Madeleine’s Musings 2: Knit Your Way to Serenity?

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One woman's odyssey through the Trump presidency. My focus is centered on the many issues affecting women--but what doesn't? There's a new post every week.

The idea of trying to be less stressed and acknowledging creativity’s role in keeping you sane interests me a great deal.
For many years I struggled with serious depression and found that writing and other forms of creativity were the only things that truly lifted my spirits.

Now that I am a Tibetan Buddhist, I have other strategies to point me towards equanimity but, just as I don’t meditate with the primary purpose of chilling out, I haven’t lost sight of the power of creativity in my life.
Knit your way to serenity? There’s been quite a bit about this in the news this week.

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not a knitter. My only real exploration of this craft was laboriously creating an over-sized red scarf on giant needles right after my father died when I was thirteen. More grief? More Yarn. I guess it was therapeutic but I never wore the scarf and my mother finally gave it away. I preferred to sew. It’s pretty clear that it has the same beneficial effect.

I certainly did meet a couple of very smart women who knitted their way through university and claimed it helped them focus during lectures. I also have a wonderful knitting friend, Dr. Rebecca Gordon, whose book “Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States,” was published recently by Oxford University Press.  I can only imagine how much soothing activity she needed to draw on while researching and analyzing her material. She’s an obsessive knitter. If you know her, you’ve seen her very superior socks.
Anyway–you don’t have to be under a deadline or contemplating human cruelty to fellow beings to get stressed out. I can’t help thinking that women have used these crafts and kept them as traditionally women’s work (“Into the wood shop with you, dear man!”) in order to reap serenity benefits and even some personal space in the midst of family demands that otherwise consumed their lives. Think of all those wonderful quilts that women have made–same deal, no doubt.

Premenopausal, you might be helped by something like this to give yourself a satisfying sense of your own creativity while appearing busy but not occupied by anything some family member could deem frivolous. (“You gonna have that quilt finished by November, Hon?” “Certainly Dear, are you planning to fix the roof sometime soon?”) Yeah–I know that sounds very pre-Women’s Lib but it’s still true in current incarnations. Don’t discount it. There’s more than one book about coping with that, so I won’t go there…

Anyway, during menopause you might find knitting, quilting, or crocheting a refuge from the machinations of your crazy hormones. Post-menopause there’s not only stress relief but the pleasure of teaching a wonderful skill to the grandkids–if you remembered to have some. No? Aw, go on–there’s some kid you could enlighten!

I mention only those traditional “women’s” crafts in order to keep the list short. Go ahead and build an ultralight aircraft if that pleases you. Personally, I’m re-doing my kitchen counters and tiling my bathroom and, er, writing a blog…
Here’s the link to the New York Times article that prompted this yarn…

New York Times

Reconciliation Quilt, made by Lucinda Ward Honstain of Brooklyn, NY in 1867. The quilt was featured in the exhibition “Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War” at the New York Historical Society. Credit: International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Reconciliation Quilt, made by Lucinda Ward Honstain of Brooklyn, NY in 1867.
The quilt was featured in the exhibition “Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts and Context in the Civil War” at the New York Historical Society.
Credit: International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

I love this quilt. Honstain probably started it in 1865. Life doesn’t get much more stressful than living through a civil war but by 1867 the war’s over.
There’s such a spirit of optimism pervading Honstain’s extraordinary craftsmanship. People of African as well as European decent are depicted with respect. Farms are thriving. Sailors and soldiers are back from the war. The American eagle is alive and the flag is flying. People are working. Women’s crafts are represented by scissors and wool-carding. There are cats contemplating and caged birds singing. Flowers bloom again. There’s even a camel! Possibilities abound.

The Names Project: A small section of the AIDS quilt. Credit: The Names Project

The Names Project: A small section of the AIDS quilt.
Credit: The Names Project

America has a significant tradition of mourning quilts. This is a small section of the famous AIDS Memorial Quilt. Literally thousands of people–many of whom had never sewn anything before–contributed quilt squares in memory of loved ones. Names, images, pieces of the deceased clothing, jokes, quotes–anything and everything became part of this quilt, known formally as “The Names Project.” The needle workers always did their very best to make these tributes meaningful and found a form of solace in sewing.

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