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Common Threads: Why we all 'need' more than one knitting project on the go

During the hiatus of the Why I Knit podcast I will be busy recording series two, but I also wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a few of the common threads that have emerged in my conversations so far. The idea of needing different types of project on the needles at once is one that has come up in all of my conversations so far.

WIPs, Startitis and PHDs

The concept of ‘startitis’ (wanting to cast on new things before you have finished your existing works in progress or WIPS) will be familiar to many knitters, however often there is a certain amount of guilt attached to a lack of monogamy to our knitting projects. In the past I have certainly found myself getting bored with a bigger project, or just having my head turned by a new yarn or pattern and wanting to cast on something else straight away, when I feel I 'should' be finishing the several projects I already have on the needles. However, my all of my guests said that they have more than one project on the go, and several challenged the idea that this was something to feel guilty about. Lauren Brennan of Project Knitwell also spoke about not feeling taunted by her WIPs and the idea that 'it's ok to let them rest.' DWJ also said that she has to feel in the mood to make a certain item, and unapologetically warns the intended recipients of her knitted gifts 'you might get a sweater from me in July. You might get a sweater from me in February. Like it just depends on what the mood is and how I feel at the time' I am a big fan of this attention to the process of knitting, and I think it is key in using knitting to benefit our mental health that we actively choose the projects that light us up on that particular day rather than persisting with a project which isn't right for us at that moment. In Episode 3 James McIntosh challenges the guilt of having inactive knitting projects by calling these his 'PHDs – Projects Half Done', which I think is a brilliant way to re-frame the projects that haven't yet been finished.

Different projects for different situations

Many of my guests spoke about the idea of needing an easy project that they could knit while spending time with family or as Atia Azmi of The Bright Blooms described this as something you ‘don't need to think think about at all and your fingers are just kind of working almost on muscle memory.' This is certainly something I relate to, as someone with a busy brain which is used to constant multi-tasking, I find that having some simple knitting in my hands really helps me to focus when sitting still and listening to a training course or when chatting with family and friends.

Many knitters spoke about the value of a second more complicated project, DWJ spoke about needing this for stress-relief ‘Two colour brioche when I'm really stressed, because it makes me take my mind off of whatever it is that I was thinking about and makes me focus on the project at hand.’ This was a common theme with several of my guests, as LJ who said that a complicated pattern would ‘stop that kind of brain noise'. Ros Edwards also spoke about being attracted to increasingly complicated patterns, and rather than the idea of escape, Ros frames this as a way of remaining in the moment ‘I find I lean towards more complicated patterns, things that I have to focus on a bit more. And just the act of counting a lace pattern, for example, can be can really keep me in the present’. In my own practice of therapeutic knitting I refer to these more complicated projects offering me ‘active relaxation’ – in requiring my total attention, the project forces me to stop multi-tasking and switch off from everything else in order to focus on the complex pattern.

Betsan Corkhill, an expert in therapeutic knitting said that she actively encourages knitters to have multiple projects on the needles at once and takes this one step further by considering not only the mood someone might in now, but also that their knitting project might have the power to move them towards a different state of mind. Perhaps this is what we are doing when we feel the urge to cast on something new despite already having several projects on our needles - and maybe this is the permission we need to all feel a little less guilty about this?

A balance of big projects and quick wins

Atia also highlighted the need to plan her projects according to her motivation – as a 'project knitter', her favourite part of the process is the finished article, and she has to have a balance of quicker projects alongside a larger one so that she maintains her interest. I think this is a really excellent point, and possibly one of the reasons that some people don't continue knitting. Since starting the podcast, many relatively new knitters have contacted me to say that they would like to get more into knitting, but they have lost their motivation or feel stuck. I think often when we discuss it in more detail, it turns out that the project they are working on is too big for a beginner. When we start something new, we all need to experience some level of success and sense of achievement, and even thought scarves are one of the easiest things to knit, they also take a long time, and many new knitters lose their motivation before they get to the end of that first scarf.

Betsan also spoke about motivation for knitting and how this has changed over time. She said that while she initially was impatient to have a sweater straight away, she is now happy to embark on a project that might take her many months. In contrast to Atia, I am increasingly focussed on the process of knitting, and I am more than happy to start a large project, as long as it holds enough interest along the way - I am unlikely to embark on a simple stockinette sweater any time soon! I think my view of a perfect knitting project is similar to reading a good book, although you want to get to the end to find out what happens, there is also a sadness associated with it finishing.

I look forward to exploring this further with more guests in series two of the podcast, and will be sharing more themes from the first series in the Common Threads blog over the coming weeks - to be notified when a new blog is published please sign up to my mailing list.

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