Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Friday, 23 December 2011

Walk Away: On Becoming a Selfish Knitter

You've likely been there.  I know I have, numerous times.  You plan, you plot, you choose the perfect yarn (or spin it yourself), the perfect item for that special someone.  You craft with love and attention and all the skill you can muster.  With joyful anticipation, you give your special gift, only to run headlong into The Ungrateful Recipient.

The Ungrateful Recipient manifests in many ways.  She or he may greet your offering with a "What is it?"  They may trump your gift by buying a similar item (extra points if they buy the item they've requested you make or tell you that you could have saved time and trouble doing so).  They may feign enthusiasm or wear your lovely hat, etc. while complaining that it's the wrong colour, wrong size, or that-a classic-it itches.  They tell you that they will "save the item for good." Perhaps you receive a warm thank you and the gift is stored away, never to be seen again.

However the UR behaves, her reactions or the lack of them hurt.  When expectations aren't met, the results may be sorrow, guilt or anger.  I've seen gifts used as weapons, thrown back in the face of the giver as a sign that whatever she does, it will never be good enough.  Clearly, the intention of a gift, something given freely with love, is lost here. When there is so much emphasis on finding the "perfect" gift, when relentless advertising campaigns spread false cheer and proclamations on what to buy, to give and how your holidays will go, it's easy to link our egos with expectations.

It took me a while to learn this lesson, but I've discovered that you can't make other people behave.  You may want your UR to react differently, but he did not and there it is.  The only things within your control are your reaction and your behaviour. In the spirit of the season, and with some thought to next year, I offer some suggestions for taking our Selves out of holiday giving:

  1. Don't set an agenda.  If Aunt Clara is a die hard fan of synthetic yarns or scorns knitting all together, don't think to change her mind by knitting her a hand spun silk scarf.  Odds are, she'll complain about having to dry clean it and will refuse to believe that silk can be washed.  Trust me, you will not gain another knitting enthusiast.
  2. Give 'em what they want. Uncle Buck has spent the past year dropping hints that he needs a camouflage gun cover from Big Box Store X; he won't be thrilled if you've made a hand sewn cover in hot pink.  If you love him and you want to get him that something special, get him the gun cover.  If your conscience doesn't allow that, buy him a box of chocolates.
  3. Practice Random Acts of Knitting.  If you can leave gifts for strangers, no strings attached, you can learn to do this for family and friends.  Tastes vary and despite your best efforts, sometimes, you miss the mark. Hand over the gift and let it go.  Your work is done with the making of the gift.
  4. Don't turn your gift into a weapon.  We sometimes use our work to demonstrate our value to others.  If you suspect that your hand crafted gift is an attempt to play "I Love You More," to guilt the UR into gratitude, your efforts are bound to fail.  The result will be hurt feelings all around and a wasted "gift."
  5. Finally, Just Say "No."  That's right-if a first attempt at giving the hand crafted gift has met with failure, then don't do it again.  Don't waste time and energy repeating a mistake.  Learn to be a Selfish Knitter, in the best possible sense of the term.  Save your efforts for those who appreciate them-including yourself.   
Are you sensing a theme here?  When we learn to give something freely, with our best efforts and intentions, but with no expectations, with non-attachment, we change the game.  With practice, we can remove ourselves from the negative emotions that others send us when they don't appreciate what we've done.  What we're left with is love.

Like any mindful practice, giving with non-attached freedom is simple, but not easy.  We're human and the sting of rejection may never go away completely. (Decades later, it still hurts when I think of my handwoven bag showing up on the arm of a stranger, who had rescued it from the local thrift shop.  On the plus side, I no longer remember the original recipient, although I do recall the pleasure I took in weaving that bag.)  When we practice Selfish Knitting, which in this case is really Selfless Knitting, we learn to accept and maybe, just maybe, appreciate the lessons provided by our Ungrateful Recipient.  (May you have only one!)

And if you are the Ungrateful Recipient, I have two words for you: Thank You.  Yes, that's a hint. 

Namaste and Happy Holidays.  Love to all my family and friends.  I wish you all the best.

