Knitting - a simple kind of meditation

10 March 2011
With two busy days behind me I'm happy to be back with you.  I've been working at home and in the community,  where I gave the speech on International Women's Day, worked on a grant submission, talked to a lot of people and farwelled a good friend who will soon be working in the city.  Bye Fiona!  My knitting kept me calm and centred even on the busiest day.  I love taking my knitting with me and often knit up a quick few rows, then get back to work, calmer and better able to concentrate.

Are you a knitter?  It's such a wonderful craft.  Not only does it have that ability to calm and sooth frazzled nerves on those busy days, it helps you produce fine garments and accessories for the whole family, or for gifts.  The feel of the soft cotton or wool as it slides through your fingers and the reassuring repetitive motion of the needles working the yarn, feels like, even on the worst day, a simple kind of meditation.

Recently I've been reading Elizabeth Zimmermann's wonderful book Knitting Without Tears.  If you're new to knitting, or a keen knitter who wants to learn from the best, I recommend this book to you.  It starts with Elizabeth explaining this and that, such as: '"Ply is a frequently misunderstood concept.  It has nothing to do with the thickness of the yarn, except in a relative way, and everything to do with its construction.  A ply is a strand of wool  Two, three, four, or more strands are twisted together to make 2-ply, 3-ply, 4-ply, or many plied wool.  Since the strands can be of any thickness, it is clear that the thickness of the wool does not depend on the number of plies but on the thickness of the individual ply."  And she states something I'm just coming to understand myself: "A well-made sweater, knitted with good will and good wool, is beyond price; why try to save a dollar on the material?" I use to think it was a wise economy to buy the cheapest wool; I no longer believe that.  The cheapest wool comes with its own invisible price attached.  Fibres - even natural fibres like pure cotton and wool, are often processed with harsh chemicals you don't want on your skin.  Paying a few dollars more for a better quality yarn will give you a better quality garment and peace of mind, knowing it's not tainted.  Choosing your yarn is one of the delights of knitting.  There are so many different types now, many of them are organic and they're as soft as a feather.

Elizabeth also writes about the choice of needles and stitches, the techniques of left and right handed knitting, increasing, decreasing, casting on, how to join wool, recover from mistakes and the all important topic of gauge. There are illustrations and patterns written in Elizabeth's distinctive narrative style.  If you have problems reading normal knitting patterns, grab one of Elizabeth's books, because her patterns read like something is talking to you in plain English.  There is even a section on how to wash your knitted garments.

I am knitting with all organic yarns for our babies, I'm using a book Sarndra gave me called "Cute and Easy Baby Knits - 25 adorable projects for 0 - 3 year olds."  There are some delightful patterns in there, and true to the front cover, they're cute and easy.  Both Sarndra and Sunny have picked out projects they like so my sister and I are hoping to give them what they want, plus extras.  I won't be able to go ahead at full steam into my knitting yet - I still have some work to complete for the book and a few other things, but as I go along I'll take photos and show you what I'm doing.

If you've been wanting to take up some knitting needles and start clicking away but you're not sure of techniques, ply, how to choose yarn or needles or where to start, I believe there are four possible starting points, in no particular order: 
  1. Go to the Down to Earth forum, introduce yourself and ask if someone will mentor you.  
  2. Ask an elderly lady in your street if she'll show you how to knit. 
  3. Find a copy of Knitting Without Tears. 
  4. Look online at YouTube - search for "how to cast on", "how to knit" or "knitting" and you'll have a fine selection of instructions, that you can stop and start at will, that will show you the ins and outs of it.
What are you knitting right now?  Do we have any male readers who are knitters?  


  1. I've found the videos at to be very helpful when I need to see how something is done, not just read about it in a book. Unfortunately I don't know anyone else who knits, so this is the next best thing.

  2. Knitting Without Tears was the book that *taught* me how to knit...even though I'd been knitting since I was nine. I started spinning over 25 years ago and picked up ALL of Elizabeth's books so I could learn to do something with all the yarn I had spun!

