friend each day to let them know you finished your practice.  You could track the measurements of your project using progress keepers.  Progress keepers are similar to stitch markers but can open and close like a safety pin so they can be easily moved.

     Tracking our commitment is not meant to create anxiety or guilt.  It’s meant to help us learn about ourselves.  Getting off track is not a failure it’s an opportunity. It’s helpful to have an attitude of curiosity as we approach starting a new practice.  Each day, week, and month we can reflect back on what has happened in our practice.  Maybe we skipped three days because a family member was sick, or we were too tired, or we were too discouraged.  This is valuable information.  It means we need to spend some time reflecting on what is going on in our lives and figure out what we need to do differently.  What would motivate us to restart?  Can we put our restart plan into place? https://contemplativeknitting.com/2021/01/20/sustaining-your-knitting-practice/

     Maybe we spent more time or knit more rows or did twelve inches in the first day.  We may need to rethink what we are doing before we experience a hand injury.  What’s happening in our lives that is causing us to spend too much time on our knitting practice?  Are we avoiding something?

     We could decide that this type of spiritual practice is not for us.  Let me just get back to knitting!  That’s ok too!  There are many ways to pray and deepen our relationship with God.

     How will we track our progress?  How will we restart?  How will we all support each other? 

Planning your Project for Lent

Three weeks until Lent. There is still plenty of time to prepare your Lenten Project and to invite others to share in the journey!

     Thank you to all of you who have subscribed to this Blog.  We are two weeks away from Lent and I will be posting a few more times to answer questions and to help us prepare for our forty-day commitment of intentional prayer time with God. Starting in Lent, there will be a daily post with the exception of Sunday when we will live into a day of rest.

     Everyone is welcome to participate and here’s how.  Unlike other Knit Alongs we will not be making the same thing.  There is no set pattern for knitting, crocheting, or whatever your favorite repetitious calming pastime is.  Instead, the pattern we will be using is one of daily prayer.  So, what can you do to prepare?

  1.  Decide on a time and place to pray. (see blog post: Setting Up Your Practice)
  2. Pick a project
  3. Swatch if you need to
  4. Write down why you feel called to participate.  Put it with your project.
  5. Reach out to others you know that might want to participate and send them the blog link. (see blog post on Sustaining Your Practice)

My Project

     I ordered three skeins of Tandem West Wool in the colorway “Glow” from Stephen and Penelope (a yarn store in Amsterdam. My husband and I are living in the Netherlands for a year while he helps develop a solar energy sales force for Europe.)  Tandem is 90% Falkland Merino and 10% Texel (Texel fibers have a helical crimp which give them extraordinary loft and compression resistence and come from sheep living on an Island north of the Netherlands.)

     I chose the gold color because it reminds me of sunlight and hope.  The colored skein of yarn is from my favorite local yarn store “Sticks and Cups” in Utrecht, Netherlands.  I’m going to try and use it occasionally for a color pop.

    I’m planning on knitting a long scarf and then attaching the two ends.  My step is to swatch the two yarns and decide on a needle size.  The ball band recommends a US 4 – US 7 (3.5 – 4.5 mm). I’m also looking at stitch dictionaries. Once Lent starts, let you know what I’m doing and I hope you’ll let me know how your projects are going.

     I will be winding the balls today while I pray for all of us as we get ready to support one another in our prayer practice during Lent.

Lenten Knit Along (KAL)

40 inches in 40 days

Starting on Ash Wednesday (February 17) there will be a daily knitting meditation posted here every day during Lent except for Sundays.

Lent is a perfect time to start or renew a spiritual discipline.  How often have we thought about spending more time in prayer or trying to figure out how to deepen our relationship with God?  Dedicating time for prayer every day is difficult.  When we pair knitting with praying, we may have a better chance of developing the habit and sticking with it.  But how to start? The idea is to commit to something that involves knitting and praying for 40 days.  You can commit to sitting and knitting for five minutes a day or knitting an inch a day or whatever commitment makes sense for you.

