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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #47 (November 21, 2006), page 16.

Disentangle yourself

Compassionate Knitting: Finding Basic Goodness in the Work of Our Hands

By Tara Jon Manning

Tuttle, 2006

Paperback, 136 pages, $14.95

By Josephine Bridges

When we knit mindfully — bringing our attention to the work at hand — we are able to see things a little more clearly, slow the world down just a little bit," writes expert knitter, knitwear designer, and practicing Buddhist Tara Jon Manning in the preface to Compassionate Knitting. The twenty projects included in this sequel to and expansion upon Mindful Knitting range from a diminutive feng shui charm to a dazzling Asian-inspired Padma jacket. "Use these projects to explore your own innate compassion," suggests the author, "to learn new skills, to practice mindful knitting, or simply to knit."

"Heaven," the first section of the book, includes a cloud pillow pattern featuring "a stylized oriental cloud motif with embroidered embellishment on the front, and a classic Chinese chintz-inspired stripe on the back"; and a blanket with "a scatter of felt leaves … in stylized Japanese form." The first is a project for either an experienced knitter or a beginner with tremendous patience, but the second would be a breeze for anyone who knows the rudiments of knitting.

In "Earth," the second section, "the unity of the natural world is portrayed in swirling water, endless blue sky, maple leaves, blossoms, and the mythic imagery of koi in a still lake" in a jacket pattern which "emulates classic imagery from Japanese textile and wood block prints." A Japanese haori (wrap-style vest) is reminiscent of "the black sand beaches of the Hawaiian Islands." One of the two versions of walking meditation socks features the colors "rich burgundy and gold inspired by Buddhist monks’ robes." A novice knitter could learn a great deal from these beautiful but advanced projects, especially with the help of a knitting mentor.

Both the feng shui charm and the Padma jacket previously mentioned appear in the book’s final section, "Knitter." The charm is as simple to knit as the jacket is challenging, but both are lovely, especially knitted in the vibrant colors the author chooses. The emotion associated with the quality of energy known as Padma is passion, and the color, not surprisingly, is red. This section also includes a sidebar titled "wabi sabi — the beauty of imperfection." This Japanese aesthetic "is an appreciation, acceptance, and celebration of the beauty of imperfection, impermanence, and the incomplete."

In addition to clear directions and drawings of complicated patterns or techniques, Compassionate Knitting contains color photographs of completed projects; a glossary of knitting abbreviations; tips and techniques; the folklore of Aran stitches; and a section called "Sources and Resources" that includes information on everything from yarn suppliers to how to start a mindful knitting group in your hometown.

Author Tara Jon Manning not only grew up as a "dharma brat," she also received teachings from a number of Tibetan Buddhist meditation masters, among them the Dalai Lama and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. She doesn’t share with her readers how she learned to knit, but it’s clear from her writing that she knows her stuff. "Nothing is more heartbreaking than completing a project early in your knitting career to find it does not fit or hangs all wrong because you did not take time to properly assess your gauge," she commiserates with all those of us who learned the hard way. But Tara Jon Manning’s knowledge stretches way beyond the basics of knitting into blocking, intarsia, and the three-needle bind-off technique. All that, and compassion, too.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books