I have been considering what word would best encapsulate my goals for 2019 for quite some time now, and one evening during Christmas break, as I sat contentedly knitting a shawl from Norwegian yarn brought to me as a gift from a friend, I had an epiphany. My word was right in front of me and I hadn’t seen it until then. My #oneword2019 is KNIT.
Now you might feel that knit is a bit strange, or that it has nothing to do with goals, particularly educational ones (unless of course my plan is to start teaching knitting – don’t laugh – that would be FUN!). Anyway, I digress. Knit is a wonderful word when you consider all its denotations, connotations, and history, and it is representative of the vision that I would like to work toward accomplishing this year. Let me enlighten you.
I have always been a curious person and I love learning new things. My difficulty lies in overloading myself with so much information that I have difficulty consolidating the learning into a workable whole. In the last year, I have either continued or taken a new interest in a variety of areas: educational technology, accessibility, inclusivity, global learning, teaching sustainable development goals, mental health, English literature, literacy, indigenous issues, blended learning, and collaboration (you see how I could get a bit overwhelmed). One of my goals is to consolidate my learning and KNIT describes that.
Knit:unite or cause to unite;to cause to grow together;to link or join together closely.
Based on the definition, knit describes the consolidation that I am aiming for. I want to join together and closely link all of the various aforementioned areas to better utilize my learning and have them coalesce into a refined whole.
Perhaps you are thinking, well why didn’t you just choose consolidate as your word? Well, that’s simple: it doesn’t have the breadth and depth, the nuances, that knit has. You see, in addition to the conceptual definition of linking together, knit also has a physical definition.
Knit:interlooping yarn using needles to form fabric or a garment
I like that knit also makes me think of creating something because, in addition to consolidation, I want to create and be creative. Specifically, I want to use my learning to create a vibrant environment and engaging tasks that are meaningful for my students.
The added nuances surrounding the word knit compel me to tell you about some of the more obscure tidbits non-knitters may not know, which entail the rich history of the craft. Being an English teacher, the myths surrounding traditional fishermen’s Guernsey sweaters from the British Isles, particularly Cornwall, are not lost on me. According to Megan Westley, in her article, Stitch in Time: A Story of Cornwall’s Knit-Frock Tradition, apparently,
the pattern of each garment showed, to a certain extent, the place in which it was made. Each fishing family wore hand-knitted guernseys in their ‘family pattern,’ meaning that if either fisherman or jumper was lost, its wearer could be identified.
There is no definitive evidence that the Guernsey patterns were actually used in such a way, but there is evidence that knitting served a very secretive purpose during World War II. Natalie Zarrelli describes the intriguing use of knitting in wartime in her article The Wartime Spies Who Used Knitting as an Espionage Tool, stating that “knitters used knitting to encode messages, the message was a form of stenography, a way to hide a message physically.” The concept is further illustrated by the story of Phyllis Latour Doyle, a secret agent for Britain during WWII.
[Phyllis Latour Doyle] spent the war years sneaking information to the British using knitting as a cover. She parachuted into occupied Normandy in 1944 and rode stashed bicycles to troops, chatting with German soldiers under the pretense of being helpful—then, she would return to her knitting kit, in which she hid a silk yarn ready to be filled with secret knotted messages, which she would translate using Morse Code equipment. “I always carried knitting because my codes were on a piece of silk—I had about 2000 I could use. When I used a code I would just pinprick it to indicate it had gone. I wrapped the piece of silk around a knitting needle and put it in a flat shoe lace which I used to tie my hair up,” she told New Zealand Army News in 2009.
Understanding the “language” and patterns in knitting can go a long way into understanding modern-day coding. In fact,
Knitting, spying and secret messages so often go hand-in-hand that knitters around the world have figured out ways you, or the knitter in your life, can make your own secret knitting codes. Non-spying knitters make gloves and scarves from the Dewey Decimal system, Morse code, and binary programming language for computers, treating knits and purls like zeros and ones. The possibilities are so apparently endless, it might even be worth learning to knit to give it a try. Plus, if you do pass on knitted code, you’ll be joining a longstanding tradition of textile-making spies.
Looking at knit from this angle adds yet another facet to my #OneWord2019, that being learning to understand coding and the varied ways it can be infused into the curriculum.
Finally, knitting, to add to its many other attributes, has superpowers, which is just plain cool. How you ask? Knitting has the power to calm and heal. Chelsea Ritschel’s article in the Independent expounds the benefits backed by research compiled by the group Knit for Peace. The research showed reduced anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and the slowing of dementia. Ritschel cites a 2007 Harvard Medical Study which
found that knitting lowers heart rate, by an average of 11 beats per minute, and induces an “enhanced state of calm,” similar to that of yoga.
Furthermore, a 2011 study of 70+-year-old knitters conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that those who knit have
a “diminished chance of developing mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.”
Minding my mental well being and practicing calming activities is also on the 2019 goal list.
Being a knitter, I know that the act of knitting binds together many strands (consolidation, creation and creativity, coding, mental well-being, and mindfulness) in a beautiful, stronger way and that is what I want to accomplish this year. It may take a yarn or two, but that’s alright.