The more things shut down, the more uncertain and scary the world seemed, the more I knitted. I would knit during Zoom calls with friends, while watching our Sunday morning church service over the internet, while watching the increasingly-more-dreadful news each night.
I wasn’t even sure what I was knitting — is it a scarf, or a shawl? — but it didn’t really matter. I didn’t even care about the end result or if there ever was an end. It was the act of knitting that mattered.
I’ve been knitting now for almost a year, and let me be very clear about this: I am not good at it. I’m kinda terrible actually. I don’t know anything more complicated than a simple knit stitch and a purl, and my ability to follow a pattern is subpar at best. This summer I tried to make a blanket and its dimensions were so off-kilter that it ended up looking more like a scarf for a giant.
But I don’t mind at all. In fact, in a way, I like that I’m not good at it. My very low expectations for what the finished product will look like — or if there will even be a finished product — give me the freedom to create without hopes for perfection. Sinking into mediocrity gives me the space to knit simply for the act of it, not the result.
For a recovering perfectionist, this is liberating.
In fact, half-ass knitting is the antidote to our results-driven, success-hungry, public-shaming-prone society. Whenever I have told someone I had taken up knitting (obviously, “taken up” should be loosely interpreted), other knitters were quick to share encouragement and praise. They shared tips and reassured me to “stick with it.” There was no “maybe if you just…” when I complained about my struggles with learning to knit in the round. No side eye when I showed off my off-kilter scarf. No judgment that I was knitting yet another scarf (hey, they are easier than hats!). There was only positivity and support — including from myself.
Perri Klass, M.D. — a parent, pediatrician, and knitter — has acknowledged the stark differences between parenting and knitting.
“There’s an implicit understanding that when someone posts a photo of a completed project, what you’re seeing is a product of love and care and time, choices and sustained effort — and you should either cheer or else move on,” she wrote in The New York Times. “What, after all, do you gain by pointing out that the colors clash or the fit is not exactly flattering?”
Excellent point. Klass goes on to offer a suggestion to all those shamers and judgers — take up knitting.
“I would like to suggest that everyone who has posted more than one comment in the last two years passing judgment on other parents learn to knit as soon as possible. Winter is coming, and we all need scarves,” wrote Klass.
I’ll admit, I didn’t understand the appeal of knitting until recently. I’d see people knitting in church or while listening to a lecture, and I’d think how are they able to concentrate on two things at once. It wasn’t until I started knitting that I realized how the back and forth of the needles — one in front of the other, slip under, pull through — could actually help you focus more. You are more present, less distracted. You slow down.
“Knitting puts me in the moment,” writes Perri Klass, M.D. in The New York Times. “As someone who has failed every attempt at meditation, or even at mindfulness, knitting calms my mind and brings me to the table, real or metaphorical. My hands move, I am aware of their movement. The yarn moves through my fingers, around my fingers, and I am aware of the tension (tension is another term with a technical meaning in knitting, and also, of course, a certain metaphorical importance).”
A year after I first started knitting — as a way to wean myself off scrolling through my phone so much — I’m still only able to do a few basic stitches and I can barely read a pattern. But I don’t care. Knitting is doing exactly what everyone said it would do — calm my mind, keep me off my phone, help me be more present. So if you’re feeling jittery and angry and more than a little freaked out about spending the next few months hunkered down, might I suggest you try making a scarf.
Winter is indeed coming, and it’s gonna be a doozy. Knitting can help.