(Re)finding the zen of knitting


Posted on March 19, 2012

In 2010 I had start-itis. Bad. I love the feeling of winding up a new ball of yarn and starting out on a new project. (Actually, I get excited about pretty much any fresh start—moving to a new place, a new year, a fresh journal…) I forgot how bad my start-itis was until I looked back at my 2011 New Year’s resolutions and saw “Get my WIPs under control!” on the list. I think I had 6 or 7 projects going at times in 2010, which for me is a lot. I like the satisfaction of finishing something, and I usually knit something because I want to wear it, so I want to be continuously moving toward the “finish line” of each project rather than having a bunch of them hanging over my head.

Sock yarn blanket
The always-in-progress
sock scraps blanket

I did a pretty good job with that resolution: at the beginning of 2012 I had only two projects on the needles, not counting my sock yarn blanket which I fully acknowledged would be a long-term ongoing project before I even started it, and as such does not count.  🙂  I no longer feel like unfinished projects are haunting me. But I’m getting worried about a new tendency: I’m worried that I’m losing the zen of knitting.

The Yarn Harlot gave a great talk at Sock Summit last year about how good for your brain repetitive eye-hand coordinated tasks like knitting are. They increase dopamine production and combat the body’s stress response. Even random strangers who comment on my knitting often remark that it must be meditative, and usually it is. I like just making stitch after stitch after stitch after stitch and watching it slowly turn into fabric. I like knitting as a backdrop to the other activities in my life—knitting while talking with friends, knitting while watching TV, knitting in meetings. Every stitch used to feel like a tiny satisfaction. But lately I’m feeling impatient. I’m thinking about the long list of things I want to knit; I resolved to knit down some of my stash in 2012 so I’m thinking about the several sweaters’ worth of yarn that I have—at least five of which I already have the pattern picked out for—and I’m thinking about when I should start each one and how long it’s going to take, plus there’s designing I want to do so I have to fit that in, plus a birthday present here and a baby blanket there, and all of a sudden it feels like a list of chores and I’m thinking about time management and prioritization and it’s just like being at the office! And I’m all, “Well, let’s power through this project so we can get on to the next one.” That’s not what I want knitting to feel like.

man's sweater in progress
A sweater-in-progress for my husband. Look at those miles of stockinette stitch;
no wonder I’m getting impatient!

I wonder if it’s like getting older. Do you remember when you were a kid, how a week felt like such a long time? One year I thought spring break was the end of the school year, because we were getting out on vacation and it had been so long since school started that this had to be the end of the year, right? And now months fly by before you know it, and something that feels like it happened just recently turns out to have been several years ago. I’ve noticed a similar effect with my knitting: back when I was first starting, ripping out 10 or 20 rows felt like so much that it was agonizing. These days, I’ve knit thousands of rows—maybe hundreds of thousands? I should do the math on that—and 10 or 20 rows feels like just a drop in the bucket. Maybe that’s what’s making me impatient: I’m now confident in my ability to execute, so I know that finishing a project is just a matter of time. I’m over-anticipating that time-shortening effect, and feeling like “I should be done with this already;” I should be able to bang out a shawl in a few days or a sweater in a couple weeks. But I’m not actually that fast of a knitter.

So, what to do about it? How can I detach from the end goal, and refocus on the process of knitting? I haven’t had any great ideas yet, other than to just keep knitting. Perhaps this too shall pass. Perhaps being aware of my impatience is the first step to conquering it. Have you ever felt like this?




Shaad Hamid

March 21, 2012

Many thanks for this. Just tweeted this post to a friend of mine who is obsessed with knitting.


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