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Mindful Thoughts

What do you think about while you knit?

By January 22, 20115 Comments
My first and only knitting project, about 2 months in

So I very recently (as in a month or so before Christmas) began knitting. And when I say knitting, I mean I’ve been working on one scarf for that whole period which my gracious friend cast on for me, and dropping stitches left and right. I’m in the beginning of my own Gretchen Rubin inspired happiness project, though the knitting was something I planned to pick up before then. I watched colleagues knit their ways through the onerous faculty meeting, an often two hour event filled with petty arguments and a lot of academic chest thumping, and I thoughy, hmmm, that might be for me. I also have a friend who brings her knitting to parties, and at first I thought, that’s weird. Why would you knit at a party? And then, I started knitting and found the answer myself. If you’re going to have something in your hand at a party to ease the feeling of social awkwardness, would you rather it be some knitting, or an alcoholic beverage? Which is not to say alcoholic beverages are all bad, but I found out in my 20s that they go down much faster when you’re nervous. If you need to do something compulsive in a social situation, knitting seems like a healthier alternative. My new knitting habit has already helped me survive the holiday season with my sanity and the sanity of those I love largely intact.

So, I’ve been knitting and thinking, and thinking about knitting, and thinking about the thinking I do as I’m knitting. I realized pretty quickly that there’s something meditative for me about knitting. Part of it is that I find it relatively easy to let go of my need for everything to be perfect while I’m knitting. There are many other activities I engage in where I find it very hard to let go of my perfectionism and obsession with the finished product rather than the process. Here’s a short partial list: playing the fiddle, making jewelry, baking, cooking, painting, teaching classes, writing, raising a child, etc. For some reason with knitting, I find it very easy to think less about the product than the process itself. Maybe it’s because the process itself (at least for the very basic knitting I’m doing) doesn’t take a whole lot of thought. Maybe it’s because I have no ambition to become a great knitter. Maybe it’s the incredible slowness (for me) of the process. Before Christmas, everyone kept asking me who I was knitting the scarf for and making jokes about whether it would be finished by Christmas. The scarf is still not finished, I don’t know who it’s for (I’ll probably be the only one willing to wear it), and I really don’t care.

The Glunk

Knitting is meditative, but in a very different way from meditation itself. I try to meditate on a daily basis and find it immensely helpful to me in controlling my emotions and reactions to, well, life. But maybe I should have just been knitting all along. I certainly think about a lot of things while I’m knitting, but I have to say, most of them are pleasant things. I know from meditating in the past that I’m prone to fall into very negative emotional feedback loops. I replay bad things that happen and imagine bad things that might happen (which is why one of my commandments for my happiness project is “Don’t replay or fast forward”). But not while I’m knitting. There’s a flow to my thoughts while I’m knitting. Nothing very important…I don’t solve world conflicts or even really figure out how to deal with the difficult people in my own life. I think of the Dr. Seuss story, “The Glunk that Got Thunk.” When I’m knitting, my Thinker Upper is right where it feels like it should be, and not generating scary, unpleasant Glunks. Why?

I found this interview (by Gretchen Rubin) with Mark Frauenfelder, the founder of BoingBoing and author of Made By Hand Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World:

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
I like hanging around people who knit. They are usually in a good mood. People who are staring into their iPhones *and* demanding your attention at the same time are not as much fun to be around.

I think he’s right. I don’t have an iPhone and don’t even particularly like answering my cell phone, but the energy I get from people who are very interested in their smart phones is, well, nervous. I discovered long before the happiness project that knowing instantly what’s happening all around the world, and especially in the world of politics, is not really a good ingredient for my happiness. But what is it about knitting specifically that can put people in a good mood?

So I’m wondering, you knitters out there, what do you think about while you knit and why do you think people who knit are usually in a good mood?  Or are knitters happy?  Do you think differently when you’re knitting?  I want to know.


  • Amy says:

    Honestly, the bulk of my knitting is done in front of the TV. It does make me happy–I don't feel like I'm being as much of a slug. Hey, I'm making something useful, not just watching TV series on DVR. The exception is intricate lace, which I can only work on with no other distractions and it's kind of trance-like. Oh, I also knit with friends, so then I'm thinking about whatever we're talking about. In other words–knitting is always happy time for me.

  • I do so want to learn how to knit! I've got yarn, needles, and a book. Now I just need time and attention. I heard a report on NPR that knitting is a good cure for depression–another reason to knit!

  • Robyn says:

    Amy, I knit and watch football sometimes, but still need to look at what I'm doing fairly often. Knitting with friends sounds like a very pleasant way to pass the time.

    bibliophiliac, I had a friend who showed me the basics, but I also found some useful youtube videos…what would we do without youtube?

  • Kristin says:

    New follower! Stop by and say hi if you get a chance!
    Have a great week!

  • Robyn says:

    Kristin, thanks for becoming a follower.

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