Tag Archives: knitting

What the future will bring

I learned to sew in Home Economics class when I was eleven years old, and I continued to sew for the next 40 years—until I got a job that required travel more than half of the year. When I was at home, I had too much catching up to do to sit and sew.

For me, sewing requires dedicated time and a certain state of mind. I need to be able to focus on what I am making. Sewing gives me the most pleasure when I can spend an hour or two (or more) at my sewing machine.


Knitting has taken up some of the space I would have devoted to sewing; gardening has taken up some as well. They are both creative outlets for me, but they are not sewing.

Sewing was spiritual for me. I thought it was almost miraculous that I could take a rectangular piece of fabric and in as little as a half hour, turn that piece of fabric into a skirt. The idea of something being transformed into something else spoke to me of God’s creating from nothing and of God’s being able to reshape us (I love the image of God as a potter, creating something from a lump of clay).

I have other hobbies I can do while doing something else (I can knit while watching television, for example, or read a book while I am in a waiting room) but sewing requires its own space and time without distractions.

By the time my friend Jim got brain cancer, I hadn’t done any serious sewing for about ten years. We had not talked about my sewing, so I was surprised when, a few days before he died, he said, “I hope you sew again.” It seemed to come out of left field, but when I reflect on it now, I can see what he saw—my life was fuller when I sewed. I was more myself with that creative outlet.

But since he died ten years ago, I still have not started sewing again.

Then one day in France three months ago, I had the thought, “I want to sew.” A few days later, I was in a baby shop looking at hand-sewn bibs, and again I thought, “I want to sew.”

Ironically, that morning at prayer, two Scriptures had spoken to me:

Isaiah 43:16-17: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new, and

Philippians 3:14: Just one thing, forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead….


Sewing is from my past; could it also be in my future?

Is it time for me to return to this hobby of old, even to see if it is still something that brings me joy?

Do you have a hobby from your youth that still calls to you? That still engages your imagination and fosters a sense of creativity?

How many?

Cleaning out a closet recently, I came across a baseball cap that had belonged to my friend Jim. I emailed his friend Patrick to see if he would want it. He replied that he already has a baseball cap and doesn’t need another. He only needs one? I probably have a dozen baseball caps, so I found his response disconcerting. I have hats in different styles and colors for different occasions. How can he only need one?

I started looking around my house at other multiples—blankets, tablecloths, sweatshirts, shoes, etc.—and asked myself how many of anything I really need.

Like baseball caps, some things just seem to multiply in my house. It’s like a fairy tale where elves are working throughout the night to create more blankets, coats, shoes and so many other things that fill up spaces in my house. But how many do I really need?

Intellectually, I know I need way fewer of most things than I have (for example, I have three metal tape measures, three sewing tape measures and two yard sticks—how much measuring do I even do???)

And then there is my knitting. Every year I tell myself that I am going to knit up the yarn in my stash before I buy more yarn, but then a new baby comes along, and I need to get a specific yarn for a blanket, or another knitter is retiring and plans to travel in an RV, so she needs to get rid of her stash. How can I pass up her treasures?


Fabric is also in abundance in my home, even though I have not done any serious sewing in years. And I have enough cookbooks to start a library.

I remember telling my friend Philip one day that I was going to go through my kitchen utensils to see what I could get rid of—how many spatulas do I really need? A few hours later, he sent pictures of two large trash bags he had filled after going through his closets (I had inspired him, he said). Meanwhile, I had pulled exactly one wooden spoon from my collection of kitchen utensils. Do I really need five spatulas? I know I don’t but getting rid of them seems to be beyond me.

I keep thinking of Patrick turning down Jim’s baseball cap and asking myself how many of anything I really need. I think of people who have so little—migrants, people whose homes were destroyed in fires or natural disasters, women fleeing abusive spouses—and I wonder how I can move things from my home to theirs.

Our local domestic abuse shelter has a second-hand store that supports their work; I will start taking my extras to them.

And, when I am tempted to buy something, I will check what I already have and ask myself how many?

Think of the money I will save, the space I will create and the freedom I will enjoy by living with less.



After my dad retired, my parents spent winters in Florida. Without her home and family to occupy her time, my mother took up a variety of hobbies, including painting. Lessons were offered at the community center in their RV park, and my mother became a prolific painter.

After she stopped going to Florida, my mom set up her easel in an upstairs bedroom at home and painted through her Michigan winters.

When we were clearing out her house last month, we found a painting she had not finished.  


I took it home.

Something in this painting speaks to me—perhaps just because it is unfinished. It reminds me that we all leave things unfinished.

And I am not talking just about death.

When I left my job in July, I left plenty of things unfinished, projects for someone else to complete—or not. Once we are gone, someone else will pick up our works-in-progress and determine their fate.

