Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Zen of Lace Knitting

If there’s any aspect of my life and my knitting that epitomizes mindfulness, it’s knitting lace. (If you’re looking for one of those esoteric mind-numbing discussions of the difference between lace knitting and knitting lace, I’m sure you can find that on one of the many laceknitting –or knittinglace—lists. Good luck with that.)

I’m new to lace. If I were to choose just one special event in my 2007 knitting life, it would be “Diana Discovers Lace.” Actually, I didn’t discover a darned thing, or maybe I did in the sense that Columbus discovered America. Last February at The Mountain (a guild retreat), my friend Pat, lace knitter extraordinaire, general nudge, and superior enabler, announced that I WOULD be learning lace that weekend and that we better go shopping to get the tools. With some trepidation and quite a bit of anxiety, but always willing to visit a new yarn store, I followed her into Why Knot Knit (Highlands, NC) like a lamb to the slaughter.

OMG…the lace yarns. There’s something about those cobweb-like strands of fiber that is seductive. The yarn we picked out was Jade Sapphire Mongolian Cashmere. It was pale green and the softest thing I’d ever held and … $45. $45 for this little thing? No, really … $45? That’s all I could think about as I placed it on its virtual velvet pillow and snapped its virtual padlocks in place around it. Was she insane? Was I insane? This little soft bunch of yarn was $45. OMG! Little did I know what paths of iniquity I would tread on in the next months.

Anyway, back to the $45 ... er, knitting. Someone snapped a picture of me that weekend, struggling to concentrate on learning how to read a chart (yeah, yeah, yeah, I was a “words” reader in those days—so sue me!) while winding gossamer around my needles while trying to pick out the most interesting gossip in the conversation of the other 40 people in the room. That picture wasn’t flattering. It showed a woman with a perpetual frown and her tongue stuck out to one side in frustrated concentration.

The scarf that grew out of that weekend was soft, pale sage, airy, light. Lace. I was hooked. I would have been happy to just sit and hold it and pet it. Instead I also had the option of wearing it. I was a lace knitter.

Fast forward to today. I have completed two larger projects, Mystery Stole 3 and Birch. I’m working on Kiri. And now Hanami is on my needles. And I’ve bought an embarrassingly large amount of lace yarn, at dollar values that still stagger me. My perspective has dramatically changed. Which brings me to the Zen part of the discussion.

The first thing I learned is that I can’t do lace knitting in a room of 40 people, or 4 people, or even 4 pugs. I need to be sitting quietly in my own space with only my own company. (For some reason, Kiri and Birch are different—the patterns are memorable and I can knit those in a crowd with a hurricane raging around me.) But I’m not knitting Kiri, I’m knitting Hanami, and it needs my full concentration—what they call in publishing “white space.” I need to sit in my office chair, with the pattern on a document holder to my right, and all living beings banished to another part of the world. And that’s not so easy to achieve—people and pugs do seem to have requirements that must be met occasionally.

But, once in that world, I’m lost. Watching the pattern of holes and left- and right-leaning stitches emerge from a ball of pale string is amazing. It’s a stitch-by-stitch process and I have to concentrate on each one of those stitches, mumbling to myself as I read the pattern. Knit two, now to the right, yarn over, knit three, yarn over, over to the left, now move the marker, knit five … somehow a pattern is forming. On the next row, purl back, counting obsessively. Now move the highlighter tape and start again.

This is not an easy path for someone as ADD as I am. I can’t put down my knitting in the middle of a row to answer the phone or check my email or revise my resume or pet a pug. I need to put all my attention, for 95 stitches, on one thing. It’s good training, but I suspect that if I had a video camera on my computer right now, you’d see a woman with her tongue stuck out and a big frown on her face. Some things never change. A non-knitting observer might think, “why is she bothering if it’s so damned much trouble?”

But I’m peaceful. I’m concentrating on every stitch, watching the rows turn into a repetitive pattern, watching my knitting grow and trying not to think about how many of those rows will be required, thinking of the person who will receive the piece, who may or may not love it as much as I do, but that’s okay. For today, I’m happily knitting along, stitch by stitch.



shortoldlady said...

How true! I learned lace with M3 and I'm hooked. If someone tries to talk to me I just count louder over and over until they get the hint I'm NOT GOING TO ANSWER RIGHT NOW! Enjoy!

ChelleC said...

Diana, you just PERFECTLY described how I feel about lace. And we discovered it at nearly the same time. I started on St. Patrick's day when I fell in love with the Forest Canopy Shawl, and your decription of being in that mindful moment with me, alone, and the chart holder etc. is right on!!!

I am currently finishing up my second shawl. I can't wait until this one is finished and wrapped around my grandmother who I'm making it for.