Life Lessons from Knitting

Today I wanted to share with you a piece I wrote for Knitting magazine that featured in the December 2018 issue (No.188) - and although it’s the craft of knitting that has taught me many things, I believe the lessons learned are applicable on a much wider scale!

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Some lessons in life come in with great fanfare and announce themselves as “Something Important”, and once learned they’re never forgotten. Other lessons fly more quietly under the radar and need repeating often in order for us to gradually integrate them, and frequently elicit a “now why do I always end up doing that?” or “ah yes, I remember!” response. I find that these lessons are actually the important ones, but fortunately the universe usually sends us many ways of learning them. Some of the things that knitting teaches us fall into this category, even if we don’t realise until we stop to think about it.

I’ve been knitting more or less constantly for about six years now, through good times and bad, and the rhythm of passing yarn over needles has definitely been a form of therapy. But I’ve recently been reflecting more on what else knitting has taught me about this often tangled, knotted mess we call life. Here are six of my biggest lessons.

There’s no one right way

Just like there are dozens of ways to cast on or off, hold your needles or yarn, there are just as many options in life. And just like if you’ve always knitted the way your granny showed you, you can end up living your life the way other people show you is the ‘right’ way too. Following a path that we feel like we ‘should’ can be a sure-fire route to a life we don’t really want or even enjoy, and nobody wants to make something they feel uncomfortable in. But with a combination of different elements, and a few tweaks here and there, we can create something that’s our own, that feels good and fits perfectly.

You can do all the preparation you like, but it still won’t look exactly like the picture

Getting the exact same yarn as the pattern states, the best needles money can buy, swatching, swatching, and more swatching, following every instruction to the letter… but it’s just not quite right. It’s like when that house isn’t quite how the estate agent described, or the holiday villa is much smaller than in looks in the photos, or that perfect Instagrammable view is crowded with tourists. Very few things in life turn out exactly the way we expect or hope they will, sometimes for worse, sometimes for better, because we’re all different, and there are so many variables and possibilities. Life doesn’t work to exact specifications, and sometimes you just need to go with the flow and see where it takes you, because chances are, even with a few bumps along the way, it’ll still be beautiful in the end.

There are no such things as mistakes, only variations

And no-one notices them unless you point them out anyway. Increased or decreased a stitch somewhere a few rows back? Something wonky happened with that lace or cable? So what? I mean, if it really bugs you, you can frog it back and re-do it, but if it doesn’t affect the overall result that much, is it really worth the stress? Plus all anyone else sees is the overall effect, so if you don’t point out that wonky bit, they won’t see it anyway. The same goes for life – it’s only a mistake if you call it one. Instead think of options, possibilities, learning opportunities. Unlike in knitting, we can rarely undo our actions or choices completely, so everything, even the things we regret or want to change, have to become part of the rich tapestry of our story. Yes, we can make adjustments afterwards to try and straighten things up, but those wonky bits are always going to be there, it’s just how we view them that decides whether they’re mistakes, or unique creative variations.

Sometimes it’s OK to give up

No matter how hard or how many times you try sometimes you just can’t get to grips with that tricky bit, and if it’s taking that much effort and giving you that much stress, you’re probably going to hate it once it’s done anyway. So just walk away. Some challenges are there to stretch us, but some are just not worth the trouble.

Starting things is exciting, but finishing them is even better

The excitement of casting on, the thrill of a gorgeous new yarn, the first section completed…and then that bit in the middle where it doesn’t seem to grow at all, and you’re tempted to relegate it to the UFO pile and start something else. If you can hang in there a little longer, especially if it’s something you really really want to make, it will get better, I promise. You’ll suddenly realise you’re further on than you thought, the end is in sight, and you want to spend every spare minute you have working faster to get there. And doesn’t it feel incredible when you’re done? Which gives you the motivation to start the next thing… The same goes for life – how often do you get excited about a new project or idea, only to lose motivation once you’ve started? Sometimes my previous point about it being OK to give up applies, but other times, pushing on is going to bring so much greater rewards, and a sense of achievement that buoys us up and makes us believe we can tackle anything.

There’s always more to learn

New techniques, new skills, new patterns…the possibilities really are endless as someone somewhere is always coming up with new ideas. Perhaps you’ve had a few of your own – new ways to combine things you already know, or an inkling that trying something different could create something beautiful and unique. Being a student of life is much the same. The world is constantly changing, and so are we as individuals, our curiosity piqued and a desire to find out more kindled. There is growing evidence that learning new things as we grow older can help protect us from mental degeneration and conditions like dementia, and who wouldn’t want to avoid that if we can?

Keep an open mind, stay curious, try things, share what you learn with others, and perhaps eventually we’ll untangle that last tight knot at the end of the ball without having to resort to scissors!

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