  3. Hi Rhonda,

    Welcome back to the blog! We've missed you :)

    I just started learning to knit a few weeks ago. My grandma was always the family knitter, and she passed away in October 2009. My brother has since worn through the neckwarmer (sometimes called a cowl, I think) she knit him, and requested I make him a new one. So I got some of Gram's leftover yarn, grabbed a few books from the public library, and I'm learning quickly, using a simple rectangle (one row knit, one row purl for six rows, then six ribbed rows, and repeat!) that I'm sure will be used as a dishcloth when I'm done! I wish I would have thought of this before Gram passed though, as she's a wonderful teacher. I'm still enthusiastic though, even though I doubt I'll reach her proficiency level. Once I get good enough, I'll try a sweater - I love knitted sweaters, and every time I put one on, I think "Maybe I can make this!"

    Thanks for this post, Rhonda. I can feel your encouragement from afar - I'll definitely be sitting down with my little half-finished rectangle this weekend!


  4. I am knitting a vest for my son, which has a matching beanie that I have already made. I am also knitting a baby blanket for charity. I agree with you about paying more for yarn, I have worked with some pretty horrible cheap stuff and always notice the difference immediately when using better quality yarn.
    I started out using youtube videos to learn but last year I was connected with an older lady from another of our churches who wanted to teach the skill of knitting. Her dad taught her when she was very young, and he was taught by his teacher in school.

  5. I have found the hard way that cheap yarn does not give a product that is worth the time to do it. I just finished a ruanna which is a loose overgarment from South America. I put a bit of money into it. But I love it, love the feel of it and really love the looks. I now save my money and invest in my product. It will last a long time. I want it to be good. I also buy from small local shops too. Anytime I have a question, I can pop in and she is great. It is like having my own personal instructor. Definitely worth the little extra money to know I can get help and I am supporting one of my "neighbors".

  6. Good Morning!
    I am knitting a little jacket for Alice (2 years now), and a matching dress for her dolly. A week before the earthquake I said to my husband that I wasn't ready to start on any knitting yet, so I find it interesting that after the earthquake, that was the first craft I wanted to pick up. You are right - it is quite meditative, and calming. Have you looked at It is free to join and they have an amazing catalogue of knitting patterns - alot are free and if they cost anything, it's only a few dollars. I haven't come across any yet over $5. The jacket I am knitting is from there.
    Isn't it fun knitting for babies!
    Have a great day!

  7. I knit dishcloths while commuting to and from the office - I call it my sanity knitting because I find it quickly soothes my crowd-jangled nerves :) and I am making bonnets for 2 new additions to our family!

  8. I love those booties. They are adorable. I do not knit but have a friend who will teach me if I ask. I think I will.It would be very satisfying to make your own.
    I always say you get what you pay for cheap wool means cheap quality. Thanks for the inspiration. B

  9. tspersolMelinda says
    I too am a very keen knitter and was taught by a school friend when I was nine and haven't stopped and am now a young grandmother. I often knit whilst I read your blog and there is rarely a day that I don't knit. I haunt op shops and garage sales for most of my wool as I knit for charities, so I work with what I have on hand. If it is a wool I dont like I tend to mix with another yarn to make a blanket or scarf. Unfortunately none of my children (2 daughters and a son) are interested but one now loves to sew in her spare time.
    Unfortunately I find most people dont want to spend the time washing woollen garments and just want wash and wear, but I see there are still a few of us that don't mind looking after wool.
    Thanks for letting me have my say

  10. Yes Rhonda I am a knitter. I reckon I have been knitting since I was at primary school. I have knitted jumpers, vests, cardigans, etc etc and lots of baby wear over the years. This winter I am knitting my 90 year old Dad a new jumper. We have new babies coming as well and I hope to knit a couple of little things for them as well. I also find it very relaxing . Cheers Kathy

  11. Those little booties are just PRECIOUS. I can knit; I can purl. But I've never put anything together. Maybe its time.

