It’s dark, rainy, and blustery this afternoon—perfect for tuning in to the world’s greatest radio station, baking up a batch of homemade brownies, and talking about knitting. I don’t intend to write much about knitting on this blog, but it does fit into my emphasis on sustainability, so I’ll add something about it from time to time. I’ll start by talking a bit about the woman who taught me to knit: Cosette Cornelius-Bates.
I met Cosy at Regent almost three years ago. We were both new students, and we connected right away. I had a lot of fun hanging out with her throughout the year, together arguing the pitfalls of capitalism in our “Christianity and the Economic Order” class, and learning to knit from her.
I almost hesitate to talk about knitting because it’s so trendy right now. But Cosy knits for much better reason than trendiness. For her, knitting is a redemptive, incarnational activity. It’s about stewardship, community, and theology, things that I, too, am keenly interested in. I’ll let her do the explaining here, here, and here.
For me, knitting is about roots and sustainability, aside from the obvious pleasure in producing something both practical and beautiful. Cosy taught me to go for the wool rather than the cheaper acrylic. (And acrylic is a petroleum-based product, so wool is definitely the sustainable choice.) Every hand-knit piece I wear is one less that was produced by a machine. Often I know the person knitting the piece (especially if it’s me!), sometimes I know where the wool came from, sometimes I know who dyed or even spun the wool. I’m enamored with alpacas and may eventually own one, so someday I may even personally know the animal from which I got the wool.
Pattern, recycled yarn, and hand-dyed yarn from Cosy.
I’m not blind to the great pleasures that living in a post-industrial society brings. I have absolutely no desire to make the majority of my own clothes, let alone weave my own fabric from which to make clothes. But I do think we live an economy that values speed and uniformity over true craft and beauty. Knitting is a good “focal practice” (to borrow a term from Cosy, who borrowed it from Albert Borgmann) and is therefore worth my effort. It helps me take a step out of an overwhelming industrial production cycle and makes me a bit more mindful of the creation that sustains me.
I also believe that anything that teaches us to pay attention is worthwhile to consider taking up as a regular practice. Since I first read the following quote several years ago, I have tried to take on practices like knitting and gardening that teach us to pay attention:
The French philosopher Simone Weil saw that the everyday studying that students do—learning math or grammar or history—can form in them rich capacities for attention. Indeed, she suggested, this is study’s most important purpose, for those who learn attention in this way become able to give attention also to other people and to God. They become able to be present to those who are suffering, and they become able to pray [Bass, Dorothy C., Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000), p. 36].
Our culture does not teach us to pay attention very well. In fact, we have so much that seeks our attention (cell phone calls, e-mails, media, advertising, etc.) that we learn to pay very little deep attention to anything. Knitting, like gardening, is an antidote to my culture’s absent-mindedness.
Among the places you can find Cosy (her blog and her shop) will, I hope, soon be a bookstore near you. She has a knitting book in the works, for which I am very happy to have been able to test a pattern (see pic above). If you’re a knitter and interested in adding some lovely new patterns to your stash, keep an eye out for Knit One, Embellish Too: Hats, Mittens, and Scarves With a Twist next spring.