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December 28, 2003

The joy of stitch
Posted by Teresa at 10:03 AM *

Jim Capozzola of The Rittenhouse Review tipped me off to this article in the NYTimes about a program that has half the pupils at a New Jersey elementary school learning to knit:

They sat in a circle, all eyes on their knitting, colorful yarns slowly lengthening as their needles moved rhythmically, back and forth, back and forth. They kept up a steady conversation, about what they were making, about how else they spend their lives, but the wooden No. 9 needles never stopped their quick movements.

“Knitting is like sleeping,” said one of the knitters.

“It’s so quiet,” said another. “I’m usually very jittery, but when I knit, I calm down.”

“You make a lot of friends when you knit, people you wouldn’t think you’d meet,” a third said.

They may have sounded like little old ladies at a sewing circle, but in fact they were schoolchildren at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, N.J. Instead of going outside for recess, they were sitting on the floor in a hallway a week ago, knitting scarves, doll clothes, bags.

Judith Symonds, an instructional aide at the school, started the knitting program last year as a winter activity, something to do at recess when the playground was too wet or frozen. Ms. Symonds taught 85 children and 20 adults how to knit. As others heard about the program, they wanted in, too. It grew so popular that the sessions continued even as the spring thaw came, right up until the very last day of school. They resumed as soon as school started in September.

Now, more than 250 of the school’s 535 pupils take part in the program, which still takes place in the hallway during recess. The principal, Kristopher Harrison, has learned to knit along with the children. And sometimes, the school’s head custodian, Malik Muhammad, also sits and knits.

The program, called Knitting Together a Community, proved so alluring that Ms. Symonds started an evening session so parents and children could knit together. She has also talked to teachers and parents from other schools who want to start their own knitting programs. …

A spokeswoman for the South Orange-Maplewood School District, Michelle Loxton, said that Knitting Together a Community teaches children success through persistence, concentration, control, follow-through and mastery. Knitting itself, she said, improves fine-motor skills, hand-eye coordination and brain development.

The children say they just like it.
Later on in the story you get a ten-year-old boy, sitting there in the hallway knitting with his buddies, saying “With knitting, you don’t have a care in the world.”

From the sound of it, he and his friends have discovered one of the great truths of knitting: it feels good. Knitting is good. It produces a sort of serene buzz, and every so often you look down and find you’ve finished a cap or sweater. Knitting while chatting with other knitters is even better. (Knitting envy is not good. It’s what happens when you’re at a gathering where others have brought their knitting, but you haven’t brought yours. There’s a distinct sense of deprivation.)

Besides, knitting helps stave off Alzheimer’s. This is great news. It means all those bags in my basement aren’t too much yarn. They’re an investment in my long-term mental health.

Gardening, which is also on the list of activities that stave off Alzheimer’s, feels good in much the same way that knitting does, only you can’t carry it with you in your bag, and it doesn’t use up nearly as much wool.

Comments on The joy of stitch:
#1 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 11:34 AM:

And here's another one on the same theme: that ordinary kindness and pleasures are good for people:

"This is the Snoezelen (SNOO-zuh-len) room for residents with severe dementia. Donna Hoskins, associate director of nursing, says its effects are intended to stimulate the primary senses with music, soft tactile objects, lighting and fragrances. The stimulation, nurses find, blunts the anxieties of even the most regressive residents and helps them relax."

(Catch the article fast: it's from last Tuesday)

#2 ::: Tayefeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 11:44 AM:

Sounds like an excellent program for kids who aren't temperamentally in need of running around during recess. I think it's great that they're continuing the program for the half of the kids who are interested, and not talking about forcing the other half into it.

#3 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 11:52 AM:

Would you then consider knitting as a form of meditation?

#4 ::: Charles Kuffner ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 12:40 PM:

Well, hey, as long as we're plugging the health benefits of our favorite hobbies, I'll note that playing bridge is also a good way to stave off Alzheimer's.

#5 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 01:45 PM:

Sounds like an excellent program for kids who aren't temperamentally in need of running around during recess.

It does sound like an excellent program, and I'd love to see it in my school district. However, as a teacher, I can't think of a single kid who isn't temperamentally in need of running around during recess. Besides the tempermental need, kids have a real physical need to get outside and play. Given how many of them eat lunches that are mostly corn syrup, and then go home to watch Nickelodeon and play PS2, that 15 minute recess is often the only thing standing between them and childhood obesity.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 02:24 PM:

Of course knitting is a form of meditation, and circular lace shawls and tablecloths are clearly a species of mandala.

#7 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 02:56 PM:

My mother, who just turned 86, has taken up knitting again after stopping for a number of years. When she was younger she was quite a knitter and even turned down an offer from Woodward & Lothrop to teach knitting there. The staff and fellow residents at the "assisted living facility" where she moved last year after she had a mild stroke, from which she's more or less recovered, can't get enough of the socks, caps, doll clothes, scarves, etc. that she makes. Despite her age and the stroke, she's quite mentally alert. BTW, she's always complaining about how expensive wool yarn is these days. I keep in mind what I've learned from you--that one can buy an old sweater at a thrift store and pull it apart for the yarn--but haven't found muc that way. Any suggestions for cheap but quality yarn?

#8 ::: Nancy C. Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 03:41 PM:

Robert L -- For inexpensive (or discounted) good quality yarn, take a look at I highly recommend them. And they take PayPal. :)

#9 ::: Red Wolf ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 04:58 PM:

There's a reason crafts like knitting, spinning and weaving are used as occupational therapy. It gets fingers and joints moving and the repetitive nature of the task keep your mind both locked on your project and free to roam where it will. Plus, you get a finished product crafted by your own hands.

It's nice to see the old crafts aren't dying out, and strangely surreal that something I've always done is suddenly hip.

#10 ::: Jukka Halme ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 06:05 PM:

I hope this following has something to do with knitting, but even if it doesn't, I want to tell it.

