Ravelings: Craft As Contemplation
A spiritual director once told me that contemplation is “a long, loving look at the real.” As a Benedictine monk and fiber artist, my knitting, sewing, and gardening are all means of gazing lovingly at the Real.
I begin my creative work with the materials themselves. I touch them, look at them, and daydream about them until they tell me what they want to be. This way of working with materials means that I usually start with what I have, rather than with an ideal that I work toward. This way of working leads me toward creative solutions and options I wouldn’t have considered otherwise and away from the demon of perfectionism.
Last year, for instance, I came upon a pattern for a sweater whose graphic two-color motif called to me. Sorting through my wool pantry, I realized I didn’t have enough of any one yarn for the contrast color. I did, however, have enough of three different undyed yarns. So, I experimented with an ombré effect that, once finished, I liked better than the intended design.
Through this way of working, I highlight and live a different set of values—one in which economical and ecological use of what I have is more important than Platonic perfection. Living in a way that is both economical and ecological, I uncover the lie that “more is better” and remind myself and others that beauty emerges from the unexpected.
Reality faces me at every point in my arts practice. My body is the size and shape that it is. That size and shape have changed over time, as they will continue to do. I have certain preferences for color, pattern, shape, and technique. I have limitations of skill and vision, and my skills and abilities today are not what they were last year or what they will be next year. Seen this way, Reality is dynamic and flowing, and my creative practice must be as well.
Over time, this way of contemplation through craft is leading me to a slower creative life—a simpler, more understated, and more whole one. When I first started knitting, and again when I started sewing, I wanted to make as much as I could as fast as I could. I now realize there’s no rush. Just as beauty and meaning emerge from unexpected comings-together, they also both emerge at their own pace.
The creative life cannot be rushed, and it ought to be savored. That is where its human aspect lies. We are not, after all, factories. When this moment of my life is over, as it will be for all of us, I want to have created things of quality, endurance, and beauty. Those attributes take time to develop, and the skills on which they rely take even more time.
Through my craft, I come to love and respect Reality, primarily the astonishing Reality that is the human person, myself included. That Reality is certainly worth a long, loving look.
—Brother Aidan Owen
Brother Aidan is a monk at the Holy Cross Monastery in the Hudson Valley. Follow his journey of contemplation, ecology, and the fiber arts on his YouTube channel, A Maker’s Pilgrimage with the Knitting Monk; on Instagram @Knitting Monk; and on Ravelry as KnittingMonk.
This essay was originally published in Interweave Knits Spring 2019.
Featured Photo Learning to adapt “women’s” patterns to fit my body. Pattern credit: “Ashland” by Julie Hoover for Brooklyn Tweed; photo credit: Br. Aidan Owen, OHC.