I've given myself the gift of learning to crochet!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A Few of My Favourite Things and Welcoming the Winter Solstice

Tonight is the beginning of the winter solstice.  (The times vary, depending upon your location and point of view, but for various reasons, I'll mark the start of solstice late, late this evening.)  Bodhi Tree Yoga is celebrating its arrival by doing 108 cycles of sun/solstice salutations.   I will be there in spirit.  12 salutations would have me collapsed on the floor; I shudder to think what attempting 108 would do.  I will make an effort to do them, at home, in my mind.

I hope to be curled up on the couch with my knitting and spinning, a glass of wine in hand, visiting with young Mr. DD, who is scheduled to arrive by bus this morning. Young Ms. DD's flight is due in on Christmas Eve.  Once she is here, our celebrations will be in full swing.

In solstice spirit, I offer a very short list of what makes my life perfect as it is.  There are many more, but these are what make me grateful that I'm still on the planet:
  • Mr. DD and the younger DD's, plus Morris and Mickey.  They rock my world, although not in equal measure, of course!
  • Mr.  DD's brother, who in addition to being a great friend, is also a fantastic comrade knitter.
  • Bodhi Tree Yoga and all the teachers there.  This studio not only provides a wide range of yoga and meditation classes, its owners and instructors spend much of their free time volunteering in the studio and around the community.
  • Every spinner, knitter, fibre person I have met.  These people build the community I've explored for decades.
  • This planet and all the wonders in it.
And, as a countermeasure to all the syrupy festive songs which are assaulting my ears these days, I offer up my favourite holiday song of all.  I love it for its raw emotion and its honesty and the wee, wee glimmer of hope I hear in its despair:


Monday, 19 December 2011

Good Times and the Candy Wrap

Golden Willow held its holiday drop in on Saturday.  Our regulars brought treats and we knitted, spun, crocheted, visited, laughed and had a great time all day long.  (One person shed a tear or two over problems with her shawl, but we sorted that.)  We covered the gamut from recipe swapping, charkha spinning, sock knitting, to the best exercises for relieving finger cramps acquired, rather ironically, from knitting gloves.  The day reminded me why I value my community of fibre people and how important their energy is to me. When we come together with shared interests and generous spirit, the world becomes a better place.

Many people remarked on the poncho/wrap/shawl kinda thing I was wearing that day, knitted from a bulky Louet boucle yarn I dyed a few years back.  I had only one 225 gram skein of the yarn and it was discontinued a while ago.  I wanted to knit something simple, but useful, limited to that amount of yarn.  I needed a wrap to ward off a chill, a piece that was easy to pull on and off and that would leave my arms free for knitting or spinning.

What I came up with is so complex, so inventive, that I hesitate to publish the pattern here, lest you perish in awe.  It was-wait for it-a garter stitch rectangle, shaped at one end, with buttons added, so that I can vary the look of the wrap.  I knit the wrap loosely, which eliminates the need for planning buttonholes.  Depending upon how you button the piece, you have a poncho with the point in front, a wrap with armholes, a simple scarf or. . .whatever you can come up with as a way to wear the thing.

Off the body, this wrap doesn't impress.  (See the photograph with the wrap opened.)  Put it on, and the fabric drapes to suit almost any body. 

So, here it is, my Candy Wrap, named after Candace, who was running around the store on Saturday, looking for ideas for yarn to use for this wrap and who demonstrated her own special baby wrap with Alex, one of our favourite GW babies.

Candy Wrap

The wrap can be worn many ways.  I usually wear it with the buttons running up my arm.

200 to 250 grams  of a bulky boucle yarn or any other bulky yarn to give approximate gauge of 2 sts per inch.  My yarn measured about 200 metres per skein.  (Please note that the Louet Diana yarn yardage on the Yarndex site is listed as 185 metres per 50 gram skein.  My wrap weighs  215 grams with 3 large buttons and I am certain that this wrap did not require 740 metres of yarn.  40 metres per 50 grams would be more likely. I have long since lost the label for this yarn, but this yardage seems more accurate.) 

1-60 cm/24 inch 10 mm circular needle or size required to give gauge.

3 large buttons.

Finished Size: 45 cm x 140 cm/18 inches x 55 inches

You don't have to shape the end, but it gives the wrap more versatility.  Note the offset button.