I celebrated my 36th birthday last week and had a wee party to celebrate it, but nothing had prepared me for one heckuva present the women of Finnish SF fandom (and two stalwarthy men) had prepared for me. A quilt the size of our bed (200x250 cm), with the words "Live long and prosper". It's warm, it's cuddly and it looks great.

They had started making this amazing present in August when the news of my cancer got out and by chance, luck or strangest of co-incidences, managed to finish it just in time for my birthday - and the very news of my body getting rid of cancerous cells.

It looks "way kewl" and can be seen in here:

I'm still quite flabbergasted and (almost) speechless). 44 women and men (them two) made this apparently under my very nose and I never knew. Brilliant and stupefying.

#11 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 11:08 PM:

I've also seen stories that chess and other board games fight Alzheimer's, and so does learning new languages.

#12 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 11:08 PM:

Maybe it's just me, but I am getting two full paragraphs and two words (starting from, "Later on in the story," and ending with, "Besides, knitting,") as one enormous URL link, which seems to be connected to the link above the indented section that begins with "NYTimes".

I suspect a missing bracket or backslash or symbol somewhere, unless I am missing something subtle (always a possibility).


#13 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2003, 11:18 PM:

Jukka Halme, all my best thoughts toward total remission and cure, I will keep you in my thoughts. Yes, the quilt is waat kewl, but hearing about remission is more kewl.

I'm wondering if knitting can still the parts of the mind that makes kids want to thrash themselves about on the playground-- that it in itself may be calming as an activity. I'm not altogether certain that running around on the playground calms kids down later or just revs them up more (unless it's directed play, like a game or house or contained climbing on equipment...).

I'm also part of the knitting sisters, but right now I'm learning to make glass beads. I'm divesting myself of most of my fiber arts stuff to help pay for new bead making equipment (torch head, tanks, gauges, gas) BUT my knitting needles will never leave my house!

#14 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 12:27 AM:

So this means that I should be able to achieve my childhood goal of reading everything ever written if I simply keep reading, as the act of reading each book has the potential to extend my lifespan by the amount I'd need to finish the next.

#15 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 01:12 AM:

Cassandra, like a discussion on the Morris Dance Discussion List (MDDL, pronounced "muddle"), referring to alcohol as a Good or Bad Thing when one is dancing (hydration-wise) --

it depends on whether each book you read gives you more time than it takes.

Some books (I won't mention Prs nthn, Dn Brwn, Jhn Nrmn, or ... well, you get the idea [vowels deleted to protect the innocent]) clearly cut down on one's lifespan. Others (Gn Wlf, Mr Dr Rssll, Ptr Dcknsn, etc. [vowels deleted to preserve parity]) have a good chance of extending it. Your mileage _will_ vary.

If you don't want to fall in either camp, there are a great many midlist authors who will serve your purposes.... (Sturgeon's Law willing)

#16 ::: Kim Wallmark ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 06:19 AM:

Knitting, and later other fibercrafts, helped me finally get a reasonable amount of small motor dexterity. They're also good treatments for fidgetiness -- they absorb some of the need to fidget and they're much more socially acceptible than other fidgeting methods. I don't know that I'd have wanted to replace running around with knitting, but augmenting with it was definitely good for me.

I hope those kids are being taught basic repetitive stress injury diagnosis and prevention methods. It's very easy to get caught up in the addictiveness and ignore the warning twinges, especially since knitting and computer use can often cause overlapping repetitive stresses.

Robert L: I've had good luck with some of Brown Sheep's yarns. A good yarn store clerk will also be likely to have suggestions, if there are any in your/her area.

#17 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 07:42 AM:

Robert L: I ditto the Brown Sheep yarns. My fave is the Lamb's Pride mixture in both worsted and bulky weights, which is mostly wool with a smidge of mohair tossed in to keep it nice and soft. Generally, a big skein is about $6.

Um, and I'm not affiliated with Brown Sheep in any way...

#18 ::: Jen ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 08:01 AM:

I just taught myself to knit three weeks ago. And I agree; it is a form of meditation. And although I only know one stitch at the moment (I'm trying to learn how to purl), I'm almost done with another scarf. (This one is for me. I gave the first two away for Christmas presents.)

It's fun. Although I'm wondering about the interchangeable knitting needle sets I see (especially the Denise ones) because the two lots I've bought from ebay don't have all the sizes I need. Has anyone here used the interchangeable sets?

And is great. Very fast shipping, as well.

I taught my younger sister how to crochet, too, and she's crocheting hats for all her friends. I figure it gives her something to do while she's sitting in front of the TV.

#19 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 08:38 AM:

Another example of ordinary pleasures being good for you: there was a report on NPR showing that jumping (more exactly, landing after a jump) is noticably helpful in building bone mass in young girls and presumably helping to prevent osteoporosis. The scientists had the girls doing jumping exercises at labelled stations. I wonder whether they'd heard of jumprope and hopscotch.

#20 ::: Kris Hasson-Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 10:31 AM:

I heard that story too, Nancy. Wasn't it introduced with a bumper about how now parents should let their daughters jump on the beds?

#21 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 12:23 PM:

My six-year-old son is learning to knit at school--he goes to a Waldorf school where everyone learns to knit beginning in first grade. One of the reasons he's there is that I knew if I sent him to public school I'd be having endless conversations about Ritalin with his teachers. Knitting for a while is magically calming for him--he used to just explode out of the car after driving home from school and it took a good hour to peel him off the ceiling. Now he knits on the way home and acts remarkably like a human being on arrival. He asked for a sheep for Christmas so he wouldn't ever run out of yarn!

#22 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 01:56 PM:

Kristine: "He asked for a sheep for Christmas so he wouldn't ever run out of yarn!"

