IN PRAISE OF HANDS: Knit yourself well.

knitted brain Handmade brain by Momou crochet

This blog, now in it’s 10th year, has given me the opportunity of meeting some incredible people, all with a story to share. One such person is Diane Stavros of ^. .^ make & cheer ^-.-^.

Recently I discovered that Diane, some time back, suffered from a head injury that caused not only physically discomfort, but, above all, a sense of fear that she could no longer “get a grip on it” (which must be a terrifying experience). Instinct told her, to get better, to get a grip, she needed to do something with her hands. And so she started knitting. And the more she knitted, the easier it became for her to reappropriate herself of herself.

A touching story, I asked Diane if she would write a piece for ART FOR HOUSEWIVES, a blog read, in grand part, by women who like working with their hands. So here is Diane’s story:

«In 1997 on an ordinary day, I was sliding out of bed when I slipped and fell, hitting the back of my head forcefully on the hard wooden floor below… and that was the end of ordinary. Technically, the impact caused trauma to my occipital and parietal bones and the sutures where these and other skull bones meet. Less technically speaking, my brain got squeezed.

If you’ve ever spun around very fast, then stopped abruptly, you know the sensation of seeing the world continue to whirl for a while afterward. After my fall, my small world (the room I didn’t dare venture far from) kept spinning for three days and nights. By the second day I worried this may have become my permanent state.

I desperately wanted something to hang on to – literally. With the force of something like an instinct, my hands needed something to grasp hold of. My mind craved an anchor, too – as well as the assurance that it could still function like it used to – because despite the speed at which the room outside me spun and spun, everything inside my head felt as if it had become filled with heavy, wet sand. Even thinking itself felt as awkward as trying to drive a bus from two seats back. When I tried to recall every-day details about any number of things, there seemed to be blank spots in my brain. Formerly automatic things like uttering my thoughts, pulling a shirt over my head, or deciding which spoon to use for my tea became puzzling and laborious. And it hurt to direct my gaze in any direction but straight ahead. I was just 35 years old at the time, and I needed to believe this was not how things were going to be.

It was when I was in this condition that knitting came to the rescue. Not that I knew how – I didn’t. However, I had in my possession some stashed-away yarn and needles, which had been give to me as a gift a few years before. Maybe it was another instinct, or the fuel of fear, or perhaps even some angel of creative recovery whispering in my ear, but somehow in the midst of the fog, I knew with all clarity to make myself figure out how to use them now. As much as I’d always wanted to be able to knit, resistance to sitting still had always thwarted my attempts to learn, but now I wasn’t going anywhere for who knew how long. This time my motivation was total, and the time was perfect.

And the medium was perfect, too: it was held with the hands, and it required mental focus. Another former area of resistance, the fear of “doing it wrong”, was also no problem, now that the quality of my future life seemed to depend on “just doing it”. The learning process challenged my muddled mind, yet I could go as slowly as I needed, if it got  overwhelming. So with some difficulty and a little help, I figured out a way to make stitches. I knitted a scarf and tangible proof that I might be okay. And I discovered what I’d suspected all along: knitting consoled me with its simple repetitive rhythm and the satisfaction of working with my hands.

It was several years after that first project before I felt brave enough to approach knitting again. It was another bout of adversity and sadness (and another gift of yarn) that did it. This time I decided to try using a pattern. I chose a simple one. Simple or not, I didn’t fully understand it – but what I had come to understand was the magic of just jumping in. Waiting to feel confident or for my brain to fully recover its original quickness might have meant waiting ‘til I was a granny (and a granny who couldn’t knit a sweater? Preposterous!), without knowing much about some things and definitely nothing about others, I put together this sweater (below) for my one-year-old son.

miles' first sweater Miles’ sweater

He was a very appreciative recipient and didn’t care at all that the seams were a mess (among its other glaring defects). He wore it night and day. The textures soothed him. It was one of the only garments his sensory integration dysfunction would allow him to wear next to his skin. I was so glad that I “just jumped in”.

