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Many years ago, I read Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. The way Murakami was able to parallel the training a runner undertakes with the way a writer works resonated with me.

It also underscored the fact that when I talk about knitting, I am often talking about something beyond the knit and the purl.

One of the things I’m talking about when I talk about knitting is community. It’s easy to make a joke here—“we’re knit together!”—a sentiment I don’t want to malign, but there are other, sometimes more profound, ways that community is supported by knitting.

Take the basic activity of knitting in public. It is rare not to be approached when knitting on the bus or at a park bench by someone who is either simply curious or who was a knitter in the past.

In that small moment, even if the conversation ends after a few minutes, there’s a sense of connection fostered. Sometimes, I will tell the person of a local yarn store to which they can go for either supplies, support, instruction, or all the above.

I once spent some time in an airport restaurant encouraging a woman to take up knitting again. She’d seen me reading a knitting mystery and told me she used to knit but had stopped when her husband had taken ill and she became his caretaker. Unfortunately, he had since died, but now she was taking care of her adult daughter who was had cancer. She’d moved to be closer to her daughter and felt isolated.

I’d been to a textile trade show and had yarn samples in my carry-on. I gave some to her and encouraged her to find a local yarn shop, which might have a knit night. As we parted ways, she felt lighter to me, and I hoped she would reconnect with her knitting and find community to support her.

When I talk about knitting, I’m also talking about sustainability and self-sufficiency. I realize that not all knitting is about sustainability, but I’m using the term in two ways here: first, in its conventionally meaning—to limit my impact on the world and its resources, and second, in its definition of something that can sustain.

Knitting has been seen as a sustainable activity for ages. The time invested in knitting a sweater, for example, generally means you’re not simply cranking out one after another (okay, I have friends who can do that, but I cannot).

Unlike going to a store and coming home with five different sweaters that were on deep discount and ultimately only ever wearing one or two of them, my relationship with a handknit takes place on a deeper level.

I know the work that went into it. I know that there is a connection to an animal or plant. How many of us have been at the thrift store and found a handknit sweater? I often take a moment to appreciate it, and sometimes I want to adopt it like a pet from the shelter. I do not have the same response to a sweater from a major retail outlet.

Knitting sustains my interest in material engagement. I am a maker, and materiality has always been part and parcel of that. Choosing a yarn that feels good against my skin or exploring the way colours can play together often reignites my creative passion.

The tactile experience of the yarn winding through my fingers and the fabric growing beneath my needles puts me back in touch with my physical body. So much of our time is spent distanced from our corporeal existence (either by choice or as a side effect of our habits), and knitting helps re-establish my relationship with my body, the physical world around me, and all it contains within it.

Finally, knitting supports my indefatigable optimism. I may not always come across as an optimist, but there’s a deep vein of it in me that remains vital. Knitting to me is an act of optimism.

I’m open to falling in love (again) with a new yarn or pattern. I forget the trouble I had with a previous pattern and rush headlong into a new cast-on. It doesn’t always work out, but in over 30 years of knitting, I have not been so burned by a project that I haven’t come back to a new one. The optimism that knitting supports is something I think we could all use right now.

What are you talking about when you talk about knitting?

About The Author

Open to learning how to do practically everything, Claudia teaches, writes, knits, and makes art in Hamilton, Ontario. Her textbook, Fashion Writing: A Primer, was published by Routledge in November 2022.


  • Continuity. Connections between the generations….my grandmother taught me, I taught my daughter, and she in turn taught her daughter. Other grandkids can crochet, and we all love to talk about yarn and enjoy just being together, creating. It is wonderful to be able to share my skill and my love in this tangible way.

    • Continuity for me, as well. 🙂

  • Transformation – the act of using my hands to transform a long piece of yarn into something beautiful and functional. It makes me so happy

  • Knitting reconnects me with the value of time, with the slowness of life. It helps me to appreciate how things that matter take time.

    I love your article. Oh, and I also loved that book by Murakami!

