I’m going on Sunday with my friend Karen: New York State Sheep and Wool Festival (popularly known as Rhinebeck, after the town it’s held in). I’ve been once before, and I’m looking forward to going back. I’ve recently been picking up my knitting needles again, so it doesn’t seem such an extravagance to consider buying yarn or patterns.

Rhinebeck is comparable in size and variety, by the way, to the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.

Knitting Retreat at Woolman Hill

In a previous post I described the knitting retreat I’m leading at Woolman Hill Nov. 4–6. (You can download a flyer with registration form there.)

I don’t have a very firm plan yet, but it will probably go something like this:

Friday evening:

  • collecting ourselves in the present with some silence
  • invite people to take out their knitting (if they haven’t already)
  • introduce myself and the retreat center, outline my plan for the weekend
  • ask each person to tell us what they like to be called and share one thing they hope for from the weekend (I’ll encourage people to go slowly around the circle, giving space between each person’s speaking to really hear what they share. This is pretty standard Quaker technique, and I expect to encourage it throughout the weekend unless it turns out not to sit well with the participants. I will have some discernment time after the session to consider any adjustments to the schedule based on people’s hopes.)

Saturday morning session 1 (optional, 1/2 hour, no knitting):

  • brief introduction to Quaker worship<
  • Quaker worship

Saturday morning session 2 (knitting and conversation):

  • as we knit, go around the cirlcle and tell what we’re working on
  • break
  • show and tell our resources, ask for help on any knitting problems we’re trying to solve

Saturday afternoon session (knitting in silence):

  • ask people to knit together in silence for a period of time (I’ll need to get a feel for how people feel about silence in order to decide how long. 1/2 hour to an hour.)
  • break
  • discussion about what it was like to knit together in silence (probably encourage them not to knit; perhaps split them into small groups)

Free time Saturday afternoon

Saturday evening (sharing our knitting):

  • ask people to reflect and share on what about knitting is (or isn’t) spiritual for them
  • break
  • ?? encourage people to seek out one or two others they’d like to talk with and move chairs into small groups
  • ?? closing silence or epilogue (prepared reflection, maybe a song)

Sunday morning: meeting for worship (optional) 1 hour

Sunday morning session (knitting together, content tbd)

Knitting retreat

I’d like everyone who reads my blog to know about this retreat I’m leading in November. It’s open to anyone who wants a knitting retreat. You don’t have to be a Quaker to come.

A Weekend Knitting Retreat
November 4–6, 2005

We’ll have time for uninterrupted periods of knitting, both with conversation and in silence, as well as time for worship, individual retreat, and recreation. The fields and woods of Woolman Hill’s lovely 19th-century farmstead will be open to our use. While not providing knitting instruction, this retreat will provide a setting for sharing stories, techniques, and problem-solving ideas. All skill-levels are welcome. Participants should bring a current project (or projects); journals, sketchbooks, and other devotional materials; books and resources to share. Crochet, spinning, or other handwork that fits in your lap is welcome.

I’m a long-time knitter and crocheter. A member of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting in Boston, I am an experienced workshop and retreat leader. I works as an editor for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

For registration information see this flyer (pdf)
or Woolman Hill New England Quaker Center

The Knitting Way

I was so excited about The Knitting Way: A Guide to Spiritual Self-Discovery by Linda Skolnik and Janice MacDaniels. It was delayed from the original publication date; I even called the publisher to find out when it was shipping. I ran right out and bought it.

Never have I been so disappointed. I bought it months ago, but set it aside in disgust before I finished it. Having just read Two Sweaters for My Father, I thought I should just bite the bullet and skim to the end.

Maybe there are just too many barriers between the authors (and their experience) and I. From the introduction: “I [Skolnik] had married when I was a junior in college, working toward a BA (read: Mrs.) degree in psychology at Brooklyn College.” An Mrs. degree? Come on.

From the first chapter, “Knitting into Awareness: Escape versus Care for the Soul,” one sees that apparently “spiritual” means bad poetry:

Knitting defies a
Mass-produced culture that shuns
subsistence, handmade clothes,
clothes which will be kept forever.
This sort of activity does not
improve the GNP.

There are five more stanzas. You get the picture.

Then the chapter launches into free-association writing:

Hear the wind, the sea, and the rolling hills. Listen to the sky. Let your hands dance with the wool. Your fingers see the sheep on the gren hills. The smell of the earth that produced the grass that fed the sheep who gave their fleece lies int he wool. The sound is in the wool. Hear the waves, the sea air, the salt spray that nurtured the wild sheep in the Shetlands and Hebrides. The harmony is found there. It calls us to remember and reach for the comfort of the work of our hands.