That's the kind of brilliantly charming / charmingly brilliant thing kids come up with absolutely effortlessly. (Did he get his sheep?)

On the covers of the January - April 2002 issues of Nature Genetics (science journal, part of Nature, one of Tor's cousins) was a swatch of knitting with a helix on it. See it here. Good for scarves, or as a cable. I think I have the directions for it somewhere, in PDF form. I'll look, if anyone's interested.

#23 ::: Red Wolf ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 05:19 PM:

Kristine: "He asked for a sheep for Christmas so he wouldn't ever run out of yarn!"

So who'll be washing, carding and spinning all this wool?

If you've already got a dog, you have a source of yarn running about the house shedding a natural resource. You can spin and knit dog fibre, particularly the undercoat of double coated breeds. My malamute and husky make warm, fuzzy hats and scarves.

#24 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 07:19 PM:

Um, no, he didn't get a sheep--our habitat is a little too suburban. No dog, either, though there's a little girl in his class with a gorgeous malamute-coat hat, so I can visualize the possibilities there. The helix pattern looks cool--next year's Christmas present for my bio. major little sister?!

#25 ::: John Sawers ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 07:54 PM:

"So who'll be washing, carding and spinning all this wool?"

When I was in Waldorf school, not only did we learn to knit, but we learned to wash, tease, card and spin the wool. We also built spinning wheels and simple looms. As cool as knitting is, learning the entire process from sheep to sweater is an amazing experience.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 08:07 PM:

Kayjay, where these kids live, you get a fair number of days during the school year when they'd be running around outside in dirty slush or falling sleet. If by some miracle none of them took a fall, they'd still be coming in cold, wet, and miserable. And if a fifteen-minute recess is the only physical activity a kid is getting, he or she has got problems beyond anything their school can address.

Robert, pickings used to be better at thrift stores. I suspect more people have picked up on it as a source. What's your mother's yarn consumption rate? I haven't been buying a lot of retail yarn for some years now, but I have more than I'm going to use anytime soon. It's mostly odd lots: two balls of this, three balls of that.

The biggest thing you need to know about the retail yarn market is that it has well-defined top and bottom layers and a chancy, underserved middle. The top crust consists of very pricey yarn shops that cater to well-to-do women. You can find them in a lot of areas, but if you think Cape Cod, Westchester County, and the Upper East Side, you'll have the style of the thing. They're big on sumptuous novelty yarns that knit up at medium-to-large gauges.

The bottom layer is Wal-Mart, Kmart, Target, etc., source of indestructible 100% synthetic Bernat, Red Heart, and Lion Brand yarns in obvious colors.

Then there's that underserved midrange. NYC lost most of its good yarn shops back in the '80s, like my favorite at 86th and Broadway. They reliably stocked big skeins of good basic wool that came in nice woolly colors and had a proper range of gauges. I haven't really had a personal relationship with a yarn shop since that one closed. Woe.

One great source used to be School Products at 28th and Broadway, second floor, but these days it isn't the weird yarn bonanza it used to be. They lost their big lofty industrial space packed with rows of bins and huge cardboard boxes, all of them filled with cones and skeins of wildly diverse yarns. Sometimes you'd have to lean way over on the edge of a bin and more or less dive into the contents, rummaging around in it to see what was under the top layer.

(I still recall with geekly triumph the day I realized that a large cone of yarn, priced way cheap and still not selling because it was an unpleasant ochre color and had a greasy feel, was raw silk that hadn't had its sericin removed. This is obscure expertise. So is knowing that sericin comes off if you simmer the yarn in dish detergent and water.)

Those were the days. School Products is much smaller now, but it's still there. Now they concentrate on the costlier and more specialized end of their business, like knitting machines and weaving supplies, but they still have some interesting bargains. If you want an entire cone of fine shetland or cashmere yarn, try them first. Beats the heck out of buying the same fibers by the skein in a handknitting shop. They also have a few remaining oddball bins, but if you're not the knitter, it's hard to guess what's a good choice.

I'd say your best bet is to ask Deborah Green, Nancy Hanger, and Kate Salter. Oh, and Brenda Clough, who lives closer to where your mother is. If you play your cards right, they might even let you come along for SEX* during a Boskone or Readercon.

Whoops, there's Nancy Hanger now, giving you advice. See?

Jukka, that's a lovely coverlet. Do you mind if I link to that?

Carlos, if there's something missing, it's subtle indeed. That section runs from a canonical close-blockquote to the beginning of the next (likewise canonical) link. Is anyone else getting that glitch?

Paula, you're learning to make glass? Oh, envy. I've always wanted to try that.

Cassandra, I suspect that theory's in the same class as the one that says that God does not subtract from a man's allotted lifetime the hours he spends fishing.

Thomas, this editor thanks you for your discretion.

Adrienne: Brown Sheep, definitely. I'm also fond of the slightly more expensive Green Mountain Spinnery yarns from Vermont: still a good buy, and such nice colors.

Jen, congratulations on teaching yourself to knit. I did that too. It gave me a great appreciation of good technical writing.

Nancy: I do have to wonder at that. Perhaps they were more interested in making sure every girl got her proper number of jumps, whether or not she could keep time with a rope, or throw a hopscotch taw into the right box. Still, jumping up and down for its own sake isn't something kids are likely to do on their own.

One of the many things I like about my city is the extent to which sidewalk games like hopscotch and jumprope have survived and flourished. I've seen little girls, demon rope-jumpers, who still do their jumping to long complex chanted rhymes, sometimes in a mixture of languages. Stoops and sidewalks are a rich ecological niche, especially after sunset in the summer, when buildings get hotter but the streets cool off, and people sit out in front of their buildings until late in the evening. That's also where inner-city kids learn to sing a cappella four-part harmony. ... But I digress.