Cast on 36 stitches loosely.

Knit in garter stitch rows for approximately 120 cm/48 inches.

Begin decreases:  Decrease 1 stitch each edge on every right side row:  K1, SSK (slip one stitch as if to knit, slip next stitch as if to knit, place tip of left hand needle into front of both slipped stitches and knit these two stitches together), knit across to last 3 stitches, K2tog, K1.

WS Rows:  Knit.

Continue decreases on every right side row until you have 14 stitches remaining.  Bind off loosely.  Wash and block the piece.  Allow it to dry completely before adding the buttons.

Sew 3 buttons at regular intervals along the bottom edge of the long edge of rectangle, i.e., the edge without the shaping.  (See the photograph.)  I recommend experimenting with button placement.  Sew your buttons in place temporarily and button them through the wrap in various ways to determine the best effect, before securing them. Notice that one of my buttons is inset a few centimetres.  I did this in order to make my wrap hang evenly when it was done up. 

Because of the loose knit and the strength of the mohair, you do not have to plan buttonholes for this wrap.  Simply loop the button through a hole in the knitting and you're good to go.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Inside: On the Value of Retreat

I have a friend who goes on retreat every year, between December 20 and January.  She cleans the house, stocks the fridge and pantry and organizes her outside workload.  Then, at the dawn of the Winter Solstice, she unplugs her computer and her television, turns off her phone and stays inside.  From the Solstice to the New Year, K remains alone, in silence, interacting only with her thoughts, in an effort to reconnect with her self.  (Yes, the cat gets fed.)

In this winter season, we get caught up in the frenzy of cooking, cleaning, shopping, knitting and social activities. Many of us find ourselves drained of energy and patience.  Rather than enjoying all the action, I notice that I'm becoming more short-tempered, frustrated and, well, just downright touchy over matters that really aren't that important.  Breath work, asanas and meditation aren't enough to keep me balanced.  And so, I retreat.

We may not be able to lock ourselves away for a week or two, but when you're overwhelmed by the energy around you, take a few moments to move inwards and cherish yourself.  Head to your fibre room, your meditation space, close the door and sit for a while.  Put aside that holiday knitting for a few hours.  Knit, spin, weave or engage in fibre work solely for your own enjoyment.

Most importantly, stop talking.   We tell ourselves that words explain, communicate and heal, but sometimes, especially when we are stressed, we use words as weapons or as a means to fill space.  We are incapable of listening, of hearing what others tell us or the messages of our inner voices.

This month, consider giving yourself what may be the most precious gift, the gift of silence.  A few moments, hours, a day or two may be all you need to focus your scattered energy, and appreciate the wonders around you.

File:Om hindu.jpg
"OM" from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Rise Up Part Two: Twist, Don't Shout

Knitters, spinners and others spend a lot of time sitting, often hunched over our work, with our shoulders rounded and our spines slumped.  If we work to counterbalance our habits, we may find that we can work more comfortably, avoiding stress and strain.

I've talked about the spine before and how important it is to keep our spines flexible and healthy. As we grow older, our spines become less fluid, more prone to injury, including osteoporosis, disc problems and general aches and pain. Doing mindful, slow twists can help strengthen our spine, helping us to prevent trouble and to heal existing difficulties. 

Twists help in spinal disc lubrication.  They increase lymphatic flow throughout the body and improve the vascular system, dispersing oxygen, lymph and blood to keep us healthy and helping us to move toxins out of our systems. Gentle twists relieve the stress and strain of slouching over our knitting and keep us alert during those long sessions working with our needles and spindles.

There are many, many ways to practice spinal twists.  Their safety and benefits rely on learning them with a skilled practitioner who understands that each body is different.  Along with that, remember that you are responsible for your own body, so know your limits, avoid competition, and work slowly, in small increments.  As always, consult your health practitioners before beginning a new practice.  Twists are contraindicated for some people; it's better to discover that before you begin twisting.

Because twists are so individualized, I won't provide instructions for specific twists here, but there are things that spinners, knitters and other fibre workers should keep in mind when they begin spinal twists.