  • Definitely community, for all the reasons you wrote. Also forgiveness. When I make mistakes in knitting, I can choose to go back and fix them, or I can leave them as proof that I cared enough to invest the time to make something instead of buying it; and either way is okay. And if I end up completely frogging and starting over, that reminds me of renewal; not everything has to be discarded if it doesn’t work the first time. Relationships and connection; I love the connection I feel when I share some of my stash yarn, or when I help someone with their project, and suddenly they are zooming away happily. It feels like a part of me becomes invested in their knitting. And when I give away my handknits, I love seeing people’s faces light up. I especially love making prayer shawls to give away; I tell the recipient I’m giving them a hug every time they use it.

  • there i was sitting on the commuter line train heading home from a shopping trip to Glasgow city centre . it was a few minutes until the whistle went and then it was a 19 minute journey (God and the Scotrail staff willing) but that is time to get a few rounds of a sock done (i knit with 5 double pointed needles – 4 holding the wool and one working).

    an elderly gentleman sat down across from me and looked at me knitting.

    “my granny used to do that!” (i did mention that he was elderly, didn’t I?). and for the next 12 minutes until it was his station he told me about being evacuated from Clydebank during WWII to stay with his Granny (mother’s mother) north of Glasgow while his mother worked in a factory and his father was in the Army. his 2 uncles were in the Navy and Royal Air Force. so his Granny knitted socks and he talked about helping her unravel old jumpers/sweaters to get wool – green for the Army, dark blue for the Navy and pale blue/grey for the RAF. apparently during WWI people knitted for individual servicemen but in the Second war it was for the service as a whole and then passed on to individuals. and every so often she would knit a jumper for him!

    as he stood up to get of the train he said “my dad and my uncles all came back safe, Thank you for bringing back the memories. keep knitting, it means a lot!”

    as the train pulled out the station i had to dig a tissue out of my bag to wipe away the tears and the young woman sitting across from me looked at me as she too wiped a tear from her eye and said “knitting! who knew?”

    well, actually, all of us!

    • I’ll certainly keep knitting now

    • Thank you for sharing this story! I too had to grab a kleenex as it really hit home for me also!

    • I, too, knit socks with 5 needles. I just can’t convert to knitting in the round, scared? Maybe, but I just feel comfortable with 5 needles. I have yet to knit a real grown up sweater because the patterns all call for knitting in the round. Just like the old way, I guess.

      • Have you tried 25cm circulars? Knit Picks and Knit Pro (think they are called something else in the USA) sell them and they are brilliant for socks and a good way of getting used to knitting in the round.

        There are lots of sweater and cardigan patterns for straight knitting, again Knit Picks and many of the yarn manufacturers have them on their web sites, Love Crafts is also good source. I much prefer knitting straight and agree it is getting harder to find the patterns but they do still exist!

      • Hi Francis,
        Just a note responding to your note! Try going on Youtube and see how to use a long circular needle with the magic loop technique if you find the 5 needles hard to manage. It’s been a lifesaver for me!

      • And I am scared of knitting on double pointed. It’s weird what each of us gravitate towards.

      • If you would like to switch, YouTube has videos on using circular needles to knit flat pieces. Seeing how it’s done might be helpful.

        Your five needle work is really accomplished. I am continually frustrated by this method as I drop and lose needles, catch needles, and leave unintentional ladders. It was my problems with losing needles that led me to circulars.

      • No they don’t, I am knitting Bruce Weinstein’s Baseball Jersey from Knits Men Want and it’s knit piece by piece on 2 straight needles. I’m sure you can find others.

    • Now, My eyes are tearing up! Thank you!

    • Beautiful story!

    • ❤️

    • What a heartwarming story to start my day in Durham, NH. I live in a CCRC and Wednesday morning several of us gather to knit, all residents welcome. At 83 I find myself with breast cancer and am getting treated. My knitting group not only offers me support but also shares their experience with breast cancer, a reassurance that I will get through it too. We talk about everything under the sun as well as give and get help with our knitting. Lots of support and laughter.

      • You might enjoy The Friday Night Knitting Club. Good read.

