Monday, April 7, 2008

Knit One, Teach One...

Photo by Thom Quine (permission posted on Flikr) Original caption: Residents of the island of Taquile on Lake Titicaca make a living subsistence farming and knitting the wool from their sheep and alpacas. The men do the knitting, the women the spinning. As tourism has grown, the value of their knitting has grown with it, and we were told the best knitters "get all the girls".

This weekend I had the pleasure of teaching a friend to knit. A first lesson only takes an hour or so, involving only the basic knit and purl stitch...then the remaining learning and "getting it into the fingers" is a matter of practice. She is left-handed, and so my continental style of knitting was the right fit for her, and as she was a quick understudy, the time spent in teaching was negligible. When I was an intern studying Emergency Medicine, we had a motto: "See one, do one, teach one." This philosophy ensured repetition and thereby certainty of learning the skill, but also a rapid dissemination of medical knowledge - an important factor in a situation where medical staff are routinely overwhelmed by patient load and need as many trained hands as possible. Still, though I was not teaching a "life and death" skill, and though she was only one student, and though my instruction was short in duration, this lesson somehow felt more meaningful than all the medical teaching I have done over my years of clinical practice.

My mother recently recommended the book, The Knitting Sutra: Craft as Spiritual Practice, by Susan Gordon Lydon - and as I reflected on my teaching, I was reminded of this deeply insightful book. Until I taught my friend this craft, I was a "dead end" in the world of knitters - I was taught by my mother, and within me the knowledge sat. Sharing this skill felt akin to opening the channels within and allowing the knowledge to flow through me into the next vessel in the ring- I have symbolically entered into the greater body of knitters and, if you follow The Knitting Sutra, of history:

"To knit is to be freed from time and the constraints of everyday life, to take our place at the table of the ancients, to claim citizenship of the entire planetary culture and relationship with the widest community of people from the present and the past. The humble knitter sites in the center between heaven and earth. As she spins the yarn to make her sacred cloth, invisible threads connect her to both God and Mother Earth."

With this simple lesson of knitting and purling, I have created a bond with a friend that we will both carry forever. Every knitter I have ever met speaks of their teacher as one who walks on hallowed ground...greater than a mortal teacher and more akin to the spiritual guide who merely points the way, inspiring the student to find their own greatness within. Until she is an old lady, finding consolation or inspiration in her knitting, she will be able to recall the person who first brought her into the fold.

Ravelry, an online consortium of knitters and crocheters, was started in May 2007, by March of 2008 there were 100,000 members...let me say that again...100,000 members. I wonder how many other organizations boast that many online members. In my urban home, we can't even get this many people out to vote. These 100,000 members sit quietly at their computers...largely unnoticed... maintaining the ancient secret society... connected by the Knitting Sutra, from which we derive the medical word suture (thread) - a connective cord which binds us all together.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I am the friend in question, now halfway through my first knitted creation. I must say that several other people have tried to teach me in the past without success; whether it's the continental style, my internal readiness or my wonderful teacher that did the trick this time I don't know - probably all of the above!

I'm making a scarf for my husband, who, predictably, says he'll accept it if it doesn't have too many mistakes. Luckily, the yarn I picked hides a multitude of sins.

I'm a teacher, and already one student I've met with has pulled out her knitting once she saw mine, and we had a very satisfying and companionable conference knitting together (and she helped me when I dropped a stitch).

I'm loving knitting - thank you Karin (and I'll need you soon to show me how to finish it)!