I think that every time we make a change something goes undone.

With my work, I had to walk away without knowing the outcome of unfinished projects. I also walked away from work relationships—some old and some just beginning—leaving them without knowing where they might have gone, how they might have developed.

Every letting go is practice for the final letting go.

While looking for something in a closet a few months ago, I came across a white box I did not recognize. Inside was a knitting project I had started maybe fifteen years ago and had set aside when I switched jobs. The new job zapped all my energy, and I stopped knitting for a few years. Once I started knitting again, I hadn’t remembered this sweater, and it has sat unfinished all these years.

I was delighted to find it, and it brought back memories of a trip to Seattle and my visit to a well-known yarn shop where I bought this yarn.

Like my mother’s unfinished painting, this sweater reminds me of my own unfinishedness, of being a work-in-progress.

I am comfortable with being in process, comfortable living in the in-between spaces. Someone recently suggested I am standing on a precipice, and I agreed. My mother has died, and I have left my work—two cornerstones of my life, gone. What comes next is not entirely clear, and I want to stay open to the possibilities.

For now, though, I am trying to stay in that in-between space, where grief intersects with hope.

What feeds your soul?

How long have you been knitting? asked one of the women in a group I was teaching to knit.

Not long, I replied. Only about fifteen years.

Fifteen years! she exclaimed. That’s almost my whole life. She was twenty-two; I was fifty. We had different life perspectives.


That memory came back to me the other day, along with a memory of a blog I read a few years ago by a young man who had been meditating for fifteen minutes a day for thirty days. He was writing about how that practice for those thirty days had changed his life.

I thought, Tell me how meditation has changed your life after you have been meditating every day for thirty years.

In the first blush of learning something new, when we are in the honeymoon phase, we can imagine that this is it—the one thing that will change our lives forever. But as everyone knows, the honeymoon ends and then we need to figure out a way to live out our commitments.

Meditating for thirty days is a good start, but it is just that—a start.

Very little lasts forever or with the initial enthusiasm. Relationships that seemed so full of promise can fall apart. Jobs that seemed so perfect can end up being confining. A spiritual practice that offers new insights after thirty days can feel like a chore after six months.

I think we need that honeymoon phase to entice us to do what is for our own good. Plus, those first feelings of connection, interest or passion give us something to fall back on once the honeymoon is over.

In relationships, it is important to remember what about this person first attracted us, because we know that those quirky habits that seemed so endearing at the beginning can become the very things we find irritating later in the relationship.

The spiritual journey is like that, too. Those good feelings at the beginning of a spiritual practice might fade once the practice feels like a chore. But that initial spark is something we can always return to if the spark fades.

I have been participating in an eight-week, on-line retreat focused on the foundations of soul work. The retreat directors have discussed a variety of frameworks for spiritual growth within the Christian tradition, from the desert fathers and mothers to the Rule of St. Benedict, the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the more recent work of Thomas Keating.

The culmination of the retreat is to name our own “Rule of Life,” those foundational practices that keep us growing spiritually, and to describe or illustrate those practices in some way.

For me, the pillars that support my spiritual life are

  • daily prayer (Lectio Divina)
  • community/worship
  • creativity (knitting, gardening, cooking, etc.)
  • curiosity (learning)
  • journaling/writing
  • service  
  • annual silent retreats.

These elements have been the underpinnings of my spiritual life for many years, some since I was a child.

What fosters your spiritual growth and feeds your soul?


Silver linings

Someone recently asked me: What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

As a person who believes every curse has a blessing, I have been actively looking for silver linings since this time of social distancing began more than three months ago. Some of the blessings I have seen are:

I have had more time for hobbies, and I have read more books, completed more jigsaw puzzles and knitted more than I usually would. I have already knitted two gifts for next Christmas, which is not at all like me—I am usually knitting frantically the week before Christmas (or giving a certificate for a promised knitted article to arrive sometime after Christmas).

I have exercised more than I usually would. I am a morning exerciser and have still be going for my morning walk, but I think that staying in the house all day can make me feel cooped up, so I often go for an evening walk or bike ride.

Ten years ago, I went on a two-week language immersion course in Krakow, Poland. I had worked through the first part of Rosetta Stone Polish before that trip, and I have taken a couple of Polish classes since, but this time of isolation has given me the space to focus on my Polish. Almost every day, I spend time on Rosetta Stone, and most evenings, I practice what I have learned with my mother, whose first language was Polish. She says I am “coming along.”

My garden has gotten more attention this year because I usually go away in spring—on retreat or a vacation—but this year I have been home. I have also enjoyed my garden more this year because I spend lots of time in my sunroom, looking out over the yard. My sunroom doubles as my home office, another gift of this time. I miss seeing my co-workers in person, but even after we return to work, I may hold the occasional staff meeting in my home office/sunroom.

