Bernadette Murphy, a forty-year-old writer based in Los Angeles, caught the mood with her 2002 book, "Zen and the Art of Knitting". She sees the return to needles and yarn as part of a wider backlash against the superficiality of modern life. "There is a great hunger in our culture right now for meaning, for things that connect us with the world and with other people, things that really nurture the soul", she says. "Knitting is one way of taking time to appreciate life, to find the meaning and make those connections."
In living rooms, college dorms and company cafeterias across North America, women join knitting circles, where they build friendships as they stitch. The sweaters, hats and scarves they produce offer an alternative to the fleeting pleasures of modern consumerism. While manufactured goods can be functional, durable, beautiful, even inspiring, the very fact that they are mass-produced makes them disposable. In its uniqueness, its quirks and imperfections, a handmade item such as a knitted shawl carries the imprint of its creator. We sense the time and care that went into the making - and feel a deeper attachment to it as a result.
"In the modern world, where it is so easy, so cheap, so quick to buy things, the things that we buy have lost their worth. What value does an object have when you can buy tem more exactly the same in an instant?" says Murphy. "When something is handmade, it means that someone has invested time in it, and that imbues it with real value."
Murphy came to knitting almost by accident. On a trip to Ireland in 1984, she tore her Achilles tendon and was unable to walk for two months. She started to knit to keep herself busy, and found it immensely calming.
Knitting is by nature Slow. You cannot push a button, turn a dial or flick a switch to knot more quickly. The real joy of knitting lies in the doing, rather than in reaching the finish line. Studies show that the rhythmic, repetitive dance of the needles can lower heart rate and blood pressure, lulling the knitter into a peaceful, almost meditative state. "The best thing about knitting is its slowness," says Murphy. "It is so slow that we see the beauty inherent in every tiny act that makes up a sweater. So slow that we know the project is not going to get finished today - it may not get finished for many months or longer - and that allows us to make peace with the unresolved nature of life. We slow down as we knit."
Many knitters use their hobby as an antidote to the stress and hurry of modern life. They knit before and after big meetings, during conference calls or at the end of a tough day. Some claim the calming effect continues after they put down the needles, helping them keep their cool in the fast-moving workplace. Murphy finds that knitting helps her slip into Slow Thinking mode. "I can actually feel the active part of my brain shutting down, and that help to straighten out the tangled knot of my thoughts," she says. "It's a wonderful cure for writer's block."