This week's stories | Home Page
Issue Date:  May 12, 2006

Knitting ourselves together


After 9/11, I picked up my old set of knitting needles and I haven’t put them down since. I recommend the same to all of you.

There is something uniquely comforting in the movement of my fingers and hands holding two, three or four sticks together with countless skeins of colored yarn to create something useful and possibly beautiful.

In assessing the value of a practice that nowadays seems antique, quaint and for a stereotypical age group, I had to decide what I could make with my knitting that might be useful to the people I love and therefore worthy of my time. I landed on the idea of socks. Can’t just about everyone use a good pair of socks?

During an interview with a group of knitting therapists for a local newspaper in Iowa, I was struck by a comment from one of them. She told me that whenever she picked up her knitting she felt drawn into communion with her ancestors, in fact with all knitting women through the movement of her hands. It was not so much the actual product, she explained, that brought her this feeling of union with others, as much as it was the doing of the work, the weaving together of threads in the same way countless others have done before. This weaving connection to her past and to her present filled her with a sense of comfort and calm and became more important than any project she ever finished.

Connecting to others, weaving them into our lives through the art of knitting was an idea I had verified as truth to me this past fall while on assignment in the Middle East.

One morning as I sat waiting for my driver in the Grand Palace Hotel in Amman, Jordan, I pulled out my sock yarn and began to knit. Almost immediately, I became the object of immense interest to a group of French women tourists waiting in the lobby for their bus. The colors of the yarn, bright yellow and bright red blended on the same strand, caused such concern that they struggled to engage me in any number of languages. We finally got through to each other: They liked what I was doing -- several in the group had knitted themselves -- but the color choice was a problem. Had I chosen those colors deliberately? They were reassured when I explained as best I could that the colors were a team’s colors and the socks were for my husband.

Wishing to push my hypothesis further, the next morning I did the same thing. Sitting myself in the lobby, I pulled out my sock yarn. This time it was a group of female German tourists who approached me, several husbands in tow behind their wives, who struggled to engage me in dialogue over what I was creating. They had no qualms about colors but passed my sock around to one another looking at the stitches. Despite language differences, they praised my efforts and nodded in agreement that they just might have to take up knitting again themselves.

When I went over to the West Bank to visit Palestinian Christian friends there, I pulled out my knitting once again, chatting and working my lone sock while seated among the women of the household. It was the matriarch of the house who reminded me of my therapist friend’s comment that the past can be woven into the present.

This genteel elderly woman watched my hands for more than an hour before getting up and leaving the room. When she returned, she held out a gift to me: a five-piece set of razor-thin number 1 steel needles and one small baby blue sock. Struggling with her English and using her grandson as interpreter, she communicated that she wanted me to have these needles. The last time they were used were by her mother more than 100 years ago and the one blue sock was the only thing left of her mother’s knitting skills.

Today those needles are in a place of honor here in my home, waiting to be brought into use once again. I have resisted the urge to pick them up and do just any old project on them. I have resisted the idea that they are just another set of knitting needles.

I am waiting because I know, sooner or later, they will call out to me with the right idea and the right project for their use. When they do, I will experience in all its magnificence the feeling of connection with other women throughout the world and throughout the ages, be they Arab or American, Christian or Muslim.

And in this troubled world of ours, I am eager to experience the sense of connection, calm and comfort that comes with the weaving of those from our past into our present along with the remote possibility that what I do may just end up beautiful.

Journalist Sue Stanton knits and writes from Ames, Iowa.

National Catholic Reporter, May 12, 2006

This Week's Stories | Home Page | Top of Page
Copyright  © The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO   64111
All rights reserved.
TEL:  816-531-0538     FAX:  1-816-968-2280   Send comments about this Web site to: