Spiritual Guides

How do you decide what you’re going to make next?  Years ago, knitting patterns were available in magazines, books, or pamphlets found at the local yarn store.  I can remember spending hours looking through multiple three ring binders for a pattern that I liked. It was not an enjoyable experience.  Most stores had multiple pages of the same pattern stuck into plastic protector sleeves and the pattern had to be carefully removed to find out any specifics.  There wasn’t a place to check to see if the pattern was easy, accurate, or fun!  Sometimes the knitting went well, sometimes it did not.

     Ravelry has taken away most of the frustrations we used to experience looking for a pattern.  However, there are almost half a million patterns on Ravelry now.  I can get lost in all of them.  I’ll be sitting at my computer checking out hat patterns and an hour later, my husband apologizes as he interrupts my “writing” time to ask me if I want to eat dinner.  It is overwhelming and wonderful at the same time.

     One of the cool things about local yarn stores is you can typically find a person who can act as a guide to the myriad permutations of yarn, needles, and patterns.  These guides can be found online as well.  I’m in a chat group with a woman who is a pattern genius.  She takes into consideration your projects, your knitting style, your skill level and then when you mention you might want to do a color work hat, she sends you a few Ravelry links to your idea of the perfect patterns.  Hours saved.  The search is narrowed and then the research begins by perusing people’s pattern notes until you know what you are getting into and you can cast on the project.

     Prayer helps us recognize the guides that are around us.  A guide could be the person with the encouraging comment that motivates us to keep going, it could be the person who recommends the perfect book at the right time, or it could be the person who listens to our grief or our frustrations.  We are guided by words that leap off a page, a piece of scripture we come across, a note we wrote long ago, a long-lost letter we find or a feeling we get when we are walking alone in the woods. A priest told me recently that he woke up out of a sound sleep thinking about one of his parishioners.  He felt compelled to send this person a message which ended up helping the parishioner through a tough spot.  Who and what have served as your spiritual guides through your life?

8 rows of stockinette

Loose Ends

     I am working on two colorwork projects.  One is a complex Fair Isle sweater that changes yarn almost every row.  Each round has over two hundred stitches but just as it starts to get tedious, I get to change yarns for the next row.  The yarn and the colors are breath taking.  The beginnings of the rows are a shamble.

     The second colorwork project is a shawl by Stephen West.  I’m not a shawl knitter but I received a thirty-day lockdown box from my local yarn store, Sticks and Cups in Utrecht, Netherlands with the painting brick shawl pattern enclosed.  This was such a wonderful idea.  The lockdown box was like an advent calendar.  There were thirty wrapped packages of yarn skeins.  I opened one a day for thirty days.  Some of the packages contained small pieces of chocolate!  I could have used the yarn for something else, but I decided to try the shawl.  I had to YouTube how to do the cast-on and then another YouTube appeared with the “Weavin’ Stephen method of weaving in ends as you knit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz292NAjH2M

     Relationships are like loose ends.  Some we address as we go and some, we leave dangling in the past.  Lent is an excellent time to go back and look at the loose ends we have left behind.  It’s never too late to reach out and reconnect. 

          A woman I knew was having a tough time, but I found her really difficult to be around.  Her belief system was contrary to mine and she was very vocal about it.  This past year was very stressful, and I felt like I needed to isolate myself from this type of conflict.  I limited my contact with her and gradually retreated into the background.  She noticed and sent me a message.  I had dropped her like the new piece of yarn at the beginning of the row and now the stich was unraveling and there was a hole in the sweater.

     It turns out our love for each other was stronger than our perceived differences.  We reconnected and I wove her back into the fabric of my life.

     I learned that even with the “Weavin’ Stephen” method, it’s not always possible to weave ends in as I knit, but it is always possible to go back and weave them in later.  As long as we have breath in our bodies, it is never too late. 

4 Rows stockinette stitch and 4 rows seed stitch

Sunday Lent 2

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart,
and try to love the questions themselves
as if they were locked rooms
or books written in a very foreign language.

Do not search for the answers, which could not be given to you now,
because you would not be able to live them.
And the point is to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Making All Things New

     I’ve been knitting a lot during the Pandemic.  Aside from my sacred knitting, I like to create garments and I enjoy the calming effects.  My husband and I spent five months of 2020 in a 29-foot RV.  It’s a long story. 