Red Wolf, I know you mean your malamute and husky have undercoats that make up into warm fuzzy hats, but I enjoy the image of your dogs knitting. Keeshonds are good for that too. (One of these days I'll figure out what happened to my copy of Knitting with Dog Hair.)

*That's a Stash Enhancing eXpedition.

#27 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 08:13 PM:

Adam, I dropped your paragraph. The DNA-helix cables are brilliant, and yes, we'd love to see the instructions.

#28 ::: Red Wolf ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 08:59 PM:

Teresa: "Red Wolf, I know you mean your malamute and husky have undercoats that make up into warm fuzzy hats, but I enjoy the image of your dogs knitting. Keeshonds are good for that too."

I suffer from grammatical amnesia in comments, sometimes it's amusing, mostly I sound like a dork.

The dogs aren't that great at knitting, but they are quite enthusiastic about undoing the knitting, running about with balls of yarn or snuffling through bags of fibre awaiting spinning.

Add Samoyeds and Chows to the list. Any of the Spitz group is a yarn waiting to happen.

#29 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 09:28 PM:

I learned to knit last winter, mostly from diagrams, but I got some help from one of the other swimming-class mothers for casting-on.

I think what I like best about it, besides its meditative quality, is that it's a socially acceptable buffer activity for family gatherings. It's not OK to pull out a book and read at a holiday party. But it's OK to pull out your knitting. Then, when people want to talk to you, the first thing they do is ask about what you're making, and that's a nice SAFE subject, much better than the usual family-gathering nosiness.

#30 ::: Berni ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 10:28 PM:

I'm posting this from my mother's account, so I hope you let this through, Teresa.

Thank you so much for posting this. I hadn't thought of knitting in so long, and it's what I need right now. I'm up at my parents', cooking for my mom and driving her to the convalescent home where my dad is recovering from an operation. My mom likes to have the TV on all the time when she's home. This grates on my nerves somewhat and it makes it hard to read, so I'm going to ask her if she has any yarn stashed away. (She's a knitter, etc., too.) I don't mind the bottom of the barrel yarns -- I'm allergic to wool so synthetic's fine by me. I could use a new scarf.

#31 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 11:31 PM:

Kris, that was indeed the story I heard. I will note that when I jumped on a bed, I jumped up and down on the bed like a sensible person. What's the fun in jumping onto a floor?

Teresa, I don't know why they didn't use traditional jumping games. As you say, they may have wanted to make it more quantifiable or less skill-based. Or maybe the games didn't occur to them.

My point was more that little girls had been instinctively (?) doing the right thing for themselves for a very long time.

#32 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 11:45 PM:

Carlos, I think I've fixed the problem you were reporting. How does it look from where you are?

#33 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2003, 11:53 PM:

I still don't understand why "interested in learning to knit" is somehow the opposite of "temperamentally in need of running around during recess." I was a physically restless kid and yet somehow I managed to take a constructive interest in a variety of fine-grain skills. Some of which bore useful fruit, like the fact that I've played the guitar for the past 35 years. Thank goodness no adult in significant power over me assumed that my being "temperamentally in need of running around during recess" meant I wouldn't be interested in that sort of thing. Christ on a pogo stick.

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 12:32 AM:

Oh! My apologies. I failed to register Kayjay's post as a response to Tayefeth. Patrick, I see why you're reacting. You were simultaneously in the class of "kids who need to run around a lot" and "kids who are interested in art, making things, and fine motor skills."

(People who've only known Patrick for the past ten or fifteen years, when he's been relatively slow-moving and peaceable, may not understand this. Imagine Calvin of "Calvin & Hobbes", only he's into language and theatre and civilized behavior as well as dinosaurs and explosions and Calvinball; and then imagine that at school he's relegated to the company of people like wotzisface the bully in the strip, because he's unruly and a boy.)

There are a lot of those false dichotomies kicking around in the educational system. For instance, Art Kids aren't mathematicians: someone close to me got screwed by that one. Kids who do words don't do art is a closely related error. Academically-gifted non-jock females are neither warriors nor adrenaline junkies messed up at least half a dozen women I know, which means it probably did the same to a lot of other women I'm acquainted with, but whose histories I haven't known in sufficient detail. Boys aren't interested in civilized pursuits, and don't desire the benefits and protection of civilized society is a particularly evil one. So is high achievers have no problems. I'll grant that jocks who go in for high-status sports are overprivileged; but There's an inverse relationship between how intelligent you are and how much you care about sports has screwed up a lot of bright kids.

Was there ever a discussion of needlework that didn't digress into every subject under the sun?

#35 ::: otherdeb ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:17 AM:

Teresa, loved your comments about shawls and tablecloths being mandalas.

Knitting is great, and I'm sorry we never got the time to do that SEX at Lunacon (although the look on Bob Asprin's face when we discussed it was priceless, especially when Patrick explained to him what we were talking about).

Seriously, it is my considered opinion that every first grader should be taught to knit regardless of gender. It is a great stress reducer (well, most of the time, anyway), and it's usually cheaper than therapy, and you have something useful to show at the end of it, like socks, sweaters, shawls, etc.

And my fiance just learned to knit, to keep his hand from stiffening up as a result of a burn. He has made a pouch for our laptop, and is trying his first pair of socks.

#36 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:59 AM:

Another self-taught knitter here! My mom loved to knit, but was afraid to teach me because she was left-handed and was afraid I'd learn backwards, so I had to figure it out from a book. One of Mom's sisters taught me a little crochet but I also learned that mostly from books. I don't do it much because my fingers start to cramp up after awhile, but it's something relaxing and useful to do while watching TV.

I bought a couple of skeins tonight at Wal-Mart and think I'm going to try crocheting a shawl.

#37 ::: Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 02:38 AM:

There's a story about Wolfgang Pauli. So goes the story, one night while his wife was knitting he took notice and watched her for a while. Then he got close up to her and studied what she was doing. Then he left and went to his offfice.