     You can make anything you want. Just like there is no one way to pray, there is not one right way to knit, or just one thing to make. 

     However, if you are looking for suggestions, then consider making a infinity scarf.  A possible Lenten Knit Along project is a 40-inch infinity scarf. The idea is to knit one inch a day for forty days while praying and reflecting on the meditation for the day. There will be a daily meditation on this blog every day except Sunday during Lent.

What needs to be done now to be ready by Ash Wednesday.

  1.  Choose a yarn. Any yarn will do. Usually, I would suggest you look in your stash but this year, because of Covid, I am going to buy yarn in order to support my local yarn store.
  2. Choose the size needles that is recommended for your yarn. This can be found on the ball band or just experiment until the knitted fabric is what you want.
  3. Cast on twelve to twenty-four stitches, knit at least twelve rows and check your gauge. You want to know two things:  how many stitches per inch and how many rows per inch. Since the goal is to knit one inch per day, you may want to pick a yarn that is a worsted weight to bulky weight.

Example:

             You could use size 8 needles and cast on 48 stitches (there are a lot of stitch patterns that use a multiple of 8 stitches). After knitting the gauge, you discover 4 rows a day equals one inch of length. This seems doable. After you knit the forty inches using any stitch pattern you want, you could join the two ends together for a wrap-around scarf that will be 40 inches long by 12 inches wide.

Or

Pick any project that you want to use for your spiritual knitting time. 

Sustaining Your Knitting Practice

In order to commit to a contemplative knitting practice for the long term, before we even start, we need to develop a plan for when we get off track.  In the beginning we might feel excited about starting a spiritual discipline that involves knitting and praying but eventually that enthusiasm will wear off. Then we’ll skip a day and then a week and soon we will have stopped all together.  What happens next is critical.  We must have some plan to get ourselves to restart. This is true with any habit we are trying to develop whether it is exercise or diet or prayer.  

Let’s start by examining our motivation to deepen our relationship with God.  When you feel the most enthusiastic about starting your practice write down. Why is having a contemplative prayer practice important to you?  Keep it as a reminder.

Think about making prayer a part of your identity.  This is who you are not just what you do.  For example, people who exercise regularly may think of themselves as an athlete not just someone who exercises. 

Another way we can use to get ourselves back on track is accountability.  We need to be accountable to someone else. You could find one of your knitting friends to be your prayer partner and then decide how you want to communicate with each other.  You could decide to send a text once a day after you complete your prayer time.  If you stop sending texts, then your prayer partner could follow up with you to see how you’re doing or to find out how to help you restart.  Setting up some kind of accountability is a good way to ensure ahead of time that you will remain committed instead of just letting your practice fall by the wayside.

There are many reasons why we abandon a practice. It’s easy to get off track when our normal routine is disrupted.  We go on vacation, people come to visit, we get sick or injured, we get bored, we get tired, and on and on. 

There is no question that we will stop our contemplative knitting practice.  This will happen over and over.  We have to be prepared to restart and we need a plan.  Find am empathetic partner, buy a skein of luxury yarn and save it to use for the time you need motivation to restart, or join a prayer group and ask them for help. 

The most important piece of sustaining a practice is creating one that works well in your life.  It doesn’t have to be a long time each day, it just needs to be consistent.  It is consistency over time that brings about real change.  It’s a consistent diet, consistent exercise, consistent sleep, and consistent prayer that can help us be all who God is calling us to be.  The good news is it’s never too late to start again.

Setting Up Your Knitting Prayer Practice

Let’s talk a little bit about how to set up a spiritual knitting practice.  Preparation is important if we want to create a good practice.  Like anything else, we have lay a good foundation, put together the parts that will help us be able to maintain this practice over time.  If we don’t have the things that we need then it will be easy for us to skip our prayer time because there is always something pulling us away.

