I learnt how to knit over ten years ago, at a time of terrible creative block when I was unable to make any art. I felt that what creative talent I had, if I’d had any at all, had completely deserted me, and this was devastating. Fortunately, I decided that the best way to deal with this was to learn a craft—something that would enable me to be creative, to make things, but to do so by following set patterns and techniques. Thus I began knitting.
Since then I have had several years in which I have done no knitting at all, but over the last year or two I have returned to it with gusto.
It is becoming more widely known that knitting (and other crafts) can be beneficial for people suffering from depression or other illnesses, and I can bear witness to this. It has been a much-needed distraction, something to keep my hands busy of an evening, which at the same time, keeps my mind occupied. The repetitiveness of it, the concentration required, is strangely calming, even meditative. It is one of the vital activities of handmind that Ursula Le Guin wrote of in Always Coming Home, ‘slow[ing] thought to the gait of things and let[ting] it be subject to accident and time’. (1)
Though I completed the knitting of my Braveheart jumper a few months ago, I only recently finished joining the seams. This particular project required some bravery, for it was made using a cotton ‘denim’ yarn which is designed to shrink in length when washed in hot water and tumble-dried—precisely what you are not supposed to do with most knitted garments. This meant that all I could do was knit it up to the recommended dimensions, and then hope for the best. Happily, though the sleeves are longer on me than they should be, and the neck a little wide, it fits! It is such an achievement, to have finished this piece, which was a challenge, and to be able to move on to something new. A new design, a new colour.
The name of this garment—Braveheart—got me thinking, not just about knitting itself, but also about the nature of bravery.
In my reading last year I came across this passage:
Goddess as Mother is also the Weaver of the Fabric of the Universe, with many ancient Goddesses imaged this way. This power came to be feared, rather than revered—in Her “character as creator, sustainer and increaser of life” the Great Goddess came to be seen as “negative and evil”, by a consciousness that desired “permanence and not change, eternity and not transformation, law and not creative spontaneity…(turning) her into a demon.” … Sometimes the weaving activity of women therefore became known as the cause of illness or a curse with some Christian traditions even forbidding knitting. (2)
To begin with, this made me laugh. That knitting, of all things, could be forbidden! And then it made me angry, knowing, as I do, that knitting is not the cause of illness, but a remedy for it, a method of coping, healing, staying sane in a crazy world. Angry also because women’s work—knitting, weaving, sewing, and so much more—has so often been devalued; and in this case, demonised to boot.
Perhaps this is why crafting is experiencing a resurgence in the modern world. Not only are women (and some men too) reclaiming these traditional crafts, it is also something of a resurgence of women’s power and the idea of self-reliance. Maybe Goddess Herself is behind it. For making things, creating, whether it be cardigans or socks or homewares, is a protest against the consumerism and throwaway sensibility of this culture. A thing made (or indeed, mended, recycled or repurposed), stitch by stitch, with time and patience, is a thing that will be valued and cared for; an artefact that says to our unsustainable civilisation: We do not need you. We can learn to survive without you.
Brave words, perhaps. But I intend them to be so.
What I also love about making (some of) my own clothing is that I have control over the designs I choose, and the colours and textures, and this means I can create my own style, rather than having to accept the mainstream fashions that fill the shops. It becomes a reflection of me, part of my self-expression.
Thus, to knit, to make, to create, can be a brave act, a form of rebellion and expression in a mass-produced, conventional world. (See, for instance, the thousands upon thousands of 'PussyHats' that were worn by protesters at the recent Women's Marches.)
This brings me to the idea of bravery. In my very first post on this blog I said that I wanted to speak ‘fearlessly’, but I wonder now whether that was the correct word to use. Robert Moss has written that ‘courage is fear conquered by love’:
If you are fearless, you may be merely crazy, or reckless, or lacking in imagination. Courage is the ability to go through fear because you are driven by something that is stronger than fear. Courage is a quality of the heart; you won’t find it anywhere else. The French word for heart—coeur—is in there. (3)
Fear is, in fact, a useful feeling, alerting us to when something is dangerous, enabling us to protect ourselves or avoid certain situations, so it would be foolhardy to be without it.
So, I now amend what I wrote back then: I want to speak courageously, rather than fearlessly. I want the courage to go through fear, and to learn from it, for to be courageous is, literally, to be brave-hearted.
Now, whenever I wear my Braveheart jumper, I will think of the bravery of my heart, my courage (small and timid as it may be sometimes), my rebellion against all that is tamed, throwaway, and, frankly, boring about civilisation. And as the denim yarn changes, gradually fading and revealing its textures and twists, I will remember the endless transformation and creative spontaneity of Goddess, and flow willingly with Her into a new, braver age.
1. Ursula Le Guin, Always Coming Home, Grafton Books: London, 1985, p. 175
2. Glenys Livingstone, PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing Earth-based Goddess Religion, iUniverse: Lincoln, NE, 2005, p 98
3. Robert Moss, Active Dreaming: Journeying Beyond Self-Limitation to a Life of Wild Freedom, New World Library: Novato, California, 2011, p. 177