Friday, September 01, 2006

Mindful Yarn

When it’s rainy out, I wind yarn. I got myself a ball winder about two years ago for my birthday, along with a swift. I got the cheap versions of each, since I only wind periodically, and they’re just fine for my intermittent use. It’s a time for mindfulness for me because I’m usually alone, the weather is not distracting, and if I don’t pay attention when I wind yarn, something snarls or I get to feeling impatient.

Mindfulness is one of those things that can be all wrapped up in a New Age religious wrapper, or it might sound like Eastern philosophy, or even seem reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s and the Beatles in Nehru jackets. It just means being completely present in the moment, not allowing yourself to be distracted or fretful or thinking beyond the perimeter of what you are doing. Doing dishes is another such activity for me.

Anyway, when I wind yarn, off of a cone or a hank, I enjoy the feeling of it running through the fingers of one hand while the other hand rhythmically turns the crank on the winder. I listen to the sound of the winder, whirring away, I watch the yarn ball grow and I watch the hank or cone diminish in size, and the world seems to stop all around me. There is nothing else – just the simple, very simple motion of changing the storage shape of something I like from blobby or conical to a cylinder.

I can tell whether or not I’m going to like knitting with the yarn by the way it feels running between my forefinger and thumb. It might be very soft and need a light hand to control the winding, it might be harder or more tightly spun and need a firmer hand to keep the tension right so that the ball winds properly. If my hands or fingernails are rough or have nicks in them, the yarn finds them for me and sometimes smoothes them out.

I become more aware of my posture, how straight my back and shoulders are, whether my upper arms are weak or strong, my breathing, and whether or not I have a cramp somewhere. I have knitter’s forearms – very strong, particularly around the wrists. I don’t know why, but I take my shoes off when I wind yarn, so I can feel the short nap on the area rug in my den. The fan whispers overhead, the rain makes white noise in the background, and I am encapsulated in a space and time dedicated to the act of winding yarn.

I enjoy knitting, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve been doing it for so many years now, though, that I knit mindlessly. I often read while I’m knitting, with my book in a book holder, stopping my stitching only to turn pages or take a sip of coffee. There aren’t a lot of challenges left for me in the techniques of knitting, unless I choose to make some things up just to push my limits. I don’t always want to do that, I just like to make things, useful things, pretty things, well-crafted things, things from yarn that someone else didn’t want, things of beauty and practicality to be given to charity, things to keep my children warm when they’re cold, or to add a hug or a sense of my presence and support when I’m not with them. I’m a process knitter.

But winding yarn is mesmerizing and calming for me, more so than knitting. I’m done when I choose to be done winding yarn. A ball of yarn does not need a sleeve, it doesn’t need the ends woven in, and it always matches itself.

The same year that I bought the winder and swift, I picked up a three-panel screen at the thrift store. My den doesn’t have a door, it has a 5 foot wide opening, and I wanted to create the possibility of privacy. I remade other aspects of the den into things that I like, without regard for what others may prefer. Of all the rooms in the house, it’s more mine than any other, and I do have hopes of it becoming completely mine over time. So that’s where I go when I want to meditate with yarn. I rarely pull the screen completely across the den entrance; I don’t need to, I just needed to know that I could if I wanted to.

Winding yarn brings me a sense of peace and a sense of presence and focus that I often need dealing with three kids and life in general. I’m glad I bought the winder; it’s paid for itself in many ways.

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