I started knitting again with the thought of making myself a pair of socks. They would be simple, durable, soft and cozy for chilly winter hardwood floors, and when they started to get holes in the soles then I would finally explore the last frontier of mending and learn how to darn them.
It was perhaps a selfish knitting goal. I don’t need more socks – in fact I was gifted a dozen assorted pairs at Christmas that my mom found in a drawer somewhere, barely worn. I really don’t need more socks.
Apparently I talked so passionately about my excitement for starting on my first pair that my sister started knitting again just to make a pair of her own. When she finally realized that I had been continually side-tracked by other knitting projects she seemed truthfully disappointed, although whether that was due to the realization that her sister was all talk or because she wanted my help figuring out how to finish the toe is anyone’s guess.
No, instead I’ve been swamped with practical knitting. In fact, the longer I’ve been knitting again the farther I get from starting a pair of socks.
First were the fingerless gloves, my way of easing back into knitting while learning how to read a proper pattern. Then autumn came on in force and my ears were cold so I made a hat. Then the baby was cold so I made her a cape. And some leg warmers. Then my husband’s ears were cold (he made it quite a bit longer than I did apparently), and since he walks the baby into daycare I’m sort of indebted. By this point my excuses start getting suspicious, because next came a totally unnecessary cowl that I intended as a project to pick up quickly in spare minutes here or there, perhaps while watching the baby. But as long as that cowl remained unfinished I just couldn’t commit to starting another more involved knitting project. Last week I finally finished the cowl, but proceeded to cast-on a pair of speckled grey wool mittens. Never mind that a very early spring is just around the corner, with snowdrops and crocuses peeking out all over the place.
The more I think about my inability to knit a pair of socks, the more I see the same thing play out in other aspects of my handmade life. Knitting requires liberating (mostly) small bits of time in the face of busy schedules, unexpected distractions, and a continual tug towards more mindless pastimes. As such, it requires unwavering commitment if a project is to be completed in any reasonable amount of time. The necessary will always win against the superfluous. Generally I don’t have a problem with this and use it to my advantage on a regular basis; it keeps us in fresh sourdough bread, ensures that my one silk slip that I’ve been wearing all winter under dresses and skirts gets mended immediately, and means I always take a few minutes to water the potted plants, no matter how late at night. Unfortunately, in this light even next year’s mittens are more crucial than a pair of socks.
The downside to an emphasis on practicality is a preoccupation with craft as utility instead of as a way to love ourselves. The artist in me wants nothing more than to create for the sake of creating alone. This is what I love. I try to inject as much artistry in the practical projects as I can, but the goal is simply not the same. A project done for love of the process can be ripped out, changed, edited, or even dropped completely with no hard feelings because the final product was completely beside the point.
The best compromise I have found between the practical and artistic perspectives is to take away time pressure whenever possible. I have all summer to finish knitting a pair of (practical) mittens, so starting over with a new type of yarn or with a smaller needle size in order to get the right look and feel is not a problem.
As for my hypothetical socks, once I looked at them as a way to experiment with new knitting skills instead of as yet another garment to add to my wardrobe, I finally started to get excited about them again.