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Knitting as a Tool for Reflection

I learned how to knit from my mom, when I was a kid.  I got a fair number of comments along the lines of “Boys don’t do that”, but that’s another story.  I ended up puttng my needles down for thirty years or so.  About five years ago, I picked them up again, and started knitting much more consistently.  I seem to choose large-scale projects.  Indeed, like most male knitters, I think that I am motivated by the eventual result–the sweater, or blanket, or shawl.

But the process also brings me up against issues from my life that I’m still working on.  The first thing that I have to confront is my doubt about my technical ability.  More than not, I’m making something for someone else, so I tend to want to try things that look “interesting”, and that usually means that it’s something that I’m not entirely sure that I know how to do.  But usually I fall in love with the idea before I resolve my doubts, and I end up going ahead.

Another part of leaping into projects is the way in which the love of the yarn urges me forward.  Yarn stores are a weakness of mine.  And I’ve had to learn discipline about buying yarn that I don’t know how I’m going to use.  And that in itself continues to be a difficult lesson for me.  To go into a yarn store, and to allow myself to feel just how wonderful some yarn is, just how much I want to buy it, and yet, to not do so.  That holding the desire as absolutely real and genuine, and still not acting on it, continues to be a challenge for me.

I’m usually eager to get started on something new, so I do a test run with a bit of spare yarn to work out any of the complications of the pattern, and then I get started.  I love this part.  And it’s wonderful to see the new project starting to take shape on the needles.  Then comes the next challenge.  A sweater, a blanket, even a pair of socks, represent a serious time commitment.  I just finished a lap blanket that, when I stopped to calculate, contains over 50,000 individual stitches.  And there was a blanket that I knit as a wedding present some years ago that contains over 100,000 stitches.  So the knitting takes time.  Lots of time.  I come up against my impatience with how slowly I’m going.  In the case of the wedding present, I also had to finish it in time for the wedding, so I put my quota for each day on my calendar–if I recall, it was about three rows a day, and that turned out to be a significant time commitment.  And the knitting took about five months, working as consistently as I could.

But once I’m well into a project, I come up against my desire for something new.  Even really complicated patterns are based on smaller units, and after a while, the whole pattern has become “routine”.  It’s not that I want the particular object to be different, but I’m impatient with doing the same things over and over.  It’s a weakness, I know.

On the other hand, one of the reasons that I came back to knitting was to relieve some of the stress in my life.  It can be a moment of quiet and calm amid the busyness of urban life.  Precisely because it is repetative that knitting helps me unwind at the end of the day.  After an hour of knitting, I can drop off to sleep easily.  Some people use reading to unwind, but I’ve stayed up until all hours too many times reading something that I couldn’t bear to put down.

Sometimes I put down projects for a bit, but eventually I come back to them, and, finally, I reach the end of the knitting.  That’s a time of elation.  Finally–done!–and look how it turned out!–  But there is one last thing.  Most of the things that I make take multiple balls of yarn, so there are ends to weave in.  It’s a separate task, and one that I find particularly tiresome.  There’s one scarf that I’m working on where the knitting is done, but the technique has left me with 200 ends to weave in.  I’ve been resisting for several months.  But it feels like it’s time to get on with it.

Some of my trouble with really “finishing” has to do with knowing that I’ll be giving the object to its intended recipient.  The old presence of the internal Judge stares out at me, even when I know that there’s hardly anyone who doesn’t appreciate something hand-knitted.  In some ways, knitting is the easiest place for me to really look the Judge in the face and say to stop getting in my way.

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One Response to “Knitting as a Tool for Reflection”

  1. Tiger of the North Says:

    As someone who is highly fortunate to receive some of your hand knitting, I’m delighted that you’re enjoying the doing of it and that it has proven to be so effective in reducing stress. Oddly, to be with you as you knit lowers my own stress levels. Funny, that.

    As to your concern around technical ability, it all seems magical to me. I certainly have no doubts about your knitting skills. The many projects I’ve seen you accomplish point to that, as do the delighted responses from other people fortunate to receive an item from your needles.

  2. Posted from Canada Canada

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