Rite of Passage: The First Scarf


In Zen Buddhism, they talk about the importance of embracing Beginner’s Mind. This is the place where we are naive innocents, our minds free of concepts. It’s where we can’t ask the questions we would like because we can’t even identify the problem. It’s base camp, the big zero, us as empty vessels ready to be filled up, perhaps knit-wise, with the wisdom of Barbara Zimmerman or Cat Bordhi. This is supposed to be a good place to be, even to rest. Rather than running ahead, desperately searching for the next best thing (the next best pattern, the ability to knit a top down fairisle raglan) we need to feel replete without the need to constantly cram new and random snippets of knowledge into our heads, rather we are encouraged to let go and lean back into the moment. At this point, my moment, maybe like yours, is full of protracted knitting movements, sloppy tension and sticky wool. But the Buddhists would argue that it is really safe out there and to be honest, it is all we have – this moment, this wool, perhaps this tiny ability to cast on and do knit stitches. Through this leaning back, absorbing the actual moment of knitting, without judging our progress, may emerge a satisfaction with the actual process of knitting. I don’t think process is celebrated enough in our culture, instead we are always on the hunt to get somewhere else, to get to the end where there is always a rainbow, where things are just perfect, thankyou  Given this pressure, sometimes it’s a relief to just sit with what is, whether that’s a rainy day, a bad mood or a holey scarf. 


Maybe you've just taken up knitting too. Maybe your first scarf is on the needles as we speak? Mine is a strange dishclothy thing, with a ragged edge and I didn't secure the first and second balls together properly so the whole thing is on the verge of coming apart. My grandmother, who taught me the rudiments of knitting when I was very young and quite disinterested, would be shocked. It isn't pretty. But it’s a beginner’s scarf, and that’s where I am. I think that in this contemporary world of ‘the next best thing’ a first scarf is tangible proof that beginning is okay. That those Buddhists have really got it sussed, although, as far as I know, their wisdom did not come through knitting. Rather, it is that beginning and starting out are acceptable, not just because they are milestones on the path somewhere, but because they are steps in the (hopefully) long chain of our knitting life, and all the steps are necessary. Think about it. When I look at my ragged scarf, I see all the steps I've taken to get to now and they are interwoven with moments that will never be repeated: a ridge where I twisted my stitches because my partner made me laugh so much; the rows of extra tight knitting when my best friend broke her hip and I sat in the hospital for hours waiting for news; the extra stitches (and subsequent wavy edge) that I produced because I tried to knit whilst watching ‘Nurse Jackie’. There is something special wound up in that scarf, in its beginner imperfections, in the process of producing it – it’s my life that is implicated in the messy process of its construction, and along with my beginner knitterliness it may actually be something to savour, for it is precious time wrangled from the demands of a busy contemporary life, time that wont come again. There is after all, only one first scarf.

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Lee Ronald likes to begin things, in fact it might be one of the things she’s best at. She is a beginner knitter, beginner dressmaker and beginner cross-stitcher. However she seems to have forded the river of beginning in terms of words for she earns her living as a freelance writer and editor, www.thewordgarden.co.uk. When she is not writing or beginning things, she is usually partaking of her national (English) sport of tea drinking in her home office in the quirky and historically inspiring city of York.