      One morning, I came back to the RV from walking the dog and I noticed his coffee cup was sitting on my latest swatch.  I had been creating lots of swatches because I like to have more than one project on the needles at a time.  I like these new coasters you’ve been knitting, he said in an attempt to be supportive of my craft.  I started to explain what a swatch was but then I realized he had given a new identity to what was just information to me.  The swatch was nothing but stitch and row counts.  It wasn’t a “thing”.  But my husband saw it in a new light.  He opened my eyes to see something beyond the obvious.  I decided to make them beautiful.  I decided to celebrate something that I had forced myself to make in the past.  Instead of enduring the swatch, I lived into it. I quit worrying about whether it was going to be perfect the first time.  I was making beautiful coasters, and, in the process, I would figure out the right combination of yarn and needle size.

     Henry Nouwen wrote a book called “Making All Things New”.  It’s a wonderful introduction about how to live a spiritual life.  We must stop worrying, he says.  He describes how our preoccupations of our lives; our busyness keeps us from being present in the moment.  The present moment is all we have.  The past is a memory and the future has not come to past.  When we worry, we are living in a future that may or may not come to pass.  When we do what is right in the present, we are creating the best possible future.  Swatching in the present, will lead us to the best knitting creation.  Exercising and eating healthy foods will lead us to a healthier future.  Our life is now.  We can learn from the past and plan for the future, but we need to live in the now.  We need to celebrate the now.  This is how a swatch that I “had” to knit became something new – a celebration of that moment in time.

Rows 20-28 of Pattern # 26 from the Japanese Stitch Bible

Crafting, Collecting, and Questioning By Sr. Diana Doncaster

Crafting and “Collecting”

This Lent Contemplative Knitting practice is a real gift, though I am beading rather than knitting. Beading has become my hands-on passion; something that no one looking at the many containers of beads in my small office could question. I remember thinking that I’d found a hobby which wouldn’t take much space. Ha! Then I decided to sell whatever jewelry I create to support a charity. Whooee – justification for more beads! Do you see where I’m going with this?

A regular theme of conversation on the beading sites is the size of our stashes and how we organize them. We’ve had conversations about what will happen to our stashes when we die – even as we share our latest additions. Some people show photos of entire rooms dedicated to beading, with cabinets and shelves bursting with beads, tools and supplies; tempting many of us to envy. I laughed at a meme which proclaims, “I’m not a bead hoarder. I’m the curator of an extensive, private bead collection.” But is it really funny? Where is God in this?

Aside from the beading project I am praying with, following Julie’s invitation to enter more deeply into prayer through a calm, repetitive practice, I hope to get real about how many and what kinds of beads I really need. (True confession: In my cart at my favorite on-line bead supply store is an order for “just a few” more beads.) Do I really need to leap at the next shiny thing? Will I really, in my lifetime, bead all of those patterns I’ve collected? What can I release so I have more time, space and calm to let God speak to me, guide me, teach me and make me a better, more loving servant? What is truly important?

I know knitters and crocheters who are really skilled. They can whip out extraordinary items – both beautiful and useful – in the time it would take me to cast on a simple shawl. I wonder if they have similar issues. Do yarn crafters “curate extensive private yarn collections”?

Whether you knit, crochet, bead, do paper crafting, paint glass, scrapbook or whatever, here are some questions for potential reflection. Has your craft started to take over the space you have? What would it be like to give away some of your supplies to someone else who could use them but can’t afford them? Does your stash take the place of something more important, or might it protect you from listening to God whispering in that empty place inside you? Does your craft become an excuse for avoiding those hard places in your relationships?

On the other hand, how is your craft a true gift from God? How are you using it in the service of God and other people? What is it about what you are crafting, about the process, that gives you the greatest joy? What about your craft, your sacred art, brings deep desire to offer thanksgiving and praise? I promise, I’m asking these questions right alongside you. May your Lent bring true blessings as you knit or crochet or bead or do whatever your hands long to do in prayer.

Sister Diana Doncaster – Bio

Sister Diana Doncaster, aka the nun2good, is an Episcopal priest and member of the Community of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati, Ohio. Once upon a time, she was given a a lovely, simple seed bead bracelet. That was all it took. She had to figure out how to make it. She discovered Pinterest. She discovered Facebook beading sites. She met a friend who taught her new stitches. But a Sister vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience must have a good reason for creating jewelry. After all, she wears a habit most of the time (except while in isolation during COVID which just goes on and on and on.) So since she has long been sold on the idea of micro-loans and micro-finance as superb ways to help people help themselves, she decided that any proceeds from selling her beadwork will go to Episcopal Relief and Development’s Microfinance program. She continues to live in that odd space among three mottos: “Benignitas, Simplicitas, Hilaritas” (Kindness, Simplicity, Joy), the motto of the Community of the Transfiguration; “There is no such thing as too many books or beads”; and “No outfit is complete without cat hair”. That last is the gift of her feline companion, a Siberian Forest cat named Motka who loves to “help” with just about everything.