Sit on the floor in a comfortable supported position with a long spine.  You can also sit straight in a chair.  Your legs should be parallel to the floor, with your feet planted under your knees at a 90 degree angle.  If your feet don't touch the floor comfortably, place a yoga block or other support under your feet.  Twists can also be practised while you are lying on the floor.  In all cases, find tadasana before you begin.

Always begin a twist by extending the spine before you start the twist.  Think of extending the spine up on an in breath, moving into the twist as you exhale.  Begin the twist at the belly and move up through the lower ribs, chest, shoulders and, finally, your head.  With each new movement, breathe in and extend the spine, moving slowly and mindfully on the out breath.  Begin the twist by moving to one side and then complete the same cycle twisting to the other side. 

Do not push through a twist.  My teachers describe trunk twists as "wringing out the dish cloth;" the benefits come from slow, thorough movements, not through over extension.  If you feel any pinching or discomfort, Stop and ease back to your comfort zone.  Feeling a stretch is desirable; feeling pain is not.  Remember that doing twists with modifications will be beneficial.  That includes working prone on the floor or doing the practice only in your mind.

When you're feeling tired and small after a long day, try two or three mindful twists in each direction.  Your body and mind will thank you.

File:Yarn twist S-Left Z-Right.png
Twist Direction in Yarn from Wikimedia Commons Images

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Rise Up: Ya Needa Break!

My stack of Finished Objects is building slowly.  The things I've made are simple-crocheted hats, scarves, socks, nothing fancy-but they're made with the recipients' tastes in mind and constructed with all good thoughts and love. 

Any one who does craft work tends to push things, especially when facing deadlines.  We can sit for hours, spinning, knitting, crocheting or sewing, forgetting to take regular breaks or refusing to stretch our bodies while we finish "just one more row."  Neglecting our own needs can cause sore muscles, headaches, and crankiness.

Athletes know to prepare and stretch for a marathon and we should, too.  Stretching and flexing before, during and after a session of fibre work will keep us flexible, help us relax and steady our tension, both in our bodies and our knitting.  Slow, simple movements may help in preventing repetitive stress injuries. Improving lymphatic flow moves toxins out of our systems, bringing more energy to our bodies.

There are a few movements I practice daily, before I spin, knit or crochet or at the start a meditation/yoga practice.  I pay attention to my state of mind and my breath, moving slowly through each one.  Each movement is designed to bring mindful awareness to the body.  The movements are beneficial to anyone who works with her hands. I present a few of them to you here.

While the suggestions below should be safe for most people, I am not a health practitioner.  Please consult with your doctor or therapist before starting any new exercise regimen.  Remember that you know your body best-stay in "the pain-free zone."

Sit in a comfortable, supported upright position, with your head, neck and shoulders extending upright, but relaxed.  You can also stand in tadasana.

1. Begin at your head and neck.  Slowly, carefully, with full attention, relax your shoulders, gently rolling them back to move your shoulder blades down your back.  Bring attention to your breath.  You are not trying to change your breath; just be aware of its rhythm.  On an in breath, lower your right ear to your right shoulder, as best you can.  (Don't move your shoulder up to your ear and don't push things.  This is not a contest.)  On your out breath, bring your head back to centre.  Repeat the process for left ear/left shoulder.  Do three or four cycles of these movements.

2.  Do some gentle shoulder shrugs in both directions.  Keep your head, neck and face relaxed as you move your shoulders in small circles.  Don't hunch your shoulders up to your ears.  Move slowly.  If you experience any pinching in your neck, shoulders, back or anywhere, do not do this exercise.

3. Extend your arms in front of you, hands up, palms out, bringing energy into your fingers, your hands, up your arms to your shoulders.  Gently bend and flex your hands at the wrists while keeping energy in your arms.  Repeat these motions several times.  Bend and flex only as far as is comfortable.

4.  Give yourself a gentle hand massage, paying special attention to the pads at the base of your thumbs and the spaces between your fingers.  Intertwine your fingers and stretch your arms out, away from your body, with your palms facing out.  Release your fingers and intertwine them "the way that feels weird," as my teacher says.  (If you usually intertwine your fingers with your right baby finger on top of your left, put your left baby finger on top of your right, etc.)  Repeat the exercise, noticing the changes you feel when you move out of one small habitual practice.

