Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Story Knitting

"The brain is reached through rhythm - through rhyme, not reason...Needlework, by definition regular and repetitive, both soothes and stimulates the artist within. Whole plots can be stitched up while we sew."

Julia Cameron
The Artist's  Way, Pan Books, London 1995 p.22

The quote above refers to 'filling the well', the creative well inside us which, if full enough, can overflow with ideas. 

Repetitive activities do often allow my brain to tick over nicely and stretch itself. Often I write scenes in my head while driving, or washing up, or out walking; the creative part of my brain is allowed to fly free and unfettered by the other, more sensible part that's always trying to reign it in. That part's too busy remembering where the biting point is, or scrubbing at hardened pasta sauce, or navigating the cow pats and puddles. If I feel my writing begin to falter, if I can't see the story in my head any more, I know it's time for a project to fill up my creative well once more.
This time my project is a snowy one:

Snow Dog knitting pattern from ecclebooks, Amazon
I’m going to knit the Snowman's Snow Dog for my two year old niece for her birthday in October. 

This may not seem like much of a challenge (especially because we're barely in April), but there’s something you should know – I am not a natural knitter.

I have invented whole new ways to mess up knitting. I can start with 40 stitches on one needle and after many painstaking and curse-filled minutes later I have, magically, 41 stitches on the other needle. Then I’ll knit and knit and decrease the row by one to get back to 40 – and end up with 38.

I don’t know how I do it. Lack of concentration? Carelessness? A knitting gremlin cheerfully sitting on the end of my needle picking up and dropping stitches?

All of the above?

But I want to knit. I enjoy it when I get going. The gentle rhythm takes over, the smoothness of the needles as they slide back and forth magically tying the wool into knots that will become a something. When I’m doing well it’s almost meditative. 

Up until now I’ve done knitting for no purpose, just for the sake of it. But now I want to make something, I’m taking it seriously. I refuse to ‘make do.’ If I make a mistake, back I go and correct it, there’s no shrugging it off any more.

So what’s this got to do with stories?

Well, firstly, for me, this knitting project is a story. It started with me being enchanted with the Snow Dog on BBC over Christmas, it evolved into discovering my little niece was also enchanted with the Snow Dog and it became a link between us. We live almost 100 miles apart, I don’t see her as much as I would like too and so I want to give her a Snow Dog, because the Snow Dog is magical and full of hope. I want to make the Snow Dog myself because I want to put love into it, not money, and when he's made, I want to pack him in a box (with air holes of course) and tie it up with a ribbon and see her face when she unwraps him.

Secondly, I’m enjoying the challenge of taking my time over something that doesn’t come easily to me. I can tap out words with relative ease. They may not be fantastic, but they are always competent and serviceable. To work at writing, I have to make an effort because it’s easy to coast along.

Knitting, however, makes me take time, to think, to struggle, to try and try again.And that's a worthwhile lesson to relearn. It’s easy to get lazy with the things you love and the things that you are good at. How often I make do with a sentence, a description, a scene, a chapter because it’s good. It’s good, but it’s not brilliant. It could be better. You have to remember to keep pushing yourself, to keep raising the bar.

And that leads into my final reason, which returns us to the quote from Julia Cameron at the top of the page.

Engaging your brain in an activity such as knitting is soothing, harmonious, it creates a quiet within (once you've got past the swearing bit) and from that quiet comes the rhythm and colour of words and sentences and stories and beautiful gossamer ideas. Learning to knit has helped me learn to listen to myself once again. It has reminded me of the importance of learning, of making mistakes of going back and correcting them and I hope that when I begin writing once more I will do so without dropping my stitches, or finding myself with more of them than I need.

In Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho (Harper Collins Publishers, London 2007) evoke' a spiritual presence, just as the main character Athena deliberately dances out of rhythm for the same reason: 'I knitted much faster and better after that, just as Athena danced with much more soul and rhythm once she had dared to break down those barriers.' (pp. 232-236). This has always stuck with me - that to really understand yourself and your art you must pull it apart and break it and then rebuild it.

For now, I'm continuing my knitting project. I'm making a practice dog first. He's taking shape, and as I construct him out of nothing more than strands of yarn weaving around eachother I cannot escape the metaphor of story strands shaping themselves into a something and I let my mind wander into the blank pages and begin to fill them with words.

For other posts on Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way you can visit my old blog: here

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