Rows 12-20 of Pattern #26 Japanese Stitch Bible

Short Rows

I take my grandson to karate so I can sit and knit without guilt.  There is nothing else to do, no dishes, no dusting, and no laundry.  It’s an hour of uninterrupted knitting.  As I was packing up my knitting bag, my grandson asked me what I was knitting.  A sweater, I replied.  Is it for you, he wanted to know?  After I admitted it was, he asked me if I would knit one for him. 

     We sat and searched Ravelry for kid’s sweaters until we found the “Zap Sweater”.  He loved it immediately.  I got the yarn and cast-on incredibly excited to start this project for him.  The sweater was a top down construction.  I put in stitch markers and was increasing happily until I got to the short rows.  I hate short rows.  For some reason, the method I use leaves a noticeable hole and it just doesn’t look right.  The project went into hibernation.

     When I look at my unfinished objects (UFOs), I realized that I put many of them into hibernation because some technique makes me uncomfortable.  Usually, it’s a technique that I haven’t done or I’m unsure how to do it and even though I can look it up on YouTube, it just seems like too much effort.

            But we know that in order to grow, to get better at something, we may have to be uncomfortable.  I started running again after a year off and I was using an ap with a virtual trainer.  She was having me jog three minutes then run for one minute.  On the fifth iteration, I hear her voice in my headphones say, “You are probably feeling uncomfortable.”  That was an understatement! Then she said “that’s good, you are supposed to be feeling uncomfortable. This is hard.” 

     In order to grow, we have to push ourselves outside our comfort zone.  We have to keep at it when we feel inadequate or that we don’t know what we are doing.  Sometimes, we have to do it a few times until we start to feel comfortable.  I discovered the podcast Fruity knitting during the pandemic, and I watched every episode.  Andrea is a beautiful knitter and her sweaters are spectacular!  The reason they are so perfect is because Andrea is willing to try new things and work at them until she gets them right.  She would frog an entire sleeve or neckline or whatever didn’t work and redo it.  She was open about her struggles with different techniques.  She taught herself to crochet by making a complex crochet blanket.

     There will be moments when we feel uncomfortable in our prayer life.  That’s when the little voices creep in and say discouraging things.  “This is useless, nothing is happening, this is just an excuse to knit, I’m tired of this, or whatever.  Only by persevering will we create the perfect fabric, the perfect fit, the perfect gift.  We may have to frog our routine, or keep trying a new technique and be uncomfortable but the effort will be worth it.

     Like most disciplines, I have had an on again off again relationship with prayer.  I keep at it because when I am consistently praying, my life is different.  I am more creative, I am happier, and things seem to come together.  As I work to perfect my short row technique feeling like a beginner knitter all over again, I allow myself to feel uncomfortable and awkward knowing that it’s just the feeling that comes when we grow.

Rows 4-12 of pattern #26 in the Japanese Stitch Bible

The Ordinary Hat

My husband lost his hat.  He had it stuffed in his coat pocket along with his gloves and it fell out.  “Can you knit me a hat?” I told him I didn’t have any yarn.  We’re spending the year in the Netherlands and I am away from my stash.  He looked at the three shelves of yarn in the corner of our tiny apartment and said, “What do you mean you don’t have any yarn?”  “I don’t have any yarn for a hat.” I clarified.  He was staring at a pile of British Breed Wool (36 skeins) for the Marie Wallin’s Fair isle Club and the fingering weight yarn (24 skeins) for the Stephen West Painting Bricks shawl. 

I mistakenly asked him what he wanted.    A plain black hat.  Ugh.  Who asks a knitter who is totally immersed in colorwork for a plain black hat?  Someone who doesn’t knit.

I decided to use Shelter from Brooklyn Tweed in the colorway “soot” which wasn’t quite black but close enough.  I found a free pattern “The Classic Cuffed Hat” by Purl Soho, ordered the yarn and started the project. 

The pattern called for a tubular cast-on.  I had read that this type of cast-on was stretchy and perfect for a hat.  Since I’m trying to advance my knitting skills and since I haven’t strayed from the one cast-on I had been using for fifty years, I decided to try it. I watched the videos, attempted it multiple times but I couldn’t make it work.  It was a mess on the needle.  The voice inside my head said you can’t do it.  Another voice inside my head told me to keep trying, start again.   I started again and again and again until finally I had 88 stitches on the needle joined together to make a perfect circle.

Whenever we try something new, it can take multiple starts to get on track.  Each time we start, we learn something new, make some adjustments and hope for a better outcome.