  12. Hi Rhonda,
    I am a knitter of scarves and knee rugs...only because I don't know how to move on! I'll look up some of those websites and hopefully progress. When I had my babies the most valued item of clothing I had for them were knitted singlets. I found several in an op shop and I'm sure they would have had more colds during winter if it wasn't for them. Putting them in fleecy sleeping bags etc came no where close to the warmth that these little handmade singlets provided. The best was the one with little short sleeves. My babies wore them for years and then they went back to the op shop none the worse for wear. I did spend a lot of time handwashing as most of the babies were not wash and wear but I loved the time out, hands in water, just me and my thoughts!

  13. As it happened I pulled out my Elizabeth Zimmerman books last night and started knitting her "Dickie" for a farming friend for Christmas. They are brilliant books by a brilliant woman and definately worth having. You are right about the quality of yarn though - I have become a yarn snob - it's natural fibres or nothing for me now. Bendigo Woolen Mills yarn is brilliant and quite reasonable in price - no affils and all that but I do buy heaps there and have never been disappointed with the quality.

  14. Knitting is such a lovely craft. I find it very relaxing. Elizabeth is a bit of a kniting icon. She certainly knew her stuff. Another book I would recommend is the original Stitch N Bitch book. It has examples of the basic stitches and casting on and off. Increases and decreases etc. as well as various patterns. I gave it to a friend who had just started knitting and she found it very helpful.
    Looking forward to seeing what you knit for the grandchildren. How lucky they are. I actually learnt to knit because by the time my mum finished anything, it was too small! Jacinta

  15. Oh my goodness, I covet this skill that you have.
    Did you do the work in that first photo? How lovely! I have so many hobbies that need to be developed I don't dare pick up another (with 3 kids and one on the way) but it is on my list to do.
    After the initial frustration it looks like it could be so soothing!

  16. I don't knit but I've been wanting to learn how to crochet. I keep seeing adorable crocheted soft toys on etsy and I want to make my own! One of my friends is pregnant and I think a set of organic farm animal toys would be a perfect present for the baby and a nice change from all those newborn clothes and plastic toys everyone seems to give.

  17. Good morning Rhonda. Lovely patterns! I know what you mean about knitting, it centres me too. After dinner an hour of knitting makes all the difference in the world.

    When you have an idle moment you might like to check out

    It's a web site for Elizabeth fans and shows their interpretations of her various patterns, it's updated regularly.

  18. Although I was taught knitting basics as a child, I never took to it until last year, aged mid-40s, I knitted a jumper for myself. Perhaps I needed to be of an age to appreciate the meditative aspects of knitting,which is a big reason of why I knit. I have just chosen a pattern to make my daughter a vest and now having the fun of choosing wool.
    I also agree on choosing the best wool you can afford. I've always done this with fabrics to make clothes. The process and the results are much more enjoyable.

  19. I love to knit! We have a few new babies arriving in our family shortly. I've knitted 4 Elizabeth Zimmerman 'Surprise Baby Jackets'. They are such fun to knit! You can buy the pattern online. Unfortunately you have to wait for it to arrive from America by post. It is not available in PDF yet!
    Happy knitting!

  20. I am knitting myself a cardigan using Malabrigo WOrsted wool. So soft and beautiful!!

    I use Bendigo a lot for every day knitting, I won't knit with wool that is not at least BWM quality and I buy better stuff for 'good' knits.

    I only learnt to knit a few years ago when I turned 30 and started having children.

  21. socks are on my sticks.

    Will look out for that book at the library, may even add it to my book wish list.

    cheers Kate

  22. I so like your suggestions for finding help regarding knitting. I'm not past the dish cloth stage yet. Would love to learn how to knit socks. You must be having a lot of fun knitting for your soon to arrive grandbabies :)

  23. Hi Rhonda!
    I'm getting myself a 'knit knit' kit and asking my neighbour to teach me how to knit this autumn! I've been wanting to do it for so long but have never gotten around to it. Crocheting is another skill I want to pick up. Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement to get on with it! :)

  24. I want to learn how to knit but I'm scared I'll get addicted to it like I'm addicted to quilting. I use my hand pieced quilting as a way to keep my hands busy and my mind patient when I'm waiting for the kids at playgrounds and practices.

