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Stitch by Stitch: Knitting and Grit

November 30, 2017

One of the things I’ve developed through knitting is grit; for me this means an ability to tackle larger, longer-term projects, and persevere, despite setbacks, until they’re done.

Keeping my eyes on the distant prize, working through blocks, and bringing projects to completion doesn’t come easily to me, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have still got a lot of learning to do! Yet, with Alexa by my side (metaphoric cattle prod in hand) together we have managed to complete several book projects which have taken months or years from our conception, through gradual stitch-by-stitch and word by word development, to print.

Striped Swatch

Every project starts with a small beginning. Knitting projects proceed slowly, stitch by stitch.

Grit as behavioural trait has been recently popularized in part by the work of Angela Lee Duckworth; you can listen to her popular Ted Talk here. It is a bundle of learnable behaviours or orientations including motivation to work hard over the long term toward goals, willingness to stretch and possibly fail (courage), the ability to bounce back after setbacks (resilience), and belief that your actions matter.

After making 6-8 smaller swatches when designing the Chromatic sweater, then got this far into the final knit before deciding that the blue tones had to go. So I ripped back and began again. See the final result here.

I feel that grit and endurance is something that knitters cannot help but gradually gain, because knitting is such a SLOW way to arrive at anything useful! If you keep up with it, finishing one project and casting on the next, you can’t help but teach yourself that YES, stitch by stitch I CAN tackle this hat, new technique, sock, shawl, cardigan, king-size bedspread, college degree, or even parenthood!

Mad Colour Blankets

The number of stitches and hours that Alexa and I put in to bring you this bundle of blankets was not insignificant! Blankets are one of the largest and most satisfying projects I’ve made.

This week I’ve survived a household full of the cold, and also the desperate last few days of my month-long novel project. I bet there are a few of you out there who signed up to knit a sweater in a month during NaKniSweMo, right? I hope you’re ready to bind off today. I’m pleased to say that I have just this morning written the final words ‘The End’ on my 50,000 word novel.

Working on that project, I REALLY enjoyed the daily chunks of time I dedicated to writing, putting it ahead of pretty much everything else, generally getting most of my daily 1700 words onto the paper before 7:30 am. Despite a hectic schedule of nearly full-time work, plus two toddlers to get out to nursery then home, fed, books read, and to bed every day, 1.5-2 hours per day was actually possible (and to my surprise, almost entirely pleasurable!). Making it a daily necessity meant that it simply got done, and hour or two at a time.

This creative marathon finished, below are a few of the things that I struggled with, which may relate to your own knitting or creative work.

nasty voice of SELF DOUBT

Nasty Little Voice of Self Doubt: “This is a stupid, pointless project. It’s rubbish and you’ll never share it with anybody anyway, so what’s the point?” or “Geez this is embarassingly BAD, what were you thinking?!”

Emily: “Surely this isn’t any less pointless than an hour or two of Netflix, and it’s way more fun!”and “If I don’t try, if I don’t write a first draft or knit a first prototype, I’ll never make anything beautiful or meaningful!”

There are elements of this yoke prototype (which I worked as part of the Strange Brew KAL) that I didn’t love, but despite what I felt were imperfections, I decided to push through to completion. Finishing a rough draft can be more valuable than aiming for perfection.

Of course, if you’re struggling with uncertainty over a knitting or design project, you may be able to work on it WHILE watching Netflix… possibly an even bigger win-win?!

The SLOG in the middle

Oh the middle. Self doubt can cripple you there (see above) as can the sheer daily slog of getting the work done, bit by bit. For me the middle of the novel writing was a bit like knitting the stockinette body of a man-sized seamless jumper in the round. You can the time in, but sometimes it feels so pointless, as the work grows a meager inch per day. Keep going! Find ways to distract yourself and celebrate every of forward progress you make.

The difficulty of FINISHING

I find finishing things VERY difficult. The novel project has been harder to finish than many, but I honestly come up against this difficulty with all but my simplest and least-demanding knitting projects too. The piece below (check out the finished cowl here) languished for at least a year!

Creative spill-over

I’d hoped for creative spill-over from this writing project into my knitting and design work. And I think that I’ve started to feel this. First, in the drafting of work; both written work and design work – I’m inspired to begin sooner, work more iterations, and explore more ideas before completing a project. Second, in the taking on of very large projects, I’ve become even more confident in my ability to finish. And third, in the desire to wrap things up, and get the big pile of niggling works-in-progress out of the closet and into my life!