After some time, he came back to the parlor and said, "You know, there's another way to do that." He took the needles from her hands and clumsily demonstrated purling.

#38 ::: Jukka Halme ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 04:18 AM:

Link away, Teresa. "A coverlet" you say, better remember that in the future, thank you.

#39 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 04:51 AM:

Here's my somewhat unprincipled inclusion:

Old Pauli was heard to opine,
after too many glasses of wine,
"Franciska, my dear,
at my knitting you sneer.
Am I casting my purls before swine?"

#40 ::: Vera Nazarian ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 06:53 AM:

Children knitting is not that unusual in the Middle East. I learned to knit as a little girl when I was a refugee in Beirut, Lebanon. The neighborhood women of all all ages would sit down in front of their houses, and just knit and talk. And the children, both girls and boys, wanted so badly to be grownup that they would all ask how it is done, and then everyone would sit and knit and... talk.

It was great fun!

#41 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 09:10 AM:

The helix pattern isn't available online anywhere, as far as I know (though some other version probably is, somewhere, what with the Internet and all). I have that one as a PDF-- if anyone has a place to store it and link to it, I could send it to them, otherwise interested parties could email me and I'll send it individually.

#42 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 10:35 AM:
Academically-gifted non-jock females are neither warriors nor adrenaline junkies messed up at least half a dozen women I know, which means it probably did the same to a lot of other women I'm acquainted with, but whose histories I haven't known in sufficient detail.

It might have for me, if there hadn't been SF and fantasy to disappear into, and a fortuitous introduction to D&D when I was ten, and a summer camp with activities that could seduce a non-jock into the joys of the adrenaline rush. Whitewater rafting? Eighty-foot zip lines? Whee!

Thank you for making me realize how lucky I was.

#43 ::: priscilla ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 11:31 AM:

The DNA scarf is at

It's still too complicated for me, I think.....

#44 ::: Kate Y. ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 12:11 PM:

I've just signed up for Stitches West, a knitting extravaganza in Oakland with four full days of classes from 35 different instructors & a dealers room that gives new meaning to "orgies of public SEX".

It's usually the same weekend as Potlatch, the small SF con that bounces around the west coast... It came to my attention last year because at the airport I counted five other people also knitting as we waited for a fairly small flight out of Oakland!

I've gotten yarn through eBay many times--generally large lots of some specific brand name I'm familiar with--and only a couple of nasty surprises. If you don't need sweater quantities, you should be able to find the occasional mound-o-wool at a reasonable price, even including shipping.

Caveat: Knitting can be meditative; it can be obsessive-compulsive. (Probably both at once.) It can keep mind and fingers nimble and stave off arthritis; it can bring on pain, numbness, nerve damage, and twice-weekly sessions with a physical therapist. Moderation in all things, grasshopper.

#45 ::: Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 12:23 PM:

Patrick: looks perfect.

Alan: pretty sure that's Dirac, not Pauli. Googling around suggests the knitter in question was either "Wigner's sister" (Margit Wigner Dirac) or Anya Kapitsa.


#46 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 01:37 PM:

Priscilla: woo. That's the one. The PDF link on that page is the one I have.

#47 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 02:55 PM:

Wow, thanks for all the recommendations. I'm going to consult with my mother about all this. One problem, or perhaps I should say one part of the situation, is that she refuses to have anything to do with computers or the Internet. given her past tendencies as a shopaholic through mail order catalogs, this is perhaps just as well; the idea of her discovering eBay, amazon, etc. is a little frightening. However, I think I can probably work out some osrt of situation where I have her sitting next to me while I browse various sites, though I don't at present own a laptop.
Two more knitting stories (well, one is about crocheting--I hope that counts?): I just learned the other day that Ron, a young Haitian neighbor of mine who bartends a DJs at my local, makes various items such as medallions that he crochets out of fine silver thread.
And speaking of carding and spinning: I used to know a woman who was a backcountry ranger in North Cascades National Park. As she hiked the trails, sh would find little tufts of mountain goat wool caught inn branches. She collected these, and eventually had enough to spin it and make a square about as big as a potholder. I've never felt wool so thick...

#48 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:26 PM:

Was there ever a discussion of needlework that didn't digress into every subject under the sun?

As does discussion during the process itself, if the discussion here is to be believed. Perhaps it's that every discussion involving needleworkers digresses into every subject under the sun. That unifies both discussions of and discussions during.

Whether it's that needlework discussions lead to habitual digression, or that habitual digressors are the same sort of people who often take up needlework is left as an exercise for the reader. Hint: I've decided I REALLY have to look into knitting...

#49 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:28 PM:

Take care gathering wild wool! This is a non-terrorist source of contact anthrax.

Happens to some SCAers every year.

#50 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 03:55 PM:

Robert L: Have you tried Patternworks ( In addition to the site, which isn't all that user-friendly, they publish a quarterly catalog that your mom may find easier to deal with. Whether or not you are ready to unleash her in another retail arena is, of course, your call.

TNH: I love Green Mtn Spinnery, as well. Do you have her new book? Good stuff.

Xopher: If you need any tips about learning, please email me. I do have some online resources I could share. Also, if you have a yarn shop in your area, the folks who run it are a great resource and usually will teach anyone who happens by. After all, first taste is free...

#51 ::: Emily B ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 04:00 PM:

Kristine wrote: Um, no, he didn't get a sheep--our habitat is a little too suburban.

One possibility would be to "adopt" a sheep. For a while now, I've wanted to adopt a Cotswold sheep from Mountain Shadow Ranch ( They keep and tend the sheep, and at the end of the year they ship you the wool. You have a choice of what form it arrives in, too -- washed fleece is the standard, but for an additional fee you can get it processed into roving or even spun into yarn.

Living in the SF Bay Area as I do, I figure this is probably the only way I'll ever get to have a sheep...