  25. Sigh - I need to be knitting right now. Life is always busy with two little boys, but there are times where I have 15-30 minutes here or there and I could really use a project to take my mind off of having a baby soon.

    My 3rd baby boy is due next week on the 18th, and awhile back I knit him an umbilical cord cap. You can see a picture of it at the top of my blog. I loved working on it, though the yarn wasn't the greatest. It was my first official knitting project. Next time I will spend that extra money!

    Also, the little pants you see in the picture on the left were inspired by the ones you made - I found an easy pattern and repurposed some old pajama pants I had grown tired of. I have also been inspired by your cloth diapering posts to not only switch over to cloth, but to learn how to sew pull-up waterproof trainers that I can use for my 3 year old (for accidents in the middle of the night). It really is amazing how much you can learn how to do if you put your mind to it.

  26. I lOVE knitting. It is my Zen.

  27. I've been knitting these: The pattern is free! Keeps wee lil' ones warm. The one pictured was done with leftovers. Even better!

    Much love,

  28. This is a beautiful post and so true! I love knitting (and spinning) and my husband crochets beautifully. I've recently been working on a sweater for my sister-in-law and another pair of socks. Just found your blog and glad I did.

  29. Hello, and good evening to you, I found your blog thru another blogger in N.Z. she is Our Wee Farm, I find it quite funny actually as my neighbour and exboss is travelling over in Northern New Zealand and loving it and here I am talking to two ladies from there.. lol.. I have just taken up knitting nothing exciting scarfs and wash cloths but hey have started a touque, my daughter is teaching me she is the teacher.. and is amazing.. please check out my blogs and see all the snow we have so I am living thru your green grass and flowers and plants posts.. tc and ttysoon..Sue

  30. Hello "Down to Earth Rhonda",

    My Mum and Grandmother were wonderful knitters and made many gorgeous and precious jumpers for us all over the years. Both Mum and my Grandmother are no longer here, but they're creations live on.

    They could never teach me to knit. I must have been a terrible student. A few years back I taught myself the basics from a very simple children's knitting book. I have my Mum's old knitting patterns from the 40's and 50's, so I'm hoping my knitting skills will improve enough to be able to do the patterns justice. I'm knitting a scarf at the moment, using my Mum's old knitting needles. And I just love doing it. I feel it connects me to all those women in my past who did the same thing.

    I will definitely keep an eye out for the book you mentioned.

    ~ Julie

  31. Lovely post as always, Rhonda.

    We already have one knitting student at the forum, I've found some easy to follow videos and links, written a little encouraging advice and hopefully we'll have sgs knitting in no time.

    Come on over to the forum if you'd like to learn to knit and you'll be made very welcome.

    coffeee Sue

  32. Hello Julie!

    Sue, I noticed that you took that girl under your wing. I'm sure she'll be knitting in no time. Thank you for your help with this.

  33. Hi Rhonda, please tell your readers about Ravelry ( which is the world's largest online knit and crochet community. There are hundreds of thousands of patterns available there, some for free, some for payment direct to the individual designers, and the whole place is brilliant for tips, ideas, information inspiration and friendship.

  34. I just started knitting late in my third pregnancy. My mother-in-law and the internet were a great help. I've knitted up a few scarves, numerous dishcloths (inspired by your wonderful blog) and I'm hoping to start a jumper soon for my three month old. "Knitting without tears" sounds like just what I need...I still have so much to learn. But I'm loving entering into the world of knitting.