And there’s not always much original thought. On pages 10–11:

graph 1: original writing
graph 2: quote from Brenda Ueland in Strength to Your Sword Arm
graph 3: quote from Sherry Anderson and Patricia Hopkins in The Feminine Face of God
graph 4: quote from Rene Dubos’s “masterpiece” A God Within
graph 5: “The opposite of the holy is the superficial,” according to Marc Gafni in Soul Prints. . .“
graph 6: quote from Maurice Nicoll in Living Time and the Integration of the Life
graph 7: quote from Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul
graph 8 (incomplete): continuation of Moore.

It just never got any better as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s just what someone else has been thirsting for.

Two Sweaters for My Father by Perri Klass

Two Sweaters for My Father: Writing about Knitting satisfies on several levels, and is amusing on another (unintended, I’m sure). This is a wonderful collection of essays, mostly published in Knitter’s Magazine. Perri Klass writes about an experience I share: Knitting can calm the mind and help it to be fully present in the moment–including being present to a speaker or other activity. This satisfied me as a knitter and as a religious person.

The unintended amusement is mine as a magazine editor. This book is so obviously the product of magazine publishers. There is the inevitable repetition of essays on a common subject collected from a variety of original settings, which is to be expected in any such collection. But it’s the design that strikes me as odd. There’s a title page, but no half title page, no publication page (it’s in the back, and more on that later). The table of contents has tiny little type, and then each essay opens on a page with the same even, grey “color” as every other page.

The crowning touch is that publication page in the back, where you finally find the copyright and ISBN, acknowledgements and credits, and, of all things, a masthead!

But I quibble. This is actually one of the more rewarding books on the subjective experience of knitting I’ve read.

Knitting Heaven and Earth: Healing the Heart with Craft

By Susan Gordon Lydon.

I loved Lydon’s The Knitting Sutra. She has a beautiful writing style. But this book just doesn’t do it for me (others, of course will find it just what they need).

Here’s an example of the very best of the writing in the book:

It has occurred to me that I am helping to knit my father out of this world. During the previous weeks, when my father knew he was dying but before he lay insensate in this hospice room, I knitted a black wool men’s sweater with thick cables that I will probably never wear. But it doesn’t seem to matter what I knit, how useless it is or inappropriate for the climate, so long as I just keep knitting.

The quiet motions of my swishing needles and slipping yarn help me sit still and attend this momentous event. It feels as though the thread connects my inner self to the reality now unfolding, which after all is as spiritual as it gets. There is no bigger mystery than life and death. I watch my father metamorphose from his powerful earthly presence to the embryonic being lying silent in the bed. I never knew before how much like birth death is. My father’s skin becomes smooth. His thoughts, his feelings, his fears and concerns are as hidden to us as a baby’s, his energy focused on the coming transformation.

I was quite disappointed at the very low knitting (or needlepoint, the
other craft she practices) content. And I’m not sure about how much
healing there is, either, except for healing her relationship with her
father–only one of three major life events she focuses on. There were
just too many differences in life experience that are reflected in her
writing: addiction, intimacy issues with men, breast cancer. I’ve read
books by women writing about their experience as women that have drawn
me in, but in this one it became more of a barrier.

As I read, I thought over and over, I should really be thinking about writing on the spirituality of handwork for a male audience. Over and over I pick up one of the currently in vogue books about knitting and spirituality and find myself set very firmly on the outside of the intended audience. Lydon never acknowledges the role of men in the history of knitting (unless you count mentioning Kaffe Fassett), prefering instead the kind of new-agey feminine mystical connection that some of the worst neo-pagan writing uses to create a connection between current practice and prehistory: “Groups of women have probably gathered to do needlework together since the dawn of time.”

I suppose I shouldn’t blame her for the absence of men in her writing, since it’s clear from early in the book that she has one, maybe two healthy close relationships with men–one her godson, only ten, and her gay brother. So after spending a long paragraph listing all the women who helped her through the horrors of breast cancer, she writes, “Not to shortchange my male friends, either, because they showed up to help in solid numbers.” But of course, she has just shortchanged her male friends.

I do hope this book reaches the audience who will be receptive to it, which I am sure exists. I just wish there was a book in this genre for which I am the audience.