It took me twenty years and multiple attempts to actually start knitting. If I had only known how much knitting could teach me about life, I might have stuck to it earlier.
My first tries ended in utter failure. When I was thirteen my mother taught me the basics of knit and purl, but I abandoned the scarf about three rows in.
When I moved to rural Minnesota, all my neighbors were doing it, so I tried knitting again with some fancy yarn. My silky cream-colored alpaca head band still sits half-finished in a tangle in my stash-bucket.
Finally, the magnificent and larger-than-life artist Pam Robinson managed to get me far enough into a sock that I finished it. It helped that she had years of experience teaching art to petulant kids. Okay, I admit that I only got halfway through the second sock of the pair, but that first sock was the beginning of a new relationship with knitting.
Today, I crave the feel of fiber running through my fingers, and cleave to the sentiment that “friends don’t let friends use acrylic.” I can wax poetic over a skein of rich merino worsted, or a fuzzy ball of alpaca lace, but the true gift of knitting is how it readies me for the challenges of everyday.
Here’s what knitting taught–and still regularly teaches–me:
…is my nemesis. Impatience might be my middle name. And yet, when I am patient, things tend to work better than when I’m not. Since I knit so slowly, I’ve had to learn to get over my need for immediate gratification, and immerse myself in the meditative pleasure of knitting’s repetitive motion. Lo and behold, after sitting down with my blanket night after night, weekend after weekend, coffee break after coffee break, square after square, my piles of yarn had turned–ever so slowly–into the log cabin blanket I had been trying to make. Every time I want to scream because something just isn’t happening fast enough, I remember my knitting, and it’s just a little bit easier to remember that, if I wait long enough, there will be a metaphorical cozy blanket at the end of my journey. Or, if nothing else, a literal cozy blanket to curl up under on the couch in my office.
I’m a perfectionist. I want everything to be perfect. Everything I do. Everything I interact with. It is a terrible affliction. I’m my own worst critic. I’m never satisfied. Because I’m a relatively new knitter–oh, strike that, let’s start again–because I’m a human being who knits, I make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. Take this shawl. First I miscalculated the amount of multicolored yarn it would take. Then I kept forgetting to add the stitches that make the little pointy bits stick out–which, let’s face it, was the whole point of this pattern. So what happened? I ran out of yarn halfway. And I kept having to undo hours and hours of work. But, guess what? All that meant was that I had to put a few more hours of work in. And then I figured out that I had some awesome yarn in my stash that would make the shawl even more interesting. Ultimately, I ended up with a completed shawl, some good learned lessons about how to cast-on in the middle of a garment, and some really cool color work. Knitting teaches me that mistakes can sometimes be my friend.
3. Steady-She-Goes Wins the Race, or the Whole Tortoise and the Hare Thing.
Remember that old yarn (heh-heh)? The one about the race between the tortoise and the hare? The tortoise won because, though he was slow, he kept going, while the hare got all huffy about how fast he was and took a nap in the middle of the race and forgot to wake up. Well, I never quite believed in that fable. I related to the hare: I was faster therefore better and I wasn’t going to be taking a nap in the middle of the race. Now I’m a bit older, and I realize that when I rush through my life, I forget to enjoy it. In fact, I get so tired I can’t help but need naps that prevent me from otherwise being part of the life I was trying to lead. Knitting teaches me that if I just commit to doing a little at a time, ultimately the little adds up to a lot, and I don’t ever feel overwhelmed or exhausted along the way. I hate to admit it: the tortoise was the winner all along.
4. BONUS: Knitting Increases Serotonin. Serotonin Makes me Happy. I Like Serotonin.
I suffer from depression. It’s manageable. Most of the time. But anything that increases the happy chemicals in my brain is something I want more of. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is believed to contribute to feelings of well-being. Studies show that knitting, and other repetitive needlework, decrease stress hormones and increase serotonin and dopamine. Knitting is similar to yoga and meditation in how beneficial it is to our health. I love yoga. I usually love meditation (except when I am too crazy frantic to even sit down, which of course is when I should be doing it the most). And if I had ever realized how good knitting would make me feel, how it could turn my frown back upside down, I would have made a habit of it long ago.
What hobbies make you feel good?