  35. I think I must be wired differently than most people, I do not find knitting calming, if fact it makes me feel very anxious and irritable. I want to slap someone!I am 60 and last year tried knitting again(for the 3rd time thinking maybe with age things had changed) and find that it isn't for me, I think my sister got all the crafting calmness in our famliy ;-). I have learned to knit, crochet, needlepoint, paint, tat, embroidery, quilt etc. I mean that I really learned but had to FORCE myself to complete each project..afghan, sweater, pillow cases, baby blanket, etc. always for someone else because I found it so stressful I never would have finished anything for myself. I do sew but not as often as I did when I was fit.
    I so envy all of you. I would love to knit or crochet etc. for my grandchildren.

  36. When my daughter was 10, mothers assisted her class teacher to teach knitting & hand-work at her girls' school. Some girls flew through the knitting, while my daughter's often ended up in the "problem bag".....but she learned perseverence and voila! we love the little knitted hat, scarf & teddy bear she made. I added 'googly' eyes to teddy and a little red stitched bear is a long, thin teddy and is so cute! The very 1st baby gift given to us 20 years ago was a pair of white knitted baby booties that my mother-in-law knitted: lovingly popped into my wine glass at a supper with extended family--what a great way to announce my pregnancy to the rest of the family! :)

  37. As Rachel & Suse have said, I would advise anyone to look at I joined ages ago and through the site have been a founder member of Kilmarnock Knitters and we meet up each week and help each other. Knitting knows no bounderies, ask for help and someone will be there with the answer. What do I have on the needles at the moment, the Propello Beret by Woolly Wormhead for my daughter in New Zealand.

  38. Thanks for the Knitting Without Tears tip, I LOVE knitting (even though i'm a professional quilter) mostly because it's such a gradually improved skill, yet relaxing. When I get it right, that is.

  39. The Elizabeth Zimmerman book sounds really good, Rhonda. I must try and get my hands on a copy. Your booties are sooo cute! My mum just gave me her folder of knitting and crochet patterns from the 70's, some from her mother and a couple even from her grandmother! I can't wait to sit and have a fossick through them all, precious things they are. :)

  40. Hi Rhonda,

    I've come out of the woodwork to post on this entry. I've been an avid reader for a few years now, but this entry has drawn me out to make myself known :). I taught myself how to knit when I was 17 and have been knitting on and off ever since, so about 4 years. When my older sister had her babies she made it known that she did NOT like hand knitted items (I was so disappointed!) but now that they're a little older I've started knitting beautiful stuffed toys and play foods - so much fun. At the moment I'm working on a dinosaur for the oldest.
    I've found youtube to be fantastic for videos when I get stuck or need a refresher.

  41. I have Elizabeth's book too, I love her chatty style of writing.

    I'm with you on the knitting front, I can't imagine a day without it in some form. :) xx

  42. I can knit, I just choose not to. It never really caught my interest enough to finish things. My meditative craft is spinning, and I enjoy weaving as a way to have something to do with the spun yarn. I've got some nice warm tan Alpaca on the wheel now.

  43. Knitting is wonderful to take along with me when I'm waiting--piano lessons, sports events for my children, doctor's offices, etc. I'm an advanced beginner and am attempting a sleeveless sweater for summer. It is made of the loveliest cotton/modal yarn in a light shade of lavender. I always find myself relaxing while knitting. I love those baby booties! I like to make little booties for baby showers. It is an inexpensive gift, monetarily, but gives such pleasure to new mothers.

  44. I'm 22 and I taught myself to knit eight years ago. Always something on the needles; right now I'm working on a pair of thrummed mittens. I live in Texas, so a scorching summer is quickly approaching, but as Ms. Zimmermann so wisely says, mittens are to be knitted during a season when they aren't actually needed. Because they're never finished on time.

    I also have knitted baby booties for several friends for baby showers; they are always the smallest gift, in the smallest box, and the only handmade gift at that. And they always get the most attention. Most people just don't take the time anymore, you know?

