Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Knot Theory: Part I

..my mother, licks her fingers,
and twirls the severed tip around, and then
creates a darkness: hiding the thread
within itself, she ties a tiny knot...
"The Knot"
by Irving Feldman

The darkness in thread and fiber holds many mysteries. Knitters expect to pull out perfect, pristine yarn when we tug at the skein but sometimes that is not what we get. To say that one, small knot can derail a project is, perhaps, an understatement. What is done must be undone and that undoing interrupts precious needle and knitter time.

Knots have long been objects of magic and power. According to the Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols by J.C. Cooper knots represent the, "powers of binding and also imply those of loosing...Loosening knots is freedom; salvation; the solving of problems." If knots hold such old and deep mythic significance, shouldn't we appreciate them more?

When I tried to tackle my very first tangle and wanted to take a scissors to it, my Knitting Sensei explained that Japanese children were given knotted yarn in grade schools to teach patience. Is it possible that I, contemporary knitter eagerly (and sometimes desperately) squeezing knitting time into my overly busy schedule can re-imagine knots as part of the path to enlightenment instead of a frustrating speed bump on the road to completed project? Welcome to the beginning of my personal knot theory.

In science, knot theory helps," scientists think about concepts like the shape of the universe or four-dimensional space-time. That's important for physics. Knot theory also helps scientists understand how enzymes in our cells help DNA untangle before cell reproduction. That knowledge helped lead to a new cancer drug." (Kowalski, Odyssey, Nov2007, Vol. 16 Issue 8, p29, 3p)
If Science (yes, with a capital "S") and Humanity (ditto with "H") can benefit from knots so can the contemporary knitter.

Knitters, think twice before sneering at the next snarl. Re-imagine it as an invitation to connection, skill building, and contemplation. Knots connect us to a power inscrutable but one entwined with our fates since they also represent, "continuity, connection, covenant, a link." (Cooper) When you are knotted up over a knitting problem think of the link you have with your knitting ancestors. There is a comforting continuity with other crafters that will teach you patience and perseverance. They encountered and conquered knitting glitches and so can you. I never did cut that first knot; I untangled it and felt unexpectedly triumphant. My wish for you is that same feeling of overcoming the (seemingly) impossible; if you knitted your way into a problem you can knit your way out.