Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Dao of Knitting: Free your mind and the rest will follow.

Guest Daoshi Wu Wei Lin
When my friend Maxcine asked me to write an article for her blog about knitting, I was flattered, but a little hesitant at first. I know almostnothing about knitting, quite honestly. I know a few people who knit, and another friend raises her own sheep and spins the wool into beautiful organically dyed yarns, but I have never knit myself, and it all seems rather esoteric and mysterious. But then, so (probably) does Daoism to someone unfamiliar with the term. So I put aside my doubts and agreed to write the article.You could ask, and rightfully so, what a priest from an ancient and obscure Chinese religion could possibly contribute to a subject that he admittedly knows next to nothing about. Hopefully, I can help you to see your art (and I do believe that it is an art and you are artists) in a fresh light. Perhaps this will help you to see a problem in a new way, or simply help you to gain a new appreciation of your needlework and yourself.

First, I need to explain a couple of terms so that we are speaking the same language. Dao is the fundamental concept underlying Daoism. Simply put, “Dao” means “theway”, or “the path”. It can also mean “the method”. Everything we experience with our senses is the Dao. The entire universe is a manifestation of the Dao. Yin and Yang, which literally mean the dark and light sides of a mountain, are the female and male, negative and positive aspects of the Dao. This is graphically represented by the Yin/Yang symbol, or “Taiji” – the supreme ultimate. The symbol shows the universal dance of these aspects, constantly changing, constantly moving, each containing the seed of the other. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is the energy inherent in something. Everything has qi energy, either yin or yang, or some combination of both.

How in the world does this relate to knitting or crochet? That’s a very good question. If we understand that Daocan also mean a “way”,
or a “method” then we can certainly say that there is a Dao of needlework. As artists, you have an individual “way” or “method” of working and creating also. For thetime being, I would ask you to spend time focusing on this method, your method, and not the final product. If you celebrate the process, and truly put yourself into it, the end product will naturally be an outgrowth of that. The next time you pick up needles and wool, consider them alittle more closely.

These are your tools and media, the same as a painter has brushes and paint. You create art that is not only beautiful, but practical as well! That is harmonious indeed. If pure beauty alone can be considered passive – or yin, then being able to wear the thing of beauty to stay warm could be considered active – or yang. See? Your art is already balanced and harmonious, without you having to do anything special! Don’t worry about the end result. Consider your needles. Are they wood, metal, plastic? All are valid, and have an energy specific to themselves. Once you start thinking about that, you can decide if that energy is what you want to bring to the piece that you are working on. Wood is considered yang, metal is yin. They would impart their inherent energies into your work. Even plastic, which is a product of the earth, has energy. Earth energy is yin and yang in balance, therefore plastic needles could be considered more or less neutral.

Now to your wool. Is it natural fiber, or synthetic? Animal fibers (wool, silk) are generally considered yang, while those derived from plants (cotton, linen) would be yin. What color is it? Chinese color theory as it relates to qi is a whole school of thought unto itself! Certain colors are considered yin or yang, of course, but they also have an effect on certain organs and therefore our physical and mental health. Briefly, green affects the liver, red the heart, yellow the spleen, white the lungs, and black/dark blue the kidneys.

Don’t be overwhelmed. You don’t even need to know all of this. The next time you start a project, trust your instincts. Don’t try too hard! This is Dao. There is a very important concept in Daoism called “wu wei” which means non-doing, or more appropriately “non-striving”. Pick needles that feel good in your hands. It doesn’t matter if they are finely crafted bamboo or wooden needles, or something inexpensive from a mega-store, as long as they are comfortable in your hands, and appropriate for the project. They will become an extension of your hands and your creativity will flow from your hands into the needles, and into the work. What energy the needles bring on their own is only in addition to what you bring. Pick yarn that you like the look and feel of. Note whether it is natural or synthetic, but that doesn’t matter if it makes you feel good working with it. That is the energy that will go into the project.

Now for the process. Remember “wu wei”? Don’t stress about the project. Try not to worry about stitch counting. Is stress and worry the energy that you want to go into that baby blanket? If you are worrying about the color, stressing about the stitches, obsessing about getting it done on a deadline, I guarantee that is the energy that will flow from you into the work. Instead, trust in your own skills. Give yourself plenty of time and the right resources to finish the project. Then make it a meditation. Soon, you will find yourself in “the zone”. Your hands, confident in their skill, will free your mind from worrying about the details. But don’t let your mind wander aimlessly! Focus on putting the joy that you feel while knitting into the project. When you are in this state you become what Daoists call an “empty vessel”. An empty vessel is open, receptive, able to be filled with the Dao. Your actions will become effortless, you will achieve balance, “wu wei”. Your work will be a manifestation of the Dao; balanced, perfect, and beautiful.


