Everything I Needed to Know I Learned on a Knitting Project


Well—maybe not everything, but  quite a lot! As I look back on various knitting projects I find that there are many life lessons to be learned–If only I had been listening more closely, I might have only needed to do one project!  Alas,  I have more than 20 years worth to choose from.

Lesson 1:  Work on something you like
This first “real” thing I knitted was a red turtle-neck sweater. It took me over a year, as it seemed to involve acres of plain stocking stitch and I had to tackle it in phases. I would enthusiastically knit an inch or two, then it would languish for weeks waiting for me to feel like starting it again. It took so long that by the end of the project I found that I didn’t really want a red turtle-neck after all. And indeed red sweaters were the stuff of nightmares to me. Hence lesson number one was learned: Make something you really like, even if it looks like it might not be easy. Every project has challenges, even an apparently “easy” one like a stocking-stitch sweater  (e.g., the instruction “continue until the front measures 15 inches”). If you want to finish badly enough, you will approach  these difficulties with fortitude. If you’re not that committed, you might be more likely to give up, or at least let the project  drag on to the point where there is no pleasure, merely relief, at the outcome. I have seen this principle lived out on many projects at work too—so work on something you are passionate about! If you care about the outcome, you will survive the hard parts, put in the effort, and enjoy a sense of accomplishment when it is over.

Lesson 2: Sweat the small stuff
A stitch is a small thing, but each one matters. If you drop one, you can spoil the whole garment. And each stitch makes its own contribution to the whole, until eventually, if you are very patient, you will look down at your work and find that you—all alone and with the help of 17 billion stitches—have knitted 15 inches of plain red stocking stitch. You have half a sweater! And so it is with life, many small tasks performed well add up to a beautiful whole. Habitual small kindly acts add up to a beautiful life. If we look at many great achievements we usually find that they involved the dedicated contributions of many people simply “doing their part”, doing it well, and in the process transforming uninspiring raw materials into something extraordinary.

Lesson 3: Don’t give up if the outcome isn’t quite what you expected
Don’t be afraid of do-overs. When I reached the end of my red turtle-neck, it turned out to be a blessing that I didn’t like it much anymore, because it wouldn’t go over my head anyway. I cast off too tight. I tried the logical approach lazy way out (wetting it with my tears and stretching it as much as I dared) to no avail. So it had to be undone.  Then I had a sweater that fit me, but that I was sick of the sight of. I wore it anyway for a while and I moved on to other projects. Eventually, I came back to that sweater, ripped the whole thing out, and knit it again, this time as a cabled vest. I liked that vest and wore it a lot. Lesson learned: Recognize a beginning for what it is—the beginning, not the end. Life is a process, and re-dos are allowed. The important thing is to apply the lessons learned to build something better.

I can’t claim to always have applied these lessons to my life. But over the years I have knit a lot of other things, and I have never made another plain red turtle-neck.

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