        • It is a very good read, especially if you are a knitter.
          Knitting also makes me happy, especially with friends.

    • “…she’d seen me reading a knitting mystery…” !!! Please …can we know some titles? Is this a whole wonderful genre yet to be discovered?

      • The Knitting Circle by Anne Hood is a heartwarming tale of love and loss and how knitting helped

      • Hi Karen –

        The book was Knit or Dye Trying by Allie Pleiter. It was a fun and engaging read!


      • Start with Sally Goldenbaum, she has a series.

    • What a great story – thanks so much for sharing it!

  • BIG heart!

  • I very much agree with this article. I’m 69, and through knitting I have connected with people of all ages on two continents. Knitting is a great way to connect with other people in different cultures.

  • Knitting has enabled me to get over my shyness in social situations and helped me to connect to strangers in ways I never would have if I hadn’t had needles and yarn in my hands.

  • I will keep an eye out for you on my travels around the city and be sure to say something if I see you knitting.

  • Beautifully said.

  • Oh, where do I start? Learning… the endless amount of skill that one can acquire as one starts the journey, new switches, garment construction, math, problem solving, real brainwork along with meditative miles of stockinette or garter, different kinds of yarn (and sheep!), garment fitting, colorwork! It’s such an ongoing, lifetime adventure. Connection… to animals, the land, people, materials, and my own creativity. Opportunity to be mentored and coached and supported, and now, for me, to pay forward that gift by giving it to someone taking their first tentative steps! It’s just glorious! And yes, a sense of community with knitters in my hometown and around the world. Finally, when life is hard, or sad, or overwhelming, I can pick up my needles and shift my focus, one stitch at a time, to something soft, beautiful, meaningful, positive. I often knit in doctors office waiting rooms, where I’ll connect to some else’s current practice of knitting, or their memories of knitting or of a loved one knitting and perhaps for a moment we are both transported to a sweeter place than where we are sitting. Knitting keeps me present AND carries me away. It challenges me AND it brings me peace. For me, busy hands really are happy hands.

  • What a fantastic column! Especially resonant is the idea of optimism in the process. I have always felt that, whether in quilting or knitting — planning and acquiring and starting projects are acts of hope. It took me many years to realize that but optimism is the undercurrent and hum underneath all of it with joy being the punctuation to it. Today I am set to finish a project I started in 2006. So much life has happened since I began this project and yet, here it is and here I am. How hopeful! Thank you for this column!

  • I had to laugh at your title because my Apple Watch certainly thinks knitting is running! Or at least walking!

    • My Garmin watch does the same thing – logging knitting as walking! I think they should add “Knitting” as an activity!

  • Lovely article! So true about community and connection. I taught my sister and a daughter; another daughter learned from elderly German women by attending their knitting circle…. the women patiently taught her how to knit despite a language barrier. Her knitting story began in Germany but she’s carried those skills as she’s moved around the U.S.

  • So well said .. I’ve knitted since I was 5 – taught by grandmother and her friends . I’m 72 now, have taught my daughters and grandchildren the joys of knitting….. it keeps me sane creating garments for my family, friends & prem babies ..

  • Acceptance. Being present with what is happening in the moment. When mistakes happen; being at ease with frogging it. I once frogged an entire sweater b/c it came out like a potato sack. And then I happily knitted it again. You probably guessed, I had not swatch.

  • I might add , peaceful “me “ time!

  • Knitting is essential for my mental and emotional health. My Mom taught me when I was 8, and I have been knitting ever since. Thank you for a beautiful and inspiring message. Knitting is everything you said – the past, the present and the future. Knitting creates in so many ways – the item itself, the communities we knitters are part of, the strength and comfort and encouragement of knitting through good times and bad times, re-using wool from one item to create another. And it is a wonderful way to pass on our love and caring to others. Each of our sons has an afghan knitted by his grandmother that he took away to university. Each of our grandchildren has a baby blanket I made when he or she was born. Now each grandchild will have an afghan to take to university. Like the prayer shawls, these afghans wrap our grandchildren in our love wherever they are. I am grateful to belong to the knitting community.