This is just a part of the pile of WIPS (works in progress) that I’m aiming to complete or let go by the end of the year. And that’s only knitting… I guess I’ll tackle my sewing and home decorating projects-in-progress next year!

What’s your style?

Do you stick to quick projects, or invest the long-term effort in epic big ones?

Are you a monogamous knitter, or do you have a million unfinished objects lining your closets?

Which part of a project do you struggle with, and does perfectionism hold you back?

Itching to cast on? Some big TCK projects we recommend:

POP blanket

22 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2018 11:44 am

    Finishing. Aaaaargh.
    I’m so glad you wrote this post.
    I did just finish two sweaters. They don’t get done in the bag. I screwed up the Antler Sweater by not reading the next page about decreases while doing the yoke of antler cables. I had to rip out the whole yoke and start again. The neck was as big as the chest. Wasaaah. But I did it. First cables ever.
    Beautiful sweater. My daughter loves it. Your patterns are excellent.

  2. January 19, 2018 3:45 pm

    Grit is definitely an earned skill. I loathe scarves because of the repetition but I really enjoyed working on my extremely repetitive garter knit shawl haha smh.

  3. January 2, 2018 7:12 am

    I’ve started knitting again after nearly 40 (!!!) years and really enjoying it. Your post has really inspired me!

  4. December 24, 2017 10:33 am

    I try to be monogamous in my knitting but since October there was Christmas knits, then test knits (with deadlines), and then selfish knits that got put on the backburner bc Christmas was coming!

  5. Kerry permalink
    December 21, 2017 4:52 pm

    Grit is the shiny, new (rebranded, old) toy of the education world. And the folks that promote it have skin in the game. Fair warning- it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, especially when school tax dollars are being thrown at it.

  6. rhonda permalink
    December 12, 2017 5:09 am

    I am basically a new knitter about 3.5 years now, and I find if I have more than 3 projects going I just can’t get anything done. So, I pulled out what was sitting for 3 years now a complicated pattern above my knowledge base, and started to take some classes in the LYS. As I completed them I gained some confidence and now will only have 3 things going at a time. Typically 2 large and one small so I feel the ahhh of completion. I try to take my time so I get the joy of knitting, pulling out and just frogging if I don’t like it or the yarn. I graduated to better yarn as my family seems to be allergic to everything else. I look at yarn sales and patterns daily but now refuse to buy till I complete a project. Doesn’t always work, but I try. I envy those whose can just do it, follow a pattern with no help and move forward daily. Someday I hope that happens to me, I get inspired by others, so thank you all…

  7. Maya permalink
    December 4, 2017 2:27 am

    Your work is incredibly important ,i’m a new knitter .. i get excited buy wool find a pattern that is simple then get it wrong but i do not start a new one because i feel deflated! Your knitting blows me away ! yeah i totally get that you need “grit” and fierce determination both i wish i had.
    i think the worse one for me was trying to knit a snood with 250 stitches and going round and round happily till quarter way through i get up and the wools around my foot and it unravels and i’m just stare at it thinking what the ? ! it took me five goes just to get the amount of stitches right!!!
    knitting is tough!!! i haven’t gone back to it yet ….your knitting is truly amazing! thanks

  8. TheRusticHook permalink
    December 2, 2017 12:04 pm

    Your work is so lovely! I didn’t know monogamous knitting was a thing…I tend to have way too many projects going on at once. Not to mention the crochet projects left on their hooks waiting their turn to be picked back up again when my knitting is not cooperating. I even keep something small in my glove box for school pick up time. By the way, I thought the blue was very nice in the Chromatic Sweater until I looked at the finished piece, nice call, it is very stunning!

  9. December 1, 2017 12:06 pm

    Wow! Congrats on finishing your novel! I tried a few times, but have not succeeded (yet).

  10. December 1, 2017 7:05 am

    Knitting and novel writing just go together, somehow. :) Congratulations on your nanowrimo win! Was this your first time/first novel? I am currently querying for representation on my first novel…the result of nano a couple of years ago. I often write about how comparable knitting and writing are. In fact, the Tin Can Knits Wheat scarf made an appearance in this post:
    Again, congratulations!

  11. November 30, 2017 1:20 pm

    I tend to start things with best intentions of finishing, and I do finish most. But there are some that just do’t make it. And that’s ok, I learned something in the doing.

