Knitting and mental (and physical) health

Since I got back from my work time in the mountains, just over two weeks ago, I have been unable to settle on a knitting project. I haven't been able to put yarn and needles, idea or pattern, and sustaining interest together and keep them there. Normally I have a pair of simple socks going, and that's what I worked on during odd moments in the mountains. I've finished two pairs I haven't even worn yet.

During the push for the final deadlines on The Project (in its expanded form), I still need knitting. I actually went to a meeting last weekend without knitting. This is unheard of, and not conducive to my comfortably sitting still. Fortunately, I made it through the meeting—not an occasion where I could be working on The Project (except during breaks, when, yes, I did pull out my laptop and make some progress).

The problem of No Knitting has been getting worse, to the point where I was edgy all weekend. Yet I have, scattered around the house, a number of things that I've started and been unable to keep going on. Among other ideas, I've tried starting another pair of socks (or two), an Estonian-style scarf, a lace cowl (that actually got knitted, but wasn't interesting enough and didn't last long enough). I normally plan, swatch, and start much more than I finish, but in this case energy was leaking everywhere without getting me where I needed to go: to a calm space.

By Sunday it was clear that I'd better figure out a knitting project or my sanity and health were going to be at risk. It's not like I have much time to knit (since every time I sit down at home I'm working either on the laptop or at the spinning wheel). But I do still need the comforting, orderly progress of stitches while dealing with the unruly hugeness of The Project . . . which I've been doing amazingly well with so far, in part because of ongoing knitting.

What I need in this situation is something that will be challenging enough to hold my attention (the reason those simple socks won't work right now . . . they're like finger exercises) and yet undemanding enough that it won't add any stress . . . or require much brain power. My brain is completely focused on The Project. Which currently seems endless.

(The primary text was turned in on February 1, with one significant hole—that I just spent two days filling. The supplementary text was turned in on March 11, with three small gaps, one of which has been filled. I have not prepared all the samples for the supplementary material yet. Until I needed to fill the text gap, I was spinning all day every day, and I will return to that now that I have the gap filled.)

So I got another idea that I thought might work.

When I attended Cat Bordhi's Visionary Retreat in February, my roommate, a fine knitting designer, wore a garment she had knitted as a sample for another designer. It was Ysolda Teague's "Vivian" hooded cardigan. The sweater looked comfortable, stylish, and practical. I looked it up, and found it at Twist Collective. The photography for the pattern shows a more form-fitting version than my roommate had made and was wearing—and the extra ease she incorporated made it look like a comfortable sweater I'd be likely to actually wear.

I pondered yarns. Requirements: (1) enjoyable to work with = good quality, (2) free to cheap, and (3) works up at a gauge approximately equal to that of the pattern (willing to recalculate for minor gauge differences, but not to completely redraft the pattern . . . which I normally do, but Not Now).

I remembered a stash of handspun that would work for the sweater, and even located it. However, to get near the pattern's gauge, I'd need to uptwist the two-ply and then cable it: a good, appealing move, and one that could be accomplished relatively quickly, but every spinning-wheel minute needs to be devoted to The Project.

I didn't have enough of any other yarn that felt appropriate, but I did swatch some Brown Sheep Top of the Lamb, which looked promising. I needed yarn FAST: I needed to have some knitting in the works. All but one of the yarn shops within twenty minutes are closed on Sundays, and most are closed Mondays. But a new one . . . a new one I'd never been in . . . had Monday hours and its web site said it carried Brown Sheep. I also knew that it carries very nice specialty yarns, likely to be outside my nonexistent budget (my reason for not visiting the only other quick-access yarn shop that is open on Mondays; nearly everything they stock is, while lovely, pricey).