5.  Place your hands in prayer position, elbows bent.  Bring your arms in towards your chest, keeping your back straight and extended upward.  Gently bow your head, keeping your back neck extended.  Feel the stretch in the back of your neck.  Hold this position for a few breaths and then gently raise your head and lower your arms.

As you practice and while you're knitting, etc., take a few deep breaths on occasion.  Full deep breaths help with anxiety, stress reduction and oxygen flow to our bodies and brains, something all of us need, especially at busy times of the year. 

Enjoy your work and the season!


Thursday, 8 December 2011

Just Breathe: Difficult People

Another winter solstice is upon us.  Many people and cultures mark this time as a period of reflection and celebration.  We call it joyous and festive, but sometimes there's not a lot of joy and festivity in the air.

Everyone has difficult people in life. Throw a mix of personalities together and there are bound to be clashes.  People don't share the same values, or understanding of appropriate behaviours.  Some people are simply clueless, stuck in bigotry and racism.  Others are deliberately provocative.  Some days, it's a mad world.

You don't have difficult people in your life?  Good for you.  Now, go look in the mirror.  That face staring back at you is some one's difficult person.

When we're faced with things beyond our control-the long lines at stores, rudeness (never ours, of course)-the simplest thing to do is breathe.  Stand in tadasana, take a deep breath and stay present.  Put aside that list of what needs to be done and focus on what is happening right now, with you. 

When you're on the edge of a disagreement, stop, breathe in tadasana and then speak the truth. 

Being mindful and considerate does not mean ignoring truly bad behaviour.  In one of my favourite sections in Sylvia Fraser's book, The Rope in the Water,  Fraser wonders what she should have done when faced with her driver's sexual advances.  Her advisor recommends smacking the aggressor over the head with an umbrella, with all the loving kindness you can manage.  I love that passage.  I may not have ever whacked someone with an umbrella, but on several occasions, I've fantasized about it.

Before you go bashing about with weapons, try using your breath to help you.  It's always with you, it's much lighter than an umbrella and in most cases, breathing does no one any harm, unless, of course, you've been chewing on garlic bulbs.

Enjoy the moment.  And if I see you in a check out line holding an umbrella (around here, it's more likely to be a hockey stick), I promise to behave.


These stockings were a holiday commission.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Big Fish: a Meditation on Knitting and Life

We watched Tim Burton's Big Fish last night:

It's a story about a young man coming to terms with his dying father, who has framed his life in big events and tall tales.  (If this movie is not Tim Burton's explanation of why he makes the movies he does, then you can knock me over with a Handi Matic.)

One of the themes of the movie is that we become the stories we tell about ourselves. In the end, we return to what we always were. I thought about this and what it might mean in terms of the knitting I do. 

My knitting (and spinning) tends to be colourful, spontaneous and freeform.  I'm a fearless knitter; if I run across a problem, I repeat it until it becomes a pattern or I work my way around it until the problem is solved.  If a project really isn't working, I will abandon it and not look back.  Most of the time, I'm a process person, not a project minder.

Although I have lots of experience and training in fibre arts, my techniques tend to be haphazard, as does my attention to detail.  I'm a whiz at mending socks, but if I had spun the yarn and knit the socks properly in the first place, I wouldn't be doing so much mending.

I'm greedy about yarns and fibres, always wanting to be the first to have new stuff, but I'm working on changing that. As I slowly disappear under a mountain of fibre, I am beginning to understand that having too much of a good thing can hinder one's creativity, not help it.  I've learned to give things away and not look back, but there are many knitted projects and bags of unspun fibres that keep me attached, no matter how unlikely it is that I will use them.

What this says about me and my life is uncertain, but if I end up as a pile of unspun fibre and natural yarns, I'm okay with that, as long as I don't become a tangled mess.

Are there parallels between the way you knit and the habits that make you the person you are and the person you are becoming?

Are the stories you've woven about yourself the way you're actually living your life?

Can you contemplate life as a "non string person?" (Thanks, Mar, for that idea.)

My fibre room in full working mode: I can't think too much about what the state of it says about me!