  • Such a beautiful reminder of how what we do not only impacts our live but also that of others.

  • I’ve always been deeply engaged by anything that uses many small bits to make up a new whole; mosaic, pixels, sand on a beach, knitting. It’s magic to me and add the fact that all those stitches that we put together one by one are actually a long continuous thread adds to the alchemy.

  • This really made me think. I believe I think I talk about being creative, learning new stitches or techniques, sharing time , knitting with friends, teaching someone , always being in awe of a new yarn or pattern or color. There is a lot to talk about and even more to think and be grateful for as knitters

  • I talk about how knitting is like ctrl-alt-del for my brain. The tactile nature of the work and the sensual pleasure of the yarn in hands settles the right side of my brain and the binary nature of the knits and purls settles the left side of my brain. It brings my mind back to center. So much so, that I have a colleague who will tell me I need to go knit a few rows when he sees that I need a reset. And it charms me that even though he’s not a knitter, he gets it.

    • Yes! And when I learned to do color work with two hands, it really felt like I was settling and balancing both sides of my brain. That technique makes me feel complete, grounded and in the present more than anything else.

  • Thank you for this article! It was so encouraging. You put into words what I feel about knitting!

  • Knitting as an act of optimism! Yes! I have bookmarked this article so I can re-read and go back and read the comments when I have more time. Thank you!

  • When I am with my knitting friends, we talk about knitting and yarn and patterns and designers and retreats and even crochet. But we also talk about family and pets, books and movies, food and travel, shopping and home repair, and all the pieces of our daily lives and somehow that’s knitting too, because knitting brought us together and our gatherings make us whole.

  • All, all these things. Sustainable? Just last summer I reworked a vest I’d knit almost 30 years before. I keep most of what I knit for myself, and had started wearing it again after a long hiatus. But it just wasn’t right. So I fixed it. So satisfying on so many levels.

    Similar to other forms of “making”, I value doing something that DOES get finished. So much of life is spent doing things that need to be done again, over and over. Or that come undone. But even with mistakes and unraveling, in the end, with knitting, I finish something. I can stand back and look at some months of my life enshrined in yarn.

    That lace vest that took 30 years to get right? Maybe that especially. It was made during those years when my children were so little and I was so busy. And it was good enough. But now I’ve got a bit more time and more skill, and it’s even better.

  • Ultimately, I think, everything. I had a nice big list but after reading the comments, which covered it all, I decided to stick with Portability and all that it implies – flexibility (anywhere/anytime); conviviality (so many fun encounters!), travelability (trains, planes and automobiles, not to mention shipboard and along a hiking trail); partnerability (knitting along with TV, business meetings, classes, church services – any place where knitting enhances concentration. Walking. A knitter recently described walking the Santiago Camino trail. Another knitter would have knitted while she walked it. We knitters – lucky us – can really get around. I am so grateful for that.

  • Such a lovely article, and so relatable in all aspects. For me, knitting has always been both a source of joy and one of comfort during tough times. It also helps me with the existential, cynical question that sometimes floats into my head: what’s the point of it all? My answer: I don’t know, but since we’re here, we should be/do good for others, and that most certainly includes lots of knitting.

  • Consistency! My internal self-talk is always saying that I’m not consistent enough in the ways I show up for myself, but the way my projects grow is a concrete example of how that’s not true. Seeing a project progress and finishing it, and then beginning a new one and going through the same cycle shows me over and over again the benefits of consistency (which are sometimes hard to see in other areas of life), reminds me to be consistent in other ways, and reaffirms that I am capable of it.

  • I’m from Toronto. Welcome fellow Canadian. This site MDK has fostered my knitting exploits as well as other endeavours. Thank you all.

    • I am also from Toronto. Joined this site during COVID. Nice to know there are other Canadians here. Now, if we could just sort out the cost, takes, duties and exchange rate, I could even order some of the wonderful things available in the shop.