Mid-afternoon on Monday, I stole time I couldn't spare and drove down there. No Top of the Lamb. A small, well-selected stock . . . but only two yarns with (almost) enough skeins for the cardigan. One of which would have produced fantastic results, and would have aligned very neatly with the topic of The Project, but would have required me to recalculate the entire pattern, moving it from 4.25 stitches/inch to 5 stitches/inch: a job for another mental state, my more normal mental state. That would also have cost more than twice as much as I was ready to spend (although for what it was, the yarn was very reasonable).

What I ended up with is Brown Sheep's Lanaloft, which looks to me like Top of the Lamb without the mohair. I probably have enough: I bought all they had, which was one skein less than my "safety" amount.

On Monday evening at knitting group, I cast on for a sleeve (which I'm using as a swatch; this, too, is contrary to my normal, swatch-heavy practice, but I'd already swatched the Top of the Lamb, and have I mentioned I've been desperate?). Within inches, I knew I had the right combination of yarn, needles, and design to keep me anchored in some semblance of mental and physical health while completing The Project.



Thanks to

  • my roommate at the Visionary Retreat (for planting the idea)
  • Ysolda Teague (for the pattern)
  • Brown Sheep (for reliable, reasonable yarns in good colors)
  • Your Daily Fiber (for being open on Mondays)

I may have been pulled back from the brink of both an ulcer (or other
stress-related physical malady) and wigging out.

When within reach of the materials for working on The Project, that's
still what I'm putting all my attention on. However, when I'm not
within reach of those materials, or can't concentrate well enough due to
life's other requirements, I can knit this satisfying yarn into these
satisfying relationships. It's complex enough to be interesting, simple enough to be do-able with a frayed brain, and it's finite.


The "finite" part is what I'm not sure about on The Project . . . and why I especially need a bit of just-right knitting NOW.


17 thoughts on “Knitting and mental (and physical) health”

  1. Good morning, Deb. I’m so glad you found and shared this lovely pattern. As I read your entry, I kept thinking “she needs a cabled project”. Cables are terrific because they’re repetitive, but still fascinating in their winding nature. You can choose simple or complex, or a combo; fine yarns can make for lucious drape, or chunkier ones provide delicious heft. I’m not sure how I missed “Vivian”, because I read Twist Collective thoroughly, but am glad to have it brought to our attention.

    The same with your Project. I’m glad Clara Parkes mentioned it in her new(ish) Wool book, so I can keep it on my radar and get copies as soon as it’s available.

    I looked at that yarn store’s web site, and I’ll bet the yarn you would’ve chosen first, but for economic considerations, was the Elsa Wool Company yarn. You don’t have to say, I just thought so.

    Good luck, and good mental and physical health. I think of you often, with hopes you remain fascinated by the wonderful and important work you do.

    Meg C

  2. I couldn’t help laughing out loud as I read this: sitting, as I am right now, in the middle of the debris that is our old apartment, and looking over at the one small bag next to the couch that hasn’t moved.

    It contains what’s left of a giant ball of Bernat Handicrafter, which I’m turning into a new set of dishcloths for the new home. Three down, seven to go, and I can definitely tell the days I don’t get a chance to pick it up and knit a little something.

    That being said, all the fibre now in my new studio tempts me to just sit there!

    Of course, right now, I’ve got a small editing job that I need to get out before our web connection gets cut (Saturday morning): we use a small local provider, and they can’t simply transfer it over with our phone then.

    Hmm. I’m taking this morning off to go to a meeting though — think I might take the bag with me….

  3. Can I ever relate to *needing* to have a knitting project! I think you’ll enjoy the Lanaloft (I keep wanting to call it Lanasoft) – I loved knitting with it!

  4. Lovely, Deb! Both the post and the knitting project to help restore sanity and calm…. I can see that sweater on you, and I love the color and “hand” of the yarn too.

  5. Leave it to you to consider that combination of stitches calming, but then you have a true knitter’s mind. Now if only I could knit my anatomy project… SO glad you found the yarn you needed!

  6. I am with Kris, no way I could do that without every brain cell focused on the pattern. Just the same, I know what it’s like to need a project, and one where another designer decided what I must do.

