Knitting Without Fear

I had a conversation with a friend last fall about my recent adventures, mostly my new job and my new knitting. I was working on my first sweater, which was a puzzle for me and likely to fail. At worst, I reported, I’d have to re-knit it, and my friend noted that I was fearless in my knitting. That observation happened to be quite thought provoking.

His comment was more than lip service, because he had seen me struggle and doubt myself with an attempted hobby the year before. We had taken a dance class together, and I wasn’t progressing with my skills to my own satisfaction. I didn’t attend class as regularly as he did, and he was picking things up quickly anyway. He was progressing, and I was starting to feel like I a dead weight in the classroom, even though it was a mixed level class. I became frustrated and battled with myself to enjoy the class the same way I enjoyed it when I was starting off and had every excuse to make missteps. At that stage, getting any of it was a triumph. So when did I flip the magic switch in my brain that said my dancing had turned into a failure?

I haven’t flipped that switch with knitting, and I hope I never do. I postulated that knitting was a completely fresh start. I had danced competitively in high school, which was an amazing experience that I learned so much from, but also caries A LOT of emotional baggage for me. That may, or may not, be it. My friend drew a comparison to his own experiences. He has become obsessed with a style of music in much the same way I find myself obsessed with knitting. Yet he played music competitively in high school too. He also notes that being asked to draw would bring about a similar set of anxieties as my dance class experience does, yet he knows people who draw to relax. It’s their zen space. Well, however things worked out, knitting is my happy place. So far there are no failures, only learning experiences.

For once in my life, it seems I’ve hit a growth mindset. That’s so very exciting! I’m all on board with growth mindsets being the logical, more productive, and more fulfilling way to go about life. But, if I’m being honest with myself, I am a very fixed mindset person. I think most of us are, like most of us have any other number of biases programmed by the culture we grew up in. It can take repeated effort to change them, but I do believe we can change them. I am very encouraged to think I’m making growth mindset work in at least one corner of my life. Here’s an article by Carol Dweck, taking stock in our developments with implementing growth mindsets.

I know some knitters are afraid to try new knitting techniques, because I keep seeing it referenced. In Knitting Without Tears, Elizabeth Zimmermann makes a point to advocate knitting for enjoyment, and if you don’t enjoy it don’t do it. In episode 12 of Knit.FM, there is mention of fears of seaming and finishing because of a belief that one doesn’t know how to sew. I’ve run into other resources where instructors are being sensitive to the idea that a viewer or reader might need to be talked down from the ledge of their trepidation to begin with the technique. The sensitivity is ubiquitous so there must be a sizable number of fearful knitters out there. I respect anyone who goes through that, as I’ve clearly gone through that in my own life. I also don’t see why anyone should be afraid to knit, or learn a new technique. If the stakes are too high, they can be lowered. I was crazy and knit an entire sweater with complicated elements, but I kept the stakes low. I gave myself permission to take it out and try again if I needed to. Yeah, I need to take it out and redo it, and I was disappointed to find it didn’t work. I wasn’t surprised. I should have started with a child size. That would have been smart. I will definitely steek a swatch first when I’m ready to tackle that challenge.

With dancing, I understand a little better. I see how frustration and belief can keep me from developing as a dancer and suffocate my enjoyment of it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like dancing, or that I should force myself to give it up. On the contrary, I have a unique opportunity with dancing. Because I do like it, and it is a struggle for me to keep a growth mindset there, I have the chance to develop my skills for changing my outlook. I don’t have to become a Rockette, I just have to keep at it and keep enjoying it.

I think Zimmermann was also hinting at the importance of giving ourselves permission to not like things. I recently realized/admitted that I don’t like to cook. I like making holiday meals because of the holiday, but that’s about it. I can finally let go of this burdensome expectation that I should to be good at cooking. I only need to be proficient, and I can spend my energy on things I like.

As I think through all this, I do have moments where I feel I’ve failed with knitting, and I need to keep an eye on them. I started this blog as a way to share things I thought would be useful, but also to push myself to stay invested and expand my learning. Now that the semester has started again and I’ve got more students than before, I’m really pressed for the time to actualize what’s floating around in my head. I’ve begun to feel guilty for not attending to my projects. When I see something on Instagram that reminds me of my plans I feel like I’m falling behind. Kinda like I felt behind in the dance class. Really, there is no behind. I set the pace and expectation for my creations. When I feel they’re due for some attention, I can make them a priority. Instagram isn’t there to make me feel guilty or behind. It’s there to inspire me, to remind me to stay on track, and motivate me to give myself the personal investment I need to stay in balance.

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