You may have noticed how I haven’t been posting on this blog for over a half a year. I’ve missed having the opportunity to examine how Making Things brings us happiness, peace, and a strong sense of self.
Since my mother’s descent into dementia began seven months ago, I have taken leave of my old, busy, fully-occupied life as a student of the psychological and spiritual benefits of Making Things. I became a caretaker and was totally focused on getting my mother the care she needed. I was on the phone to this or that doctor, was by her side for hours, trying to find ways to keep a connection with her as she slipped farther and farther away. My father, too, had a terrible health crisis coinciding with mom’s illness, so my caretaker duties expanded enormously.
My reading and writing for the last few months has been about and consumed by grief and grieving. The only things I have made are knitted; socks, gloves, little projects I could carry easily to the nursing home or to the hospital. Things that calmed me as I sat in silence with my mother.
And most recently, I’ve turned to making Knitted Knockers, knit breast prostheses that are lighter and so much more comfortable than the plastic ones. The plastic prostheses are quite pricey and not within reach of all. Because I teach knitting to oncology patients and antepartum mothers at a hospital, I was made aware of the Knockers and the request—by the surgeons—for Knockers to be made available to all their patients. Knockers are given for free to any woman who wants them.
I relished the opportunity to learn new knitting techniques, and especially liked that I could make things that would improve people’s lives. I registered with the Knitted Knockers charity, let the hospital know I would deliver a supply, and I began to knit these soft, comforting, useful prostheses. And I’m working with the oncology department to develop a class to teach oncology staff how to knit the Knockers.
I had to learn how to do a difficult cast-on with this pattern, something I was proud to master. My focus, particularly at the outset, had to be concentrated as row counting was necessary, and there were new stitches learned: making an extra stitch that twisted out of the rung of a ladder of stitches; expanding rows by knitting in both the front and back of stitches. And shortly, what joy it was to see the shape of a Knocker beginning to form, expanding into a three-dimensional bee hive, the dome of a breast.
“Every stitch, every loop is a thing of beauty all by itself, unique and important in the final outcome. Remember to stop and take in with your eyes and your hands how your piece is acting. Notice. Pay attention.” ~ Linda Skolnick and Janice McDaniels; The Knitting Way: A Spiritual Guide To Self-Discovery
Because the beautiful shape of the Knocker is still a wonder to me, I watch my stitches closely–how the needle picks up yarn, how the tip catches a thread, what the twisting of yarn creates, how stitches lie down against their comrades–leaning to the left or the right–and how the subtle colors of variegated cotton yarns end up clustering together to form stripes, or bands of color. My focus is so acute that time disappears and I am entwined in another space entirely. Here, present, detached from time and to-do lists. The tips of the wooden needles dart in and out of the colored foliage of the soft yarn, bringing forth another organized layer in the shape of the Knocker. How did someone imagine this pattern? How could they see this shape? They must have had such vivid, beautiful dreams.
I think of the woman who will receive this prosthesis, and sense the warmth and cottony softness lying against the scars of her mastectomy. How this little object will give her–I hope–some measure of comfort during such a traumatic, vulnerable time. As I fill the finished Knocker with polyester stuffing, I hold the shape in my two hands and send an intentional little prayer out into the universe, sort of a “dedication of merit” in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition–“a wish for our individual experiences to move outward from us to benefit others… radiating the contentment, good wishes, and tranquility [I] find in [my] knitting and [my] mindfulness experiences outward to the world.”* I feel deeply with both my heart and my body that I am hugging the woman who will next hold this Knocker. I want to believe that my focused love and good wishes will be felt by the receiver.
And I’m seeing (again, but more directly now) how knitting for charitable purposes adds another layer of happiness, and a sense of well-being for me, even when I’m not knitting. It’s a kind of after-glow. I feel connected to a sort of river, a part of the flowing energy. As Betsan Corkhill, writes in Knit for Health & Wellness, “Knitting for those in more need than yourself can dramatically change your perspective on life. It can subtly change your thinking—you become aware that you have the ability and power to improve the lives of those worse off than yourself, and in doing so, your own.”
I’m not saying my small donated Knockers are going to change the world–or even one person. But the process of knitting something that will–even if just momentarily–improve someone’s outlook, physical or emotional state gives me the power to bring something good to a world which is increasingly violent and filled with negativity. Stitch by stitch, Knocker by Knocker, I will be creating a positive contribution to one woman at a time. And as I teach others to make these prostheses, we will be multiplying small acts of craft and goodness, spreading compassion and kindness as we knit, stitch by stitch.
“ As your own sense of dignity and awakening is encouraged through engaging with your craft, you will begin to see the effect that your state of mind and actions have on the bigger world. While you explore this through the filter of your opening heart, you [will be] asked to explore how you and your simple actions—even your knitting—can contribute to the betterment to the bigger picture.” ~Tara Jon Manning, Mindful knitting; Contemplative Practice in Craft