The first step is to find a time to pray.  It is best to find a time when you can count on being free every day like first thing in the morning or sometime in the evening.  During the day can be difficult since there are always things happening out of our control.  It’s important to pick a time you can commit to. Once you figure out a time, then decide how long you will knit and pray. Don’t make it too long.  You could start with five minutes a day, or an inch a day or three rows a day but whatever you decide, commit to it.  Consistency is important.  The objective is to start and sustain a daily prayer practice not to get overwhelmed.

 Next step, find a place.  Since most days we start and end our day at home, find a quiet spot in your home where you can sit undisturbed.  Make sure it is comfortable and warm.  Maybe it’s a chair at your kitchen table or an armchair in the living room.  It just needs to be a place where you can be alone and have some quiet time. Now that we have a time and a place, what can we knit? What will be our sacred knitting?  Remember, this is not about creating a piece of art or figuring out a new knitting technique, it’s about spending time in the presence of God.  The actual knitting should be a project that will engage our brains to the degree that it helps silence all of the thoughts running around inside our heads. The kind of thoughts that distract us from prayer. 

My last sacred knitting project were these fingerless mitts.  I chose them because the cables kept my mind from wondering. I was able to just let myself be aware of knitting in the present moment without thinking about the past or the future. Before I started each prayer time, I would hold the mitts and think about how our hands are the hands of God on earth. How we can use our hands to help others. I gave thanks for all the hands that have helped me over the years.  

Find a special project that will draw you in to your prayer time.  Keep it separate from the rest of your knitting.  When you begin to knit, spend some time becoming grounded by feeling the yarn, holding the needles and asking God to bring you into the present moment and help you let go of all distractions.  Then as Anthony Bloom suggests in his book Beginning to pray, sit and knit silently in the face of God.

What is Contemplative Knitting?

Shakerag Top from Modern Daily Knitting

Hi, I’m Julie Cicora and I’ve been a knitter for over fifty years.  After I was ordained to the priesthood, a good friend gave me the book Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom. She knew I was relatively new to prayer and that I was struggling to maintain a regular prayer practice.  I was delighted to find a story in the book about a woman who complains to the author that she feels an absence in the silence every time she tries to pray.  The author invites her to knit in silence before the face of God.  The woman takes up her knitting and soon she becomes aware of a presence in the silence. After I read this story, I wondered, “Could knitting be a way into a contemplative prayer practice? “

        Knitting for me has always been about love and connection.  Every time I sit down with needles and yarn, I remember my grandmother.  I would snuggle up against her on the couch and she would put her hands over mine and show me how to knit each stitch.  Every time she picked up my dropped stitches, she would hand me back the needles and encourage me to keep at it.  “Results will come with time,” she said.  Of course, she was right, over time I learned how to knit and the stitches collected on my needles.  At first, I knit for myself and then I began to knit for others.  I tried to put the love I felt from my grandmother into each hat, mittens, or scarf that I knit.  I thought about the women who had knit socks for their loved ones during the wars.  How they must have prayed for safety and comfort. Intentionally putting love into each stitch for the recipient is a prayer.

The idea of knitting prayers into shawls started in the late nineties. Prayer shawls were a way to make intercessory prayers visible.  Sometimes I would knit a shawl for someone I knew who was suffering.  I would pray for healing for that person every time I knit a stitch.  Sometimes I would knit a shawl not knowing who would receive it and I prayed for healing for the stranger I hadn’t met.  These prayers made me long for a deeper relationship with God.  I realized after reading the story of the knitting woman in Anthony Bloom’s book that starting a contemplative knitting practice could be a way to spend time in the presence of God.  I decided  I would sit and knit in silence.  I had tried to have a contemplative prayer practice in the past.  This time, I wanted to figure out how I could stick with it once my initial enthusiasm waned.  I decided I would be intentional about how to conduct this new spiritual discipline and I began to research both knitting and prayer.  I discovered knitting stories about love and connection.  I found advice on establishing and sustaining a habit which I used to develop a template for knitters who wanted to deepen their relationship with God and use knitting as the doorway.  This is Contemplative knitting.

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