#52 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 04:32 PM:

Whether it's that needlework discussions lead to habitual digression, or that habitual digressors are the same sort of people who often take up needlework is left as an exercise for the reader. Hint: I've decided I REALLY have to look into knitting...

Xopher: This conversation has terrified me for similar reasons. Knitting seems like yet another interesting rabbit-hole down which I could throw my poor brain. As if I didn't already have enough trouble getting any writing done...

#53 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 04:39 PM:

Andrew, if your brain is like mine, knitting would likely turn into the thing you do to clear writer's block, or even in between chapters, to help you think.

Studies have shown that people who doodle during meetings get more out of the meetings than people who just sit and listen. I would submit that knitting is a kind of doodling in that respect. (Going on its apparent effect on my knitter friends.)

Adrienne: thank you. If I really do take it up I'll let you know.

#54 ::: qB ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 06:25 PM:

I've always found knitting very therapeutic, and was told once it produced electrical activity in the brain similar to that produced when meditating, but can't find any evidence for this claim - anyone know of any?

The post-Christmas sales are upon us in London, which is when the (few) wool shops (left) sell off end-of-lines cheap. Unfortunately I have no fellow knitting afficianodo within range so rather than group SEX I shall have to have an onanistic outing. But I'm excited already.

#55 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 10:46 PM:

Carlos: ...pretty sure that's Dirac, not Pauli...

I tangled my Wolfgang-Paulology
in my yarn based on knitting's mythology.
Now it seems apropos
to admit that I owe
both Wolfgang and Paul an apology.

#56 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2003, 11:44 PM:

Kristine, perhaps an angora rabbit? They're very calming pets, and your son might learn to spin off the rabbit, which I think is one of the niftiest things ever.

#57 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 12:07 AM:

clew, you mean like when Bugs Bunny finally got his own show?

#58 ::: Kate Salter ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 03:10 AM:

Selma, my freind who still works at the yarn outlet shop in Lowell, knows that the Alzheimers that runs in her family has done an end run around her because she knits. It wouldn't surprise me that things like knitting cause us to rework our mental neural pathways and help us in ways we don't really even know. I just need to get over my fear of finishing.

www. is a great source for inexpensive yarns, also Webs,, and look for your local yarn shop. the one I live over often closes out at 1.90 a ball some great stuff.

Now that I don't work in a yarn shop any more, I will now have to look long and hard at the stash and decide what really needs to stay and what needs to go.


#59 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 08:37 AM:

Virge, you're doing that again, and I'm delighted.

Kate! So good to see you. Robert, this is Kate Salter, who among other things is my pusher.

Andrew, you should meet Brenda Clough. She writes with her knitting in her lap, and says she doesn't distinguish the acts of knitting and writing novels. For her, it's all one thing. They're good novels, and she makes gorgeous sweaters.

Christopher: Wild wool? Contact anthrax? I can see how it would, but ... could you please explain how you knew that? And you're right about doodling and knitting during meetings. Most meetings necessarily run slower than the listeners' speed of comprehension. You need something to do to keep you mind from haring off in all directions.

John Sawers, I neglected to mention that going through the entire sheep-to-sweater process must indeed be amazing for kids. The initial material is unpromising, the final product is familiar, and the intervening steps are all visually intuitive once you've seen them done. On top of that, it gives you a gut sense that the whole artifactual universe is made, every piece of it. That sounds like a very smart school.

Adrienne, I just found out about the Green Mountain Spinnery book yesterday, when I was checking online to make sure I'd remembered their name correctly. It looks very attractive. I've always wanted to do something in multiple shades of their yarn. Kate, have you seen that one?

Jukka, I didn't say "coverlet" by way of correcting you, but yes, that would be the word for it. What distinguishes a quilt is its stitched-through layers of fabric. They're usually made of woven material, but you can have quilted knitting. Many quilts are made of patchwork, but you can have a quilt made of a single fabric. You can also have a patchwork coverlet that isn't quilted, like the one your friends made for you. And since this is English, a coverlet can also be a blanket, afghan, throw, bedspread, comforter, or counterpane.

Mysteriously, when friends contribute squares to make a finished whole, the most satisfactory word is quilt, no matter what materials or construction methods are used. I think it's because quilts have friend-magic.

Otherdeb: Thank you. I had mislaid my memory of that incident, and you've put it back into my hands. Was he not wonderfully confused?

That's nice about your fiance learning to knit. I hope the burn wasn't too bad?

One of these days I must remember to bring my Palm Pilot case to a convention. PDA cases all have such a high-tech aesthetic that I knitted mine out of leather strips, just to be contrary.

#60 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 10:38 AM:

Teresa, I found out about the anthrax through an SCA publication. An article about carding wool medieval-style was accompanied by warnings about sourcing.

Now that I think about it, it was about handling any form of raw wool (latex gloves, it said, are not period, but neither is knowing enough not to lick the brush while miniating...), rather than about collecting wild wool. But I assume the same cautions would apply.

And you're quite right about meetings not having enough content to occupy a whole brain. So for knitters, the choice is what to do with wool in meetings: knit it, or gather it!

#61 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 11:49 AM:

I don't knit, but this whole discussion is strangely familiar--replace "knit" with "stitch" and you've got my life in a nutshell. My thread has to go through the eye of a needle, unfortunately--I can't tat or crochet, and knitting is Right Out, but I do needlepoint, cross stitch, quilting, boutis, and hardanger with felicity and facility. Well, maybe it's not unfortunate, at that; I really don't need another obsession!

There's something about working with decorative textiles that makes people nice, I think. In all my years of stitching, I have met exactly two yucky stitchers. I'd be willing to bet that the same applies to knitters.