The other day I was reflecting on how these months at home have given me the space to explore new things. I find I am more open to consider different ways of doing everyday things. One of those is my charitable giving. I receive a fair number of requests from nonprofit organizations, and usually I toss the ones I don’t already support. But over the past few months, I have had the time to look at what comes in the mail. As a result, I have sent contributions to two organizations for the first time, even though they have probably been asking me for years.

These past few months felt like a long pause, and I have taken this opportunity to step back and look at my life. Having this extended period to review and reflect has been a gift, and I hope the lessons stay with me when we re-engage.

How about you? What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?

Starting over

The winter that Jim had cancer, our friends gave us their New Jersey shore house to use whenever we could. That gift was a huge sacrifice for them because they rented the shore house all summer and usually used it themselves on weekends in the winter; it was their winter escape. But that winter, the shore house was ours.

We went to the shore in between Jim’s cancer treatments and spent the better part of November, December and January there. It was a great gift.

Each time we arrived, I thought of our friends’ generosity and cried tears of gratitude. Their selflessness amazed me.

I wanted to do something to thank them and so I started knitting a blanket.

Many people associate the shore with summer heat, but in the winter, when our friends would be using the house, the shore can be quite cold, so I thought a blanket an appropriate expression of my gratitude.

The problem was that I found it difficult to concentrate on the pattern, and I kept making mistakes. Time and again, I had to rip out what I had knitted and start over. After casting on for the umpteenth time, I realized that I needed to be knitting for the process of knitting, rather than focusing on the finished product.

Knitting can be a meditative activity. Like other repetitive practices, I can lose myself in the gentle sound of clacking needles and the movement of yarn slipping through my fingers. I have often used knitting to help me focus, and during those months at the shore, knitting helped me focus on Jim and what we were going through. It helped me to let go of my fears and move to feeling blessed and grateful.

I didn’t finish the blanket before Jim died, and then it took me a long time before I could pick it again because it had become a symbol of my grief; each time I tried to knit that blanket, I cried tears of sorrow.

Enough time has passed, and I am again knitting the blanket. Each stitch reminds me of those days at the shore, our friends’ generosity and the importance of being present to the process instead of being overly focused on the finished product.

I think that life can be like that. I can have many false starts before I find the best path to travel. But each false start offers me a lesson, something that helps me see a little more clearly.

I remember reading somewhere that the stories we tell over and over are offering us lessons that we still need to learn. We keep retelling those stories because something is unresolved or not fully understood.

As I retell the story of knitting this blanket, I am again filled with gratitude for what was—and with hope for what is yet to be. I am grateful for the many opportunities to start over.

What stories do you tell and retell? What lessons are they offering you?

An Extra Stitch

The second day of my recent retreat, my spiritual director suggested I pray with Psalm 139. Verse 13 caught my attention: “For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

I am a knitter, and when I begin a project, I can imagine what it will look like when it is finished. I know things can go wrong with knitting projects (running out of yarn or twisted stitches, for example) and also that some projects can turn out to be more beautiful than I ever imagined.

With the image of the knitter in mind, I approached God. “For it was you who created my being, knit me together in my mother’s womb,” I reminded God.

God had imagined me and created me. God decided on the type of yarn, what pattern and stitches would come together to make me. I held that image for a whole day, pondering God as my designer and creator.

When I woke up the next morning, my first thought was, “What if, when God created me, when I was being knit together, God added an extra stitch?” Throughout that day, I thought about an extra stitch, one little stitch.

In knitting, one extra stitch can completely change the result. It can throw off a pattern or change the shape or create something totally unexpected. An extra stitch can be a big deal.

What if I had an extra stitch and that extra stitch predisposed me toward an intense relationship with God?

For the next few days, I reflected on how blessed I am. I recalled so many wonderful things that have happened to me, extraordinary things, unique things—like being one of five people in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome when it was closed to the public or one of three people on retreat at a cottage on the shore of the Irish Sea.

I have also been fortunate to have deeply meaningful work in the nonprofit world which has been more mission than job. Working on behalf of people who are marginalized has been another way for me to connect with God and to see how God lifts up the poor (Luke 1:52). Relationships with people who are not valued by our society have made my life rich beyond anything I could have imagined.

Even more extraordinary than events and work are the many people who have blessed my life. I have incredible friends and family who care about me, support me and are unbelievably generous to me. They accept me and have stood beside me through some very difficult times.

When my friend Jim was dying, he chose me to be the person to spend his last days with, and some people have asked me why I think he picked me. Maybe he knew I had an extra stitch, that something extra that helped me to see clearly that we were in God’s hands and enabled me to carry out his wishes, to see blessings in our situation and to be deeply grateful every day.