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Why I Make: Hush Now

Knitting a seed-stitched scarf; photo by Elizabeth Howard

Knitting a seed-stitched scarf; photo by Elizabeth Howard

Knitting a seed-stitched scarf; photo by Elizabeth Howard

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I won't force you to read some weak knitting metaphor here.

You know the sort: where I implicitly compare my angst-filled (but secretly tedious and generally blasé) writer's life to the complex striations of a handmade Scottish sweater on a damp Highland day.

Ugh. Who has time for all that?

Yeah. I knit. Though most actual knitters would only refer to my activities with needles and wool in air quotes. As in: She's "knitting" another seed-stitched scarf for her poor husband. Hush! Don't interrupt her. She's counting to two.

That's fine, though. I don't "knit" to be artful or even to experience some creative journey. I keep busy enough steering around anxious figures of speech in my poetry and essays to do any of that.

And I know I'm not fit enough to compete with the Big Girls of Textile. I usually end up with some painful form of knitters elbow (who knew that existed?) when I go crazy and overextend myself beyond 20 rows in one day.

So why do I bother to make anything?

When I switch on my knitting hands, I can take time off from the thoughts in my head. Knitting - usually done haphazardly, without a clue what BOs and yos are - releases me from having to tune in (at that moment) to that always-chugging creative engine.

I knit so I can "make" mindlessly, achieve a modicum of accomplishment (husband with warm neck), and move on without too much self-judgment.

I mean, I don't know about you all, but, as a self-deprecating, self-employed, and overly emotional "artist-type," I need a break from myself now and again. Clicking through a few rows feels, well, rather bracing.

After all, since I craft in words, my creativity usually finds itself busy-busy with words. But that doesn't mean what I write is always beautiful, succinct and lovely. Oh no no no.

It's true: The things I make are often bad! I have (very recently) written such crap as: "My thoughts were tossed about like romaine in a salad spinner" or "Knitting is like a companion donkey in the thoroughbreds' barn." Gack!

Then mindless making has its place. My occasional bad writing wants some happy cousins to live with. Those scarves will do nicely.

Also, time off from thinking gives my buzzy brain a chance to stop solving world peace and just putter around, scooping mind-glitter into boxes and tossing out dried-up analytical glue.

Time spent knitting is my brain's chance to sort out its personal craft room. When I return - to write the next essay or a demand poem on my Olivetti - my brain feels rested. It got what it needs.


Elizabeth G. HowardElizabeth G. Howard writes poetry online and on demand, on her vintage Olivetti Lettera (that's a typewriter, FYI). Her blog, scrutinizing American culture -- "Letters from a Small State" -- is read by tens of bored people all over the world, and Belgium too. She comes from Iowa, wrote and worked in London for three years, and can't seem to get unstuck from traffic now she's found her way to Connecticut. Follow her on Twitter, but only if you are human.

Why I Make is a guest series exploring the human impulse to create. Read more posts in the Why I Make archives or submit your own story.




I love this! And then I clicked over to Elizabeth's site and got lost reading over there.

It sounds like knitting is your reset button! Weeding used to be mine. Nice to find the calm in the storm.

That is very well, and amusingly, put. Thanks Elizabeth!

That is why I beadweave. It\\\'s mindless and the results can be awesome. I think some people just need to make with a chanel that takes them away from idealness or over thinking. Great piece!

Well said thoughts; thank you. This is why I make Tiffany style lamps. Cutting out the pieces, mindlessly wrapping batches of them with copper foil tape, and the process of soldering them all together puts my mind on a relaxing hold. My friend compares it to quilt-making. She \\\"feels one coming on\\\" occasionally, and enjoys being in this absorbing, relaxing zone.

lovely essay on knitting. i totaly agree with Elizabeth. i sometimes debate with myself, (while i\\\'m knitting), is what i\\\'m doing an art? is knitting an art and are my creations artistic? even tho i follow a pattern and what i make isn\\\'t exactly original. \\r\\nwell, yes, knitting is an art and a seed stitch scarf is artistic. a one of a kind creation. and making it keeps one\\\'s mind able to \\\'sort out one\\\'s craft room\\\'. so keep up with the scarves, Elizabeth - socks are fun too!!

I crochet badly - I only know two stitches - but for the same reason. It's enough to make an afghan and get me out of my head for awhile. I've taken to listening to books on CD in my studio to quiet some of the analysis like Mary Sue's, but I have to be careful to pick books for entertainment value only. Thanks to Elizabeth for elucidating this so clearly, and I get a kick out of the salad spinner simile. (Simile? analogy?...)

When mindful meditation wouldn't work for me, I took up an embroidery piece I'd been stitching on (and putting down) for many years and found that it did the trick. Stitching on this repetitious design that doesn't need me to make many decisions helps me make the transition from stimulating computer time to restful sleep time. I'll have to devise another boring embroidery when this one is finished . . .

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