#62 ::: Kate Salter ::: (view all by) ::: December 31, 2003, 07:24 PM:

Robert L - I've got some really nice yarn I've picked up on cones at the 10.00 bin at my former place of employment or through sales. 13 years of working at a yarn shop has left me with more yarn than I can possibly ever knit in a life time. Toss in my FOF, and it's rare that I finish anything. Some folks have finished projects. Will you see TNH at a con some where? I'll see her at Boskone and/or she know how to contact me, and I'm happy to put together a parcel together for your mother for you.

TNH=- Green Mtn Spinnery- Sigh. I so want to go there. Ginny at Abbott Yarn, the store I live over went on a knitters retreat weekend up in the White Mtn's of NH, up near Nancy H. A Yarn Shop owner runs a B&B, out of her home/shop. I'd like to do that as well as organize a SEXpedidtion for the Northeast for those of us who would go. Rent a mini van or something and just go for 3 or 4 days. Do WEBS, Green Mountain, Harrisville, Cherry Tree, Halcyon in Maine. Stay in B&B's and just knit and talk fiber and books, and find a spa too. Chocolate for every one else.

I've had the best time teaching 4-h'ers how to knit. One of my best students this summer was an older boy with Epilepsy- I gave him one of the more difficult yarns - A trendsetter one with chenille, eyelash and something else, and he made the nicest garter stitch scarf, and said he liked knitting, because it relaxed him, and he just liked it. Joe got a blue ribbon for that scarf at the fair and wants to try a sweater next.

#63 ::: Adrienne ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 01:09 PM:

TNH & Kate S.: While I actually don't know either of you, you have just described my fantasy summer holiday. If you need someone to chip in for gas, give me a buzz...

Oh, and don't forget the NY Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck each fall. Not to be missed for the sheepy.

May your year be full o' fiber.

#64 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: January 01, 2004, 09:26 PM:

There is a body in Australia (don't know about overseas versions/branches, but they definitely have contacts in 'foreign parts') called Wrap With Love.

People are asked to to make 10" squares, knitted or otherwise (Instructions & advice at You send them in or they are collected at groups and people sew them together into 'wraps', which are given to either people in need in Australia or sent to places in other countries where there are particular needs.

Angela Catterns, the breakfast announcer on the Sydney Local ABC radio station (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, like the British Broadcasting Corporation, sort-of PBS) took up knitting last winter (i.e. middle of 2003), heard about this group, and suggested her listeners might start knitting squares.

They eventually organized a 'Knit-In' morning where people brought or sent in squares and had a big sew-together down in the foyer of the ABC Building in Ultimo (Sydney) during her show one morning. There's a couple of pages on the ABC site about it with photos - see and the listeners' email reactions at

Wrap With Love has been quite active this year, with The Handknitters Guild having them on their "Knit for a Cause" list ( & other connexions it's made.

The Handknitters also had a "Guardian Angel" project -- to knit something suitable for a newborn to 2 year-old which would again be given away -- and "Tree Hugs", which was an art/social/environmental idea.

Perhaps this is part of the 'reknitting' of human connexions which have been badly frazzled over the years & so many people try to do in so many ways -- some more harmful than helpful.

#65 ::: michael dunkley ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 06:37 PM:

i liked the post about playing guitar. it has been the deciding factor in my choice to prefer my own definition of sanity, to THEIR definition of my state of mind almost 40 years ago.
i believe it has something to do with the disproportionate number of nerve endings in the fingertips. any fine-motor skill probably hooks up all kinds of neural pathways to and in the brain, music is my favourite, because spoken language rarely encodes as much emotion as the multiplicity of sounds that have not been englished, on even 'languaged'.
programmers know all sound is code, musicians are learning to master wordless languages.
massage is another art to which i have given a large chunk of my life, and it too excels in releasing originality in a framework that is largely paraverbal, with the soft sounds of relaxed breathing as soundtrack.
i always amazes me how fast you feel you're getting to what's important in your connection with people, when silence can intermingle with sound, and deepen contact.

this thread reminds me of how isolated and alienated much of modern living has reduced us to feeling, and how the simple act of doing something productive and peaceful together is the solvent for many of the invisible and imaginary barriers that block us from accessing human joy, instead of reaching for ever-stronger jolts to the endocrine system to compensate for the lack of basic fellowship and shared labour, that does not dehumanize us.
in other words it was fun to catch up on gossip while shelling peas, whittling, spinning etc.
for these allowed us to be useful and educate ourselves by listening to wiser heads chatter, and asking the right questions.
working on a factory line, becoming cogs, dwarfed our natures. the industrial revolution has been a huge, if necessary, evolutionary sidetrack. it seems many of us are heading back to the real purpose of being here, namely to enjoy the fruits of living in harmony with our environment.
dominion, not domination. education, not instruction.
ecologically grounded technology can do much to bring solar power, wells, hospitals etc.. to developing nations, spreading good-will intead of the false respect accorded to brute power and mercenary imperialism.
these sources for lore-building and cultural exchange have been shattered by the irruption of big media (like big hair, but just as imp-probably nasty!)
so now the central existential anger (stemming from loss) that life has been so banalised, so disennobled, is temporarily anesthetized by trivia and lowest-common-denominator distractions, and meanwhile festers below the shallow rituals that rule modern materialistic life: fast food, fast sex, s-l-o-w, langourously slow lapping at the kool-aid, and ever more unnattainable total oblivion of conscience or criticism.
just a happy meal away from hell.......
how many bruce willis explosions has the average kid sucked up?
how many times has he seen might be right, terminating problems the american way?
explosion experts, catastrophe conoisseurs.
itecs easy to see why kids run around like headless chickens. they're trying to tell us adults what we all suspected as childern, before ungentle disabuse:
adults have messed up big time running the show. for centuries, the only difference being that now the stakes are as high as they can get, with self-extinction rearing its pretty head. if you were told as a kid about the nuclear threat, the gap between the haves and the rest of the 4/5 of the world on $2 a day, MK-ULTRA, the amounts spent on arms, and that he was going to be the one paying for it, complete with interest, wouldn't you need a little ritalin to cut you some slack, while you tried to get your head around your invitation to this deeply dysfunctional pursuit of liberty and happiness?
at the same time as taking on board that your civilisation was genocidal, and best of all wanted you to love to lipserve ideals and act the opposite?
my own lack of intestinal fortitude trying to stomach such a menu of contradictions was seen as inability to cope with 'reality'
that's what got them wanting to institutionalise me at 15.
god bless ronald laing and 'the politics of experience!