      • Taxes

  • Claudia, thank you for this beautiful message. And for every comment I have read below…a heartfelt and tearful “thank you so much!” I needed these today. ❤️

  • Just a post script…my next email to catch up on led me to my online subscription of PieceWork and a story of handwork in another war. There are profound stories of handwork woven into all wars. ❤️

    • Hi, Denise, your comment about the connection between war and knitting brought to my mind the heart rending sight in the Auschwitz Museum of a tiny exquisite baby ‘s lace jacket and a little boy’s cream sweater. Both were knitted with such love, skill and, I imagine, quiet pride, and I will carry those images with me for ever. The thought of those women knitters, undefeated and living on through their work was an inspiration.

  • I just read the article in Piecework about the Ukranian fiber artist who stays grounded in the midst of war through her beautiful work. So I would offer “grounding” as another aspect of knitting to talk about, whether the war is raging all around or inside.

  • Beautiful! This and all the comments should be collected into a Field Guide!

  • In 36 hours my life changed: Robert’s numbness in his lower legs and arms was the start of Guillain Barre Syndrome. I left him in the hospital, able to use his upper body, breath and returned the next morning to learn he was in ICU on total life support. I stayed as long as I could.

    The next day I had a skein of yarn, a cap pattern and metal needles. I knitted. I knitted caps, cowls, gaiters, fingerless mitts, scarves. All given to those who took care of him. I talked with him as I knitted, telling him not to lose hope; that, yes, he’d get better. I prayed as I knitted.

    The clack of the metal needles was loud in that room. In time he was off the ventilator with a trach. He still was paralyzed but moved to another floor. Then he went to a recover hospital and I still knitted. This time a baby blanket for one of the PT staff. When Robert’s trach was taken out, he recalled a memory of a specific noise – the clacking of the metal knitting needles. He said he knew when he heard that, I was there.

    Knitting saved my mental health. As I knitted, I prayed, I told him my love for him. It eased my soul and heart.

    Five years now with GBS – it doesn’t leave you but percolates in your body waiting to take it over (again). I still knit – usually by him as he watches tv. More often than not, I’ll look over and he has fallen asleep to the comforting sound of needles clacking away.

    Yes, Knitting is very powerful.

    • This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. I could feel the immense love in your words.

  • It’s a form of love for me. I give away a lot of my knitting to others, even though I make every item for me. Someone going through cancer treatments, someone else who is having a bad day and needs some color, a lace crystal-beaded shawl for my soon-to-be daughter-in-law (that one wasn’t planned for me, but everything else I’ve made has been). I still don’t have a hat for myself. They disappear the quickest.

  • Contentment. The kind that comes from deep absorption and synchronizing body and mind.

  • Since I do not have a knitting community where I live I take my knitting time to get inside my own head and think about all the things that make me feel grateful, happy and inquisitive. The latter usually being what I want to knit next or what yarn combination I might want to try!
    When I do connect with a very special group of knitting friends twice a year the joy of knitting in community, seeing new patterns, yarns, techniques,laughs and talk is overwhelmingly wonderful. The two are so distinctly different just like each new project I knit both bring me joy. Though knitting with friends tops the list!

  • This line “ Knitting to me is an act of optimism.” resonated so deeply with me that I felt tears well up. So true indeed!! Knitting is so many things to me: community, therapy, love and kindness (through a handmade gift), ennui killer, and optimism. Lovely article, thank you for sharing!

  • Wonderful! Love all your insights and certainly had me thinking about what I am talking about with the various crafts I do. And I love your idea that knitting brings out the “not so obvious” optimist in us. I fall in the same category. Thanks for this read.

  • This is so true. I am lucky enough to have two Zoom knitting friends and one LYS that I knit with.

    I honestly don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have them. They are truly my best friends and feel like sisters.

    I’m going to have to find the book. He is an amazing author.

    My very best to all of you.

  • I read a piece about knitting as a way to take tiny risks and notch tiny victories. I look at it as a problem I have created for myself, one I can solve to my own satisfaction.

    I do many things because i have to and some things because someone else needs me to. I knit because it brings me joy.

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