Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Am I commitment-phobic about sweaters?

In my last post (about hats), I mentioned that I might be a commitment-phobe when it comes to knitting sweaters. Specifically, my track record with sweaters is pretty low. I've finished one sweater for myself that I like, a simple striped raglan (finished in early 2005). I've finished one for Coffeegoat; it fits him and he likes it (finished early 2006). I finished two others for myself - both years ago (we're talking 2004, here) and neither of them fit or make it out of their hiding places to be worn. Both successful sweaters were knit in the round and had minimal finishing: just adding a simple collar band. I didn't even have to stitch the sleeves on as they were an organic part of both sweaters .

Lately, I've been writing papers as if they were sweaters that needed extensive finishing: blocking, seaming, button bands and buttonholes, crocheting the edges, sewing on the buttons, tweaking, and a tiny bit of admiring that it all came together so well out of so many fragments and strands. I've been experimenting with a new method of writing papers (well, new for me). Previously, I'd almost always sort of wait until I had most of my materials gathered before writing anything. Then I heard that some of my professors write their books by writing a little bit every day, even if all they write is that they have no idea what's going on in a certain project.

The idea stuck with me. In December, right before going to Panama, I managed to write about 8 pages of 3-4 different sections of a paper. I wrote what I could based on the research, primary and secondary, that I'd yet done. While in Panama I did a lot of the primary source reading because I could carry that with me more easily than the secondary sources. When I got home, I started writing about the primary sources and integrating them into what I'd already written. Since I already had 8 pages, the rest of the paper seemed to fly by. Somehow I was able to take rough ideas, awkward sentences, and sketchy transitions and stitch them together into an actual paper.

I seem to take it for granted that writing is a craft, something that takes time, effort, a little frustration, a little skill, and a little luck. Yes, sometimes it's a bother, but the results of a job well done are worth it. (And yes, I don't always apply this to my blog; maybe I should do so more often!)

Why can't I assume the same about craft for sweaters? Have I been tricked by the instant gratification of buying them in the store into thinking they should pop as easily into existence as a stockinette sock? Aren't they "crafts" - things that need to be shaped, sculpted, cut, worked, labored on with skill, attention, and care? Why can I happily knit a sock when I balk at the idea of starting a sweater?

My use of fiber-artsy metaphors to describe the writing process is partially intentional (this is a knitting blog!) and partially unavoidable: why not speak of "stitching" sentences together, of "finishing" a paper? The metaphor is apt, isn't it?

This thought brought me to another idea about my apparent aversion to knitting sweaters: maybe they are too much like what I do for what I consider to be (at least part of) my job and my career - namely, writing. I knit for a hobby, for relaxation, for enjoyment, right? Perhaps the mental energy that goes into putting a sweater together is too much like work to be adequately relaxing.

Or maybe I'm just making excuses for why I've hardly knit any sweaters, despite a profound love of wearing them, and my problem has nothing to do with anything.

What do you think? Do you have a type of knitting (or related fiber art or other hobby) that you prefer because of how it does or doesn't overlap with your job or whatever you're taking a break from?


Sarah said...

Hrmmm, knitting that I like because it's a break.

I guess for me that would be sock knitting. Plain old stockinette sock knitting.

I love lace and cables and things, but sometimes after a whole day working the simple wins out.

Oh, and spinning. If even sock knitting is too much, I can just spin myself into relaxation!

keri said...

I'm pretty knitting sweater averse, in the sum of my whole knitting career I've finished two and have one OTN right now.

For me I prefer accessories- in real life when I'm shopping or knitted. I think that's why I focus on lace, socks, mitts and hats.

Lone Knitter said...

I only want my knitting to be challenging if I have the time to learn new things and tear out and try again. Grad school doesn't give me this kind of time really. So yes, I do like simple sock and have never liked doing lace for all it's counting and blocking and k2togs and all of that small stuff on graphs. When I turned in the last paper of my Ph.D. career, I felt really relieved, but no, there's the prospectus now. Sigh.

Greta_Jane said...

So, I have a variety of thoughts. The first is that when paper writing is at its best for me, I write the way that you are newly writing. What is tricky about that is it does require getting started earlier in the project. But that is definately how I enjoy writing and how I have done my best work.

As fir sweaters, one of my aunts made me a sweater while she was in grad school and it took her years because after counting pollen all day, she did not want to count stitches.

Kodachrome said...

I constantly link the process of writing my dissertation to the process of knitting. When I'm really slumped and feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work/writing I have at hand, I try to tell myself that a word + a word + a word will eventually equal a dissertation in the way that a stitch + a stitch + a stitch will eventually make for sock/scarf/hat/sweater. However, this is of course much easier said than done; perhaps the reason my dissertation is not yet finished is the same reason that I've never really tackled a sweater (yet!). Even though the process should still be simple (a word/stitch + a word/stitch), I know that there is much more hard work to be done--and thus, for the same reasons as you listed, the "finishing, seaming, tweaking, etc" of ideas/stitches becomes daunting and seems to be just too much for me to tackle. So what then often happens is that I pick up an easy knitting project (socks; hat; scarf), when I should be, in fact, tackling those difficult transitions and concepts that I've left hanging in the dissertation and the desired handknit sweater....

Thanks for this post--I enjoyed it!

Teri S. said...

Hmmm...that's an interesting way to look at sweaters and writing. My job managing a software testing and technical writing team. In the world of software, nothing is ever finished. There are always more bugs to find, new features to test and write about, and the never-ending editing of the documentation that goes with a software project. I was thinking that I like knitting because after it's finished, it's finished. But then I looked at my project list and realized that I have a lot of unfinished knitting projects, with several of them being sweaters.

The most favorite part of my job is to put together a team from the ground up and get the project rolling. After the startup phase is done, I get a little bored. That translates into my knitting projects, too. I love starting, but after I've been working on it for a while, the novelty wears off and I'm looking for something new to knit.

So, I like knitting because once it's done, it's done, but it seems that I don't like getting to done.

trek said...

You'll get to 14 pairs - lots of confidence coming your way!

Have you seen The Curse saga on my attempts to knit myself a black sweater?