That small start-before-you’re-ready success spurred me on to figure out more “designs”, using nothing more than my faulty noggin. I’d envision a finished item, and then trust that as I struggled and bush-whacked my way through the construction of it, my vision (or something better) (or worse) would evolve.

The next item I made by that clunky-headed method was a funny hat for my (then) five-year-old daughter. It has terrible seams and could have been achieved with a much simpler design, but it represents my discovery that there’s always another way to do anything, especially when you can’t fully access your own clearest thoughts.

funny hat backWithout really intending it, the hat seemed to express the way my head was feeling at the time: a little sad and confused, but still wanting to have fun.

diane in eleni's hatDiane in Eleni’s hat

Knitting and crocheting in this imaginative way, together with (very) slowly increasing “official” skills, have been major factors in my healing. Little by little my brain has either recovered some of its abilities, or found new ones, through the cognitive and hand work of creating with needles, hooks, and fiber.
All of my needle work both represents and creates the path of healing I’ve been on since that very first scarf. Likewise, the coping and compensatory skills I’ve developed since my brain injury have expanded my creativity.

self-designed socks This pair of socks came into existence via a combination of intuition and my growing technical skills.

New ways of doing things have come with new ways of “knowing” things, too. I was always a highly sensitive person with my head in the clouds, but I (not to mention the world around me) didn’t always recognize those as positive qualities. Like many highly sensitive people, there were times when I tried to squash or change that, but now I depend on being that way, and I’m thankful for it. Since conking my head, how I process what I make, and even how I acquire materials, are amazingly often manifestations of a wonderfully accurate intuitive way of sensing (what I like to call my “tuning fork”). The tuning fork has to work for me when thinking sequentially and retaining information won’t. Out of necessity, practice, and self-acceptance, my ability to tune in keeps getting better, and the better it gets, the more willing I am to remain a beginner and to see the value of my sensitivity. My mental capacities have also continued to improve, but even so, following the subtle (or strong) vibrations of my trustworthy tuning fork has become a habit – and proof of a deeper, invisible reality that helps keep my creative eyes, ears, and heart open. Some people may never understand that, or how I am able to see it as a gift, but I have the big bang (on the head) to thank for enabling me to embrace who I am, and needlework to thank for giving me hope for who I can become. Also, for cheering me up».

perplexed_medium pERPLEXED pENGUIN

Many many thanks to Diane for sharing her story!

Related: Therapeutic Knitting + Using knitting to achieve a medatative state of mind could enable a much wider population to experience the benefits of meditation + Think You Can’t Meditate? Try Knitting Your Way to Inner Peace.

Knitting: Depression Help at My Fingertips + People Who Knit and Crochet May Be Happier and Healthier + New Study Shows Humans Are on Autopilot Nearly Half the Time.

The_Knitted_Brain The knitted brain

More “hands on” info:

Is working with your hands better than just with your head?

The importance of handiwork in the waldorf schools + Maria Montessori and hands.


Khamir craft routes.

p.s.  Crochet Saved My Life, the book

About Art for Housewives

The Storyteller....
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9 Responses to IN PRAISE OF HANDS: Knit yourself well.

  1. I would like to thank Diane for sharing such an important story!

  2. waltraut says:

    I would say it is just the opposite, the pink brain is knitted and the colorful is crochet. Otherwise a very interesting post. Must try the therapeutic knitting-

  3. Michelle says:

    Thank you, Diane, for sharing your experience and Cynthia for posting it. I was just thinking last night about why I look forward to knitting each night the way some people look forward to chocolate or a great meal. I have learned many things but usually I practice them or a year or so, then move on. But after a decade of knitting, I find it frees my mind and heart to work out problems and spurs all sorts of creative thoughts.

  4. Sir Joe Works says:

    Thanks for sharing this incredible story!

  5. Pingback: Unfinished craft projects | the photogenic lifestyle of cynthia korzekwa

  6. Pingback: Sewing Bee Beyond Borders – FRIDA KAHLO WEARS HUIPILES!

  7. Pingback: Playground | The Narrative Within

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