    You are an inspiration, Rhonda Jean! :-D

  45. Hi Rhonda, this is my first time commenting but I've read your blog for a long time now. I am only 23 years old but I learned rudimentary knitting (and crocheting) when I was about 18 with the help of online tutorials and diagrams. I find it just as calming as you describe. It is very easy to loose track of the time when you're lost in your latest project. Right now, I am working on some simple cotton hand towels for my mother's kitchen and bathroom. I wanted to comment and tell you how much I adore your blog. In a way, reading your blog also brings me a bit of calm and peace in a life that's pretty hectic. I'm trying to incorporate more of your simple techniques into my life to find a good balance. Thanks so much for the look into your charming world! - Mel

  46. I love that you said this... "I use to think it was a wise economy to buy the cheapest wool; I no longer believe that."

    I don't know if you previously did a post about wise economy and what that means, but I would love to see you do one. Wise economy doesn't always means buying what's cheapest, but it can sometimes be difficult to know when it's wise to buy what's cheapest and when it's wise to pay extra, especially when it comes to quality. I would love your thoughts on this issue.


  47. I am knitting socks for my children (ages 2 and 5).

  48. I just wanted to make a comment on how wonderful it is to see young women knitting, and women from their age to mine being as in love with knitting as I am.

    Also, hello to everyone who made a comment for the first time. It really does make my day to have you make that connection. :- )

  49. Oh Rhonda!!! You forgot that if you want to knit, join Ravelry!!!! is the worlds largest online knitting community - with patterns, people and access to stich'n'b*tches all over the world! Since joining 'rav' I have met sooo many lovely knitters - and most of them are my age (34).

  50. Oh yes, I am a knitter. My Mother has always referred to me as a "knitaholic". I first learnt at age 4, by age 8 I was knitting from patterns. Dolls clothes and booties for new cousins. I knit an old fashioned layette for my cousin when I was 15. It included a dress, coat, bonnet and booties. She is now 25! And my own daughters have worn the garments!
    I was comissioned to knit things for a teacher and fellow students when at high school. And having recently reunited with some school friends(25 years on), I often get asked if I still knit! And a few have commented on how I used to watch the blackboard in class and knit at the same time.....They could never work out how!
    On my needles? Always many things, currently some projects on the go are socks, Christmas stocking, short sleeved jumper for myself,dolls clothes, and a few things for my daughters.

  51. Hi Rhonda,

    That Elizabeth Zimmermann book looks great, I'm thinking about buying it.
    And Sarndra sure is a smart woman, to give you that book, what grandmother can resist those patterns?

    Annemarie from Holland

  52. I am obsessed with knitting! Have been doing so since I was nine, my grandmother taught me. At the moment, I'm knitting a toy gingerbread man for my little girl's upcoming birthday, and some things for my mother.

    I'm finding it a little easier to make more time for knitting now that my youngest two are getting older, which is wonderful. My ten year old daughter and I try to knit together as often as we can.

  53. i carry my knitting everywhere too. i love to knit when i'm traveling on buses, trains, when i'm visiting with friends, waiting for my children at dance classes. it is meditative but it also make me feel as if i'm accomplishing something, even if the rest of the day goes pear-shaped. i also love to make something exactly as needed, from high-quality materials. i'm just about to get into spinning, i have a fleece waiting for my courage. my tall girl can knit now, and i hope to teach the little one very soon. it's a great skill, i learned when i in my late twenties, from my mother in law and her sisters, fascinating! x

  54. If you enjoy a knitting challenge, you must knit Elizabeth Zimmerman's Baby Surprise Jacket - look it up and discover the challenge.

  55. I've recently joined a knitting group run at my local library so at the moment I've just got a long teddy bear sized scarf going but can't wait to learn how to do more complex patterns.

  56. I just started to teach myself how to knit. I purchased a book called, "I Taught Myself Knitting" from boyd. I must's awful! The knitting needles are so slick the yarn keeps sliding all over the place. On the dvd it shows the woman from the front mostly, I need to see what she's doing from behind her hands. She also goes very fast! Even saying she goes fast because it's hard for her to go slowly. I'm thinking...this is supposed to be for beginners. I wish I would have known about this before I wasted money on it. I put it all away because I got so upset.

    I will try to find the book you mentioned, knitting without tears, at our library. I hope I can still learn to do it.


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