The 3 Stages of Knitting? Mindless, Meditative & Mindful

I enjoy mindless knitting a great deal.  I never thought of it as meditative, but Anna Zilboorg of Magnificent Mittens and Socks fame seems to refer to it as meditative.

It’s true that anything can be done as a meditation.  You just have to keep your attention on what you’re doing.  Take washing dishes, for example:  the heat of the hot water, the smoothness of the dishes, the way they become slippery when soap is added and the occasional bit of stuck food  that interrupts the smooth glide of the cloth or scrubbing pad as you move it across the dish.

From that perspective, knitting can easily be a meditation:  the smooth flow of the yarn across your hand, through your fingers and over your needles, the small clicking sound the needles make and the repetitive movements of your hands and the work as it grows longer.

But mindless knitting, to me, is only a little meditative.  The movements, sensations, and sounds are there, but I’m not giving them much attention.  They’re there in the background.  They’re soothing, not quite relaxing, but they take the edge off as I do whatever else it is I’m doing.

That’s the beauty and strength of mindless knitting.  I can do something else while I’m knitting.

It’s a 2-for-1 deal.  I can listen to someone else talk or watch a movie AND knit.  What could be better than that?

Meditative Knitting

Seems obvious, right?  While mindless knitting gives me some of the benefits of meditative knitting, it doesn’t give me all of them.

Meditative knitting also meets the 2-for-1 standard, as you would get all the benefits of meditation AND knitting.

The most frequent technique associated with meditation is to bring the attention to the breath.  To simply observe the feelings and movements your body makes during the course of each breath.

It doesn’t mean that you aren’t aware of the other things around you.  Meditation isn’t about becoming less aware.  It’s about becoming more aware of overlooked things.

In mindless knitting, your hands and needles work together on autopilot.  It feels productive because you can do 2 things at the same time, within limits.

You can carry on a conversation and knit.

You can watch tv and knit.

You can read (or listen to) a book and knit.

The trick is to choose the right project.  A circular knitting project in stockinette stitch and only one color is ideal.  The body of a sweater, after ribbing, but before the armhole (or yoke, if you’re steeking) is often one loooong series of knit stitches.

It could also be ideal for meditative knitting, I think.

I think meditative knitting is slower than mindless knitting.  I’m not positive.

I’m a pretty slow knitter in general.  Speed is not my goal.  Speed knitting is like speed reading.  It gets the job done, but it takes all the fun out of it.

On the other hand, if you took the time and effort to knit as a meditation, you would probably develop your knitting technique very quickly, so a little bit of slow, meditative knitting could pay off with a lot of much faster knitting later on.

Have I done meditative knitting?  I’m not sure.  Have I relaxed into my knitting when working on more challenging techniques, given myself permission to  take my time, and brought all my attention to my knitting for some period of time?

Well, yes.

Have I gotten faster since doing those kinds of knitting sessions?  Yes.

What then is Mindful Knitting?

How does this relaxed, focused knitting differ from mindful knitting?  Is there any meaningful difference?

I think perhaps there is.  Mindfulness is a term widely used in meditative circles to refer to achieving a relaxed state of awareness through bringing the attention and awareness to one thing at a time.

But mindful knitting might be a little different.  Perhaps mindful knitting when your knitting is challenging enough to hold your attention, because if you don’t, you’ll screw it up.

If that doesn’t sound very relaxed, I don’t believe it is.

That doesn’t mean we can’t do these challenging knitting techniques as a meditation, but I can’t imagine being relaxed while doing them, not as a beginner, or a still beginner.

I imagine if I were as proficient as someone like Anna Zilboorg, there might be a lot of stitches that demand my attention, but aren’t so difficult as to be tongue-in-the-corner-of-the-mouth challenging.

Perhaps mindful knitting is something that lies in my future.

What do you think?  What are your experiences with mindless, meditative, and mindful knitting?  Please comment below!

2 thoughts on “The 3 Stages of Knitting? Mindless, Meditative & Mindful”

  1. Thank you for this very interesting post.

    I don’t knit, but I will never forget my mum sitting knitting away.  She knit us all aran jumpers which we wore with pride.  These took her age’s but she found knitting relaxing and very enjoyable.  

    I used to like the click click of the needles as you mentioned.  So I think that it is not necessarily just the knitter that benefits from knitting, but also those around them.

    • Geoff,

      It’s refreshing to hear from the recipient/wearers point of view.  It sounds like the click of the needles reminds you of your mother and home or comfort?  That sounds really nice.

      Thank you for sharing your experience of knitting.



Leave a Comment