hypocrisy is about preserving interests in slime.

it is so gratifying to find so many signs of human intelligence on the web.
maybe reading blogs like yours is not so different from stoning cherries all together, in the dark, long distance.
whatever, it works!
every surf is knowledge-enhancing and the larder is filling up with some tasty preserves, as the hard drive spins late into the night.
fingertip community?
not quite as much fun as a good music jam round a fire, but a great substitute till the real thing comes along!
quliting is similar to music, as no-one knows in advance what the shared outcome will be...
and it's not a loner's art, like writing novels, or painting.


#66 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 09:04 PM:

It's good to know that I have a good excuse to have the stash of yarn and fiber that fills my closets! Also good to know that the 14 or 15 musical instruments in my house are good for me too!

I just started a Faroese shawl with a lace pattern at the bottom. The idea of doing this relatively easy project (with sportweight yarn and large-ish needles) is to get me in practice for knitting the fine lace shawl I want to knit to wear at my wedding.

It's totally engrossing to me. Not really like meditation -- a lace project takes a little more concentration and counting than a sweater or afghan. But I can look up and realize I've just spent 3 hours knitting without taking a break. I think I spent 6 hours knitting yesterday.

Very fun stuff.

#67 ::: Sarah Prince ::: (view all by) ::: January 02, 2004, 11:11 PM:

I just learned to knit this winter; might be better socially during meetings than Palm Pilot solitaire (except during volunteer fire department meetings where I don't rock any boats and the Palm Pilot is fine). My only ambition so far is afghan squares, like my Quaker great-aunt, who knitted squares for other people to crochet together long past the time she was able to see them.

#68 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 11:02 AM:

Kate Slater--If Teresa feels like shlepping it back to NYC, I'd be grateful for a yarn care package, She and I live reasonably near each other in NYC (she in Brooklyn, I in LES of Manhattan).
Afghan squares are another thing my mother knits. I have one of the finished product, my sister has another, not sure how many more re floating around...

#69 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: January 03, 2004, 04:37 PM:

Thanks for the angora rabbit idea--that might be just the thing. And I think I should hurry. A couple of days ago I went in thinking to find P. asleep and instead found him pulling the ends off of Q-tips, combing them with his baby comb, and twisting the fibers into sort of lumpy yarn (!)

#70 ::: Kate Salter ::: (view all by) ::: January 07, 2004, 01:39 AM:

The Third issue of BHG's KNIT IT is out, and there is an article about a school in Maplewood NJ, where the kids are knitting. Similar results to the first post. Not bad patterns in this issue either.


#71 ::: Faith ::: (view all by) ::: January 08, 2004, 11:45 AM:

I enjoyed reading this so much that I just had to add my two cents.

I originally learned to knit when I was about ten, but never really stuck with it and still had my original 20+ year old skein of acrylic seafoam green yarn and #8 needles when I decided to pick it up again a couple of years ago.

I still didn't finish anything until a few months ago when I made two small scarves for nephews overseas. The act of finishing them gave me momentum and I then found #17 needles to use yarn I had been given as a gift to make a slightly wonky eyelash scarf.

That scarf lead to my making six of them in a matter of a few weeks as Christmas gifts for all of my local female relatives. They were well received and appreciated all the more for being handmade.

My parents were thrilled when I brought my knitting out during a lull on Christmas day. They are craftspeople by nature and it has taken me quite some time to really follow in their footsteps (although neither of them actually knits). I managed to get more done while engaged in conversation that afternoon that I usually do in the same amount of time when I am knitting without company.

I would like to progress beyond rectangles, but I haven't quite gotten the nerve. I have cleft hand syndrome, so I have to adapt crafting techniques to fit, so I tend to hesitate when it comes to branch out from time to time.

#72 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 12:09 AM:

Better late than never. I recently (in the past two years) discovered lampworking beads. I have decided to give up on most of the fiber arts stuff that I do, and I'm actively sellling off what I can of those supplies/tools to others. However, when it comes to my knitting needles, etc. that I'm keeping. Who knows when I'll want to whip up a baby set or a scarf or those other familiar patterns I know by heart. It's an easy to give a nice gift. And I learned at at one of my mother's dear, now departed friends' side, she taught her daughter and I to knit at the same time when we were about 8 years old. And she was left handed and left that mark on me..... I just copied what she did. It works (I'm a righty) but some people who know how to knit have watched me for a while, thinking something is odd, then go, oh, you learned left-handed....

I still have learned to love the glass and the torch, tho. You can make something truly beautiful and elegant in about 25 minutes.... something you can never do with fiber and needles. Of any kind.

#73 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: January 09, 2004, 11:36 AM:

Paula--I once made a reversible blackwork bookmark, from stashdiving to wrapping, in about half an hour. Granted, it was on one of those prefinished bookmarks, so I'm not entirely sure it fits your definition, but the stitching itself was quite pretty. I then said, "Never again," which pretty much proves your point.

P.S. Sekrit message to Castiron: I used to be AustinAnne--email me! :-)

#74 ::: Xopher finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2004, 07:05 PM:

You're getting bombed with it...all the old threads, looks like.

#75 ::: fidelio hates spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2004, 10:08 AM:

I haven't seen this much spam in the grocery store. There may be more; I shall forebear the search; my heart fails me.

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