    I’m knitting a simple “boyfriend sweater” from Vermont Fiber Designs’ Seeded Rib V-Neck Pullover pattern. I can do this work in public, chatting with friends, and the only change I made was to knit the hips at one size and the shoulders/sleeves at another size.

    So nice to have a project which requires almost no thinking, just glancing down.

    You are amazing at sticking with a project this huge. I am not a big project person as a rule. At least this project is both computer and hands-on.

    Can’t wait to see you breathe relief with the end of the project. Hope you have plans for what you’ll do with that adrenaline letdown which is inevitable.

  7. I can totally relate to needing balance between a writing project and a knitting/creative project. I’ve been trying to achieve more balance in my life, but find it hard not to go overboard in some area. I have learned that my mental health does require creation that is concrete, hands-on.

    Looks like it will be a gorgeous sweater. I keep thinking about trying cables but have yet to do so.

  8. I have long admired that sweater–and, like you, have been struggling to find balance. I hear you, and hope you will meet your goals with joy and peace and everything will turn out well! In the meanwhile, I can mention that I wove 24″ of a rug on Sunday…but am struggling with two unsatisfying knitting projects. I almost started a pair of socks (2nd pair of socks, third project) yesterday just to calm myself down. I resisted, but only just…

  9. Meg, you are very perceptive. Why am I not surprised? It continues to be a
    lovely pattern. I'm minding it row by row, but just with a dot to mark
    progress so I don't have to use any extra brain cells at all. Under normal
    circumstances, I'd have the pattern memorized in a trice, but these aren't
    normal circumstances.

    Bingo on the alternate yarn. Woolen-spun Elsa, worsted weight, in one of
    the darker naturals. It would have been lovely. Maybe next time. Right
    now, this is fine yarn that is a cheerful color.

  10. I keep thinking of this yarn as "Lanasoft," too, Joy! That's just funny.
    Glad to hear you enjoyed knitting with it. I'm about two-thirds of the way
    through a sleeve and it's continuing to be a friendly yarn. I like the
    fabric, and I suspect I will like it even better when it's finished and
    washed and relaxes.

  11. Cables are fun, Kit. We can coach you through them when you want to
    experiment. My daughter JUST finished her first knitting project (she
    promises she'll let me take a picture soon). It has cables. You can do
    cables just fine.

  12. Hi, Susan: There's some possibility that you may get to see the sleeve and
    feel the yarn's hand in person, assuming the timing works out. We're
    planning on making the attempt. There are cranes here, too, although I
    haven't seen them . . . just heard about them.

  13. Fresh dishcloths for a fresh home sounds like a great idea, Linda. Wonder
    if I can get the effect of a fresh home by knitting dishcloths? I think
    I'll wait until after The Project to even contemplate that.

  14. I'm glad you're playing with your new loom, Joanne! Especially if your
    knitting is being balky. It's a great sweater. It's very different from,
    but in wearability reminds me of, the wonderful O-Wool sweater in your
    Knit Green book. I considered O-Wool and that sweater for this project,
    but they will be for another day of less desperation {wry grin}.

  15. Kris, I hope you got your anatomy coloring book!

    Oh, by the way, there are people knitting anatomical objects (like
    hearts). However, I think you would have more fun knitting something else.

  16. Your project looks great, Lynn. If the sweater's for you, I'll bet it's
    not in a "boyfriend" color, though!

    I like to knit designs by people who have interesting ways of approaching
    knitting. It's like seeing the craft through their eyes. That's the case
    with this design.

    What will I do when this is over? Well, it will be a while. I need to
    finish the samples, and there's a week to a week and a half of photography
    to be done. And reviewing the edited manuscript. So I'm not thinking that
    far ahead yet.

  17. All things, even The Project will have an end of sorts.
    You are doing the important things, breathing, eating, sleeping, knitting and exercise. It will happen, and it will be fantastic, and it will be wonderfully done. And wonderful that it is done, too.

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