I love knitting. It is a hobby that has been with me, off and on, since I was 9 years old. I picked up my knitting again in the summer of 2019 after a trip to the Yukon territories. As we were exploring Whitehorse, I wandered into a little knitting shop, and wandered around touching the different yarns, and admiring the projects that had been completed. I was getting ready for a move, and had almost decided to sell all my knitting needles in a garage sale. Thank goodness I didn’t. I bought a ball of yarn that day to make an easy cowl, and once again I was hooked.
I have often been drawn to knitting when I am immersed in intellectual work. I love making a difference in people’s lives through teaching and doing research, but sometimes the results of your labours can be hard to see. At such a time, seeing a knitting project unfold is especially satisfying.
Unlike the work of my mind, I can see the work of my hands in a concrete way and be renewed by creating something beautiful.
Knitting helps me to cease striving for a little while, and can create space for wondering, creativity and rest. I don’t feel quite as bad about watching some TV if I’m knitting at the same time. It moves me from being a spectator to a creator.
I can knit far more than I can wear, and many projects become beautiful handmade gifts for friends and family.
I knit my care and good intentions into each garment, bestowing grace and kindness on the recipients.
Another thing I love about knitting is that it doesn’t require a lot of set up, or machinery. You don’t need a special room for it, or to clear your dining room table, like I used to when I sewed. I didn’t start a sewing project unless I knew I had 3 – 5 hours clear to make some good progress. But with knitting, I can pick it up for 15 minutes at a time and see progress. It is also easy to stuff in a small bag to take with me when I might have a little extra time waiting.
This time as I took up knitting again, I could see a deeper meaning emerge. Knitting a sock or a garment is like composing a life in so many ways. In her book, Composing a Life (1989), Mary Catherine Bateson shares the narratives of four amazing women who inspired her journey, describing how they wove lives of significance with their vocation, family, home, accomplishments and tragedy. This book helped me to imagine new possibilities when my marriage ended.
Knitting reminds me of the choices we have as we compose our lives, moment by moment, day by day.
1. You compose a life one choice, one day at a time:
You create garments, one stitch at a time. We create a life of influence one day at a time, with the choices we make. The actions can be repetitive, but you never get a finished project unless you invest in the work, moment by moment, choice by choice, day by day.
2. You get to make choices about the raw materials you work with:
Will you use cotton or wool? What colours are calling to you? What size needles will give the best result? We also make choices about how we invest our time, the kind of work we do, the food we eat, the people we spend time with, and how we care for our bodies. All of these choices influence the final product. If you don’t like the results you are getting, you can make different choices. Sometimes a small adjustment can yield quite a different result.
3. Start simple and develop your skills:
Like others I hear from, my first project was a scarf. Straight knitting, for as long as you want. Easy peasy. Back in the early 2000’s, eyelash scarves were all the rage. I made about 50 of them, trying different fuzzy yarns, and combinations thereof.
4. Following a pattern is a great way to get predictable results:
I am often inspired by pictures of projects that I would love to make. Following the pattern is a great way to learn new skills, and techniques. In life, we can learn from experts in many fields by following their advice. Sometimes it works for us, and sometimes it doesn’t. Once you have confidence with new skills, you may find you need to adjust the pattern to make it fit your life and circumstances. With time and practice and growing skills, you can design your own patterns, choosing elements that you love and that can enrich your life.
5. If you keep doing the same thing, you’ll get the same results.
Straight knitting is okay for a time, but you only need so many scarves. To get different results, you need to do something different. Learning to turn the heel makes a better fitting sock. You need to try something new to get different results.
6. You get do-overs!
If you have made a mistake, or you don’t like how things are developing, you can unravel and start again. No one knows how many tries it took to get the final product.
7. Things don’t always turn out as you imagine.
When working with a variegated yarn, you can see the combination of colours, but you don’t know how they will interact to form a pattern. Life is complex, and the way things interact is not always predictable. Embrace the surprise, learn, and adjust. We still get to decide how we show up, and how we contribute.
8. Learning matters.
The first pair of socks I made was okay, but they were a little loose, and the pattern was hard to follow. I watched an expert sock knitter and asked her questions, and tried different variations until I discovered my preferred way to make socks. Buying different yarn, adjusting a pattern to suit my preferences, these choices open up new possibilities.
9. You can take risks, and try something radically new.
If I have knit enough socks, I can start making a shawl or cowl. If you are tired of the direction your life is taking and ready for a change, it is within your power to learn a new skill, experiment with new ideas, or seek out new relationships to move your life in a new direction.
In life and leadership and knitting, we get to make some choices about the direction we want to move in, and then we have to invest a lot of moments, days and hours to create something tangible, useful, and beautiful.
We all have the capacity to create, to express ourselves using different media and materials. When we stick with our knitting, holding our intentions for using our talents, and enriching the lives of others, learning and adjusting along the way, we can add beauty and warmth and goodness to the world. What is your creative outlet? What choices are you making to compose a life of purpose and beauty?