Ginkgo Grove Daoist Center

Thursday, September 9, 2010


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This stitch-along has reached as far as Australia and is a virtual success. So far I have heard from teams of friendly knitters making the blanket as a baby shower gift and solo knitters using their subway time wisely. No matter how far the Mystery reaches the hookup is taking place online through, and the right here.  Look for the release of Volume Two available now at

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Had I never gone to Stitch Therapy, it is very possible that The Adventures of Miss Flitt would not exist. When I first began to visit Maxcine’s store, I was not an experienced knitter. I harbored a vague terror of knitting in the round, but I fell in love with the alpaca Baby Twist. It’s soft palette and softer feel called to me. I must knit a hat, I thought, a hat in the round, and so I approached the counter with some trepidation. Maxcine asked me a series of pointed questions: Can you tell the difference between a knit and a purl stitch? Do you know how to decrease? Have you knit in the round before?

I bought the yarn, made the hat, knew so little that I wore it wrong side out, and took it to show Maxcine. “Look at that!” She said. “How beautiful!” I looked down at my work and felt proud. I bought yarn and knitted a second hat for my husband. By then I had figured out that I was wearing my hat the wrong way, so I corrected his. Again I took my hat back to the shop, and again, I was congratulated on my achievement.

What next? I wondered. A sweater? I chose a light blue mohair and went to work on a Karabella shawl-collared pullover pattern I’d fallen in love with. It was a tricky. The first thing I had to do was knit a turned picot edge using a set of needles and one extra, smaller needle to hold the turning stitches. I was stumped, but I knew where to go. Brandi, the official Miss Flitt model and a Stitch Therapy employee, set me on the right track. Her directions were easy to follow, and she was patient with me.

When I finished the pieces, I washed and blocked them, and then it was time to sew everything together. Oh dear! How to sew a sweater together? How to get those tidy seams and clean lines? I went back to the shop, joined a Sunday night knitting circle, and was taught by Tony Limauco, a wonderful designer, and an expert at the mattress stitch.

I could have stopped there, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to design my own sweater, and so I did a watercolor of a girl holding a book and wearing a purple sweater with a tie at the neck. She looked vaguely 60s and vaguely French, so I called her Claudette and wrote a few paragraphs about her sweater collection. She lived on the Left Bank, rode a bicycle, and carried the kind of satchel I remembered seeing in Truffaut’s Small Change.

I brought my watercolors to Stitch Therapy. “Look at this!” Maxcine said. “This is beautiful. Can you do more?” she asked. “Maybe you could do some for the shop.” I felt shy. After all, I hadn’t put pencil to paper in over five years. It was only my desire to design a sweater that prompted the watercolor. I went home and did a drawing specifically for Maxcine. It was a thank you gift, and she uses it as her avatar on Ravelry.

Gradually, it began to dawn on me, as I continued to knit and paint and write, that I might put a book together, and when I told Maxcine about it, again she was enthusiastic. She said we should do an art show and a reading. She’d always wanted to do a reading at the shop, and wouldn’t this be perfect? She never once thought I might not be able to finish the work, or that when I did, it wouldn’t be something she’d want to show.

We launched the first book of The Adventures of Miss Flitt series, “The Strange Case of the Magician’s Cabinet”, in October, 2009, and we launched the second, “Dangerous Ladies and Opium Dens” in May.
Maxcine still asks me pointed questions, but now they are more about business and marketing than knitting. She has been able to answer questions that I would otherwise be clueless about: What’s the difference between a copyright and a trademark? What sort of tax do you place on knitting goods in New York?

I buy most of my yarn at Stitch Therapy because the yarns are lovely, elegant, and classic, and I like to visit the shop, sit at the little round table, and talk to Maxcine about the progress of the next installment in the Miss Flitt series or the yarns she’s thinking about ordering for the new season. There’s always something to admire in the shop—Maxcine’s hat designs are inspiring, and I love to see other customers’ projects. Stitch Therapy is a friendly, comfortable place, and for me it is a uniquely wonderful place, because it is the true home of The Adventures of Miss Flitt.

For more information or to purchase a book, please visit The Adventures of Miss Flitt online at