Stress & The Knitter
I have never been a stress eater. But I am a stress knitter. Under stress, I will sometimes pick up an existing project (knitters call this a work in progress or WIP for short) and knit away. Other times, and despite my best efforts to limit the number of WIPs I have on hand at any one time, I will cast on something new. Just like that.
This sort of in-the-moment “I think I’ll knit that new sweater pattern I’ve been eyeing since it came out last week” is a danger sign for a knitter, a sign that you are lacking in self control. It means you haven’t read through the pattern and all of the comments about it that other knitters who have gone before you have left on Ravelry, the knitters’ Facebook. You may not have suitable yarn on hand. You may not have the right size needles in your stash of knitter’s tools. But you forge ahead.
You many not even, and this will shock the knitters among us here on Civil Discourse, have knitted a gauge swatch. Because the size of stitches in hand knitting inherently varies from knitter to knitter, even when using a well written pattern it’s essential to swatch before you make anything that needs to fit. You can get away without swatching for a scarf for the most part, but if you want to knit a hat that will fit your head or a sweater that works on your or the intended recipient’s body, you must swatch. Swatching involves casting on a generous number of stitches with the yarn you intend to use, knitting in the pattern stitch, whether it is a simple knit or complicated cables or lace, and completing enough rows that you can measure a good sized area and then do the math to make sure that the number of stitches you get per inch of width (stitch gauge) and length (row gauge) when multiplied out over the number of stitches and rows in the pattern will give you a good fit. If you’re off, then you adjust your needle size until you get it right. Sometimes, you discover the yarn you’re trying to substitute for the yarn the pattern is written for just won’t work. Or perhaps you decide to do knitting math and you knit a size small to get a size medium because your yarn is much thicker than the yarn the pattern is written for. Knitters all become mathematicians sooner or later.
Hopefully you get the point. You really *shouldn’t* rush in with a new sweater or anything you desire to have fit you after all of the (mostly) enjoyable hours you will spend working on it. Stress knitting is as bad for you as stress eating, or any of the other bad habits that surface in times of anxiety, worry and nervousness. And of course, it is every bit as forgivable. We are, after all, only human.
I have been more of a stress knitter ever since the Trump era began. I had always been methodical and careful before I began a pattern. I kept a long list of patterns I wanted to knit so that when it was time for the next project, I could knit something I’d planned out in advance, and had both yarn and needles on hand for, from my “queue.” I finished projects before I moved on to new ones. But no more.
In recent years I’ve started, and failed to finish, any number of stress knitting projects.
Why am I sharing all of this today, you might ask? I know that while quite a number of you are knitters (or crocheters, weavers, woodworkers, quilters, painters, etc., who will understand this), some of you are not. Whatever our habits under pressure, we’re all entitled to something that helps us come to terms with difficult times and releases some of the stress. I did that Friday evening as the news about the attack in Israel broke, grabbing some yarn at the back of my yarn closet (yes, I do have one of those, despite living in a very old house with very little closet space—a tale for another day) and casting on.
I started a new sweater without swatching. I didn’t read through the pattern first, or so much as a look at other people’s projects and comments. I grabbed the needles and cast on stitches like I was holding onto life itself. The pattern designer’s version is absolutely lovely, a little wisp of a sweater that I could imagine wearing over a long, full, tulle skirt for a ball, if I attended such events—I will most likely wear mine with jeans, if it in fact fits. I really hope it will.
I’m a very slow knitter, but I made a surprising amount of progress over the weekend. I knit while listening to the news, which catching up with friends and family, and even for a rather decadent few hours on Sunday in my backyard with the first truly cool weather of fall and chickens roaming around. And I feel a little de-stressed. At least enough to pick up and carry on this week.
Be kind to yourself, especially this week. We’ve been through a lot these past few years. It’s not enough that we have lived through one Trump administration and must now fight against his return, which would, let’s face it, most likely mean the end of the Republic as we know it. We’ve also lived through a pandemic and are living through two wars, one in Ukraine, the other now in Israel, both of vital significance for our national security as well as for the lives of the innocent civilians dragged into those conflicts. Whatever your thoughts about theses conflicts, they touch us all in ways we don’t always feel right about acknowledging when we aren’t directly impacted. So whether it’s knitting, or something else, please make sure you’re taking good care of yourself so you’ll be prepared for what’s to come.
We’re in this together,