  12. November 30, 2017 10:11 am

    Thank you sooooo much for this! I will share it, if you’re all right with it, in my resource package for a workshop I’m presenting to teachers/librarians in January about knitting in the makerspace and combining it with mathematical thinking! Knitting and grit, oh yeah!

  13. November 30, 2017 7:35 am

    Emily, You write novels too!!!!!!  You are AMAZING!!!   The fact that you have kids and can do this and design knitwear too is mind boggling. I’m a person who doesn’t like to start a new project without finishing what I’m working on.  But it does happen from time to time due to deadlines.  But eventually I get back and finish the things that did not have deadlines. I often see Ravelry pages with literally DOZENS of unfinished knitting projects.  Clearly there are a lot of people who enjoy the yarn buying and pattern selection process much more than the knitting process. I recently scored two HUGE bags of yarn/patterns/needles through my local Freecycle group.  (I’m not sure, but I think a knitter may have died.)  Anyway, I was astounded when I looked inside the bags.  The yarn was all top quality, very expensive yarn – much better than anything I normally buy.  And there were dozens of projects with only a few rows knitted – needles still on the work.  Each project was in a large zip-lock bag with pattern, yarn and needles enclosed.  So many projects barely started and then she would start a new project even though it meant going out and buying new needles.  Apparently she did not believe in using stitch holders, though I did find a few of those inside the bags.   Eventually, I hope to give meaning to all of this gorgeous yarn that I was gifted. Hope your holidays are relaxing and fun.   My niece and nephew are getting cute pullovers for Christmas knitted using your Dogstar pattern. Hugs, Kimmy

  14. November 30, 2017 6:42 am

    I usually have 2 projects at one time. They’re a long haul and quick project. The quick project gives me some instant gratification when I need it during the long haul project.

    I’m nearly done with my Worsted Boxy by Joji. In the meantime I also started a Howl by StevenBe.

    Once Boxy is finished, I have to whip out the sewing machine and get started on my son’s weighted blanket. That is the next big project.

    • December 1, 2017 2:01 am

      That’s a good suggestion. I aim to get down to 3-5 projects on the needles at once. I think that it will be more fun, as I’ll have the satisfaction of finishing things much more quickly.

      • December 1, 2017 5:30 am

        My biggest problem is having sewing projects in tandem with knitting projects.

  15. November 30, 2017 6:23 am

    Hi Emily: I logged into my email this morning before beginning a blog post about finishing writing projects, and the difficulties of, so I found it very interesting to read your post! I’m a professional writer, launching a course in January about finishing but I’m also a knitter so, yes, I get it and LOVE the comparison of the novel’s middle to the man-sized seamless jumper in the round, LOL. Lately, I’m struggling to learn how to knit continental, hoping it will ease the repetitive strain in my left hand from my less-than-ideal particular style of throwing and that’s frustrating…. But trying to remember, as you say, bit by bit, every day to build that body memory… Anyway, just wanted to pop in and say thanks for the great post (and if you’d like to check out the course –

    • December 1, 2017 2:04 am

      Aaaahhh finishing. I’m hoping that it’s something that I can continue to learn to do, more often! Thanks for the comment :) Luckily, with NaNo it was only finishing a 50K DRAFT, haha :) I can’t imagine how much time and energy editing / rewriting to get to a readable manuscript might take… I find it difficult enough to just finish a blog post!

      • December 1, 2017 7:54 am

        ONLY finishing a 50,000 word draft!? That’s huge! You’ve poured a foundation (I can’t think of a knitting analogy, lol – maybe you’ve ‘spun the yarn’?). Finishing that takes time and energy, for sure, but it’s exactly what you say in the post: bit by bit. I find the thing that stops people the most is the challenge of reading/assessing that first draft once they’re finished ~ that’s what I had to learn how to do before I could finish my first novel and once I had that down, everything since, while still hard, has been easier. Have a great day – & thanks for all the work you do! I love getting your posts and taking a wee break to drool over all the patterns and colours :)

  16. Catherine Martin permalink
    November 30, 2017 6:11 am

    In the bottom photograph, I’m interested in the various bags you keep your knitting projects in. Maybe sometime do a piece on these? Much appreciated this essay — am midway through a baby blanket that so far is garter stitch . . . so much garter stitch!

    • December 1, 2017 2:05 am

      I kind of use whatever’s around the house for project bags, a load of canvas ones I’ve collected from events and knit shops, and some ripstop nylon ones I made a while back. Good luck finishing the baby blanket!

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