Many years ago, I tried to start a regular prayer practice during Lent.  I set up an unrealistic schedule for myself.  I was going to say the Daily Office (prayers and scripture readings) four times a day – Morning, Noon, Evening, and Compline (prayers before bedtime).  I failed the first day and pretty much every day after that.  Something kept happening each day that would keep me from my schedule.  I was working full time and meetings ran late, unexpected things would come up and I was running around feeling guilty.  When I expressed my frustration to an elderly priest, he smiled and suggested that I spend a minute in front of the microwave when I was reheating my coffee in the morning and pray for that one minute.  He called it a minute with God. That one minute a day was just what I needed.  I needed to begin with a good first step.

I finally was able to conquer the tubular cast-on by slowing way down and doing one step at a time that lead to one stitch that lead to the ribbing of that ordinary hat.

Rows 24-28 and Rows 1-4 of Pattern #26 from the Japanese Stitch Bible.

Finding the Holes, by Br. Aidan


The moths got to my handknits this year. Every sweater had at least one hole in it. And not just my sweaters, but those I’ve given away, too. The holes were small enough that they were easy to miss. Sickened by spotting one of them, I went on a hole hunt. There were a dozen others to find, scattered through five sweaters. I could have left them, of course, but I knew that would not serve their longevity. I’d put hundreds of hours into those five sweaters. They deserved my attention to preserve them.

Our prayer lives are like these sweaters. When you go hunting through them, you’re bound to find weak points or outright holes. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s natural, and it happens to all of us. Like those sweaters, our lives of prayer and contemplation deserve our ongoing attention. It’s not as glamorous to sit down, every day, for our times of silence as it is, say, to start out on the process of becoming a meditator. But that’s the only way to make our prayer lives robust enough to stand the test of time.

Lent is the season where we pull our prayer lives out of the chest, shake them out, and start to hunt for the holes. As with our handknits, we patch them slowly, one hole at a time, to the best of our ability, trusting all the while that these repairs add a bit of humanity, of softness, of grace.

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC, known online as the Knitting Monk, is Guestmaster and Groundskeeper at Holy Cross Monastery in New York’s Hudson Valley. You can read his writing and access old episodes of his knitting podcast at his blog.

Project Update

Six days, six inches. Rows 16-24 of Pattern #26 from the Japanese Stitch Bible.

Mittens in the Snow

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

     Unexpected gifts give unexpected energy to the receiver.  A few years back, a gift certificate to my favorite independent bookstore arrived in the mail.  I had no idea who had sent it. When I went to the store to browse, I asked the owner who it was from.  She just shook her head and told me that the giver wanted to remain anonymous.  Well, who am I supposed to thank? I asked.  She smiled and said, everyone!  Treat everyone like the giver.

     Anonymous gifts of knitting spread love and beauty into the world and there are many stories of knitters providing chemo hats, shawls, baby blankets and all sorts of beautiful handmade knitted items to all kinds of organizations but one knitter’s mittens really struck home.  This knitter made mittens and left them in impoverished areas of the city.  She spent hours crafting the most intricate and beautiful designs for the adult mittens and warm fuzzy bright colored mittens for children.  She would encase them in a clear plastic bag and nail them to trees or duct tape the bag to a park bench with a note asking who ever found it to consider the mittens a gift. 

            I met a woman at our food pantry who had found a pair of gift mittens.  Even though it was cold, she wasn’t wearing them.  She had them in her purse, still in the bag.  She took them out to show me like she was a museum docent showing me an item from her most prized collection.  She marveled at the intricacies of the pattern and since she knew I was a knitter, she asked me “do you know how to this?”  I told her I knew how to do the colorwork but I was in awe of intricacies of the pattern and the hundreds of tiny stitches that made up the mitten.  They were exquisite.  Do you think I was meant to find them? She asked.  You found them, didn’t you? I replied.

     I saw the woman a few times more times that winter.  On a cold day in March, I asked her about the mittens.  She took them out of her purse.  They were still in the original plastic bag.  I asked her why she wasn’t wearing them.  She told me they were too nice to wear but they had provided her with something greater than warmth.  They had given her hope.  She realized that there were people in the world who were willing to give of themselves without receiving anything in return.  This realization had allowed her to reach out for help. She was able to make herself vulnerable.  Help was given to me, she told me and now I can move forward.  I noticed she didn’t pick up any food but just moved through the line of waiting people saying hi, offering up a smile and a handshake.  When we were cleaning up, I found a dirty white envelope.  It was full of cash with a note that said “Whoever finds this, consider it a gift.” 

     We love because he first loved us.

            1John 4:19 NRSV

Project Update

Rows 8-16 of pattern #26 from the Japanese Stitch Bible

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