This is a post I have been meaning to write for some time.

What I do, and what you do, (and yes, I do mean knitting) is supposed to be relaxing, it should be a source of calm.  Being creative should engender feelings of satisfaction.

Felting Display Bag, Felted and Knitted Flowers and Creatures
Felting Display Bag, Felted and Knitted Flowers and Creatures

However, every day I encounter knitters who are frustrated, who are hard on themselves.  They endlessly restart projects because they are not happy with their initial result.  They rip, and frog, and tink, just not seeming to be able to get past some hard-to-define notion of what “good” knitting should be.  Or, they work on a project for a few minutes, then put it away for weeks, months, then are frustrated when they do not remember where they are or how to work the pattern.  They work intensely on one or more projects (holiday knitting, anyone?), then find themselves unable to muster the enthusiasm to make something for themselves.

Sound familiar?

Writers have a phrase to describe this condition: the creative well is dried up and needs refilling.

So what does writing have to do with knitting?

The situations I’ve described, can occur to anyone, doing just about anything, at any time.  Those who still do the 8-to-5 (or whatever schedule) workday grind, I am sure, see this in co-workers and themselves all the time.

Work, writing, knitting, sports, are all creative activities.  And any activity, done too intensely for too long will sap one’s ability to improvise, to take initiative, to be able to break down a complex project into smaller, more manageable tasks.

Now, I don’t mean to sound like the latest self-help book.  Ugh!

But if you see this happening to you, there are things you can do to help yourself, whether it is knitting or something else.

1) Take a break.  Simple, right?  Here, time is not the important variable.  How you take a break, and what you do, are more important.  Again, since I am not trying to make Oprah’s book club, I will stick to knitting 🙂

Ice-Dyed Kona Cotton
Ice-Dyed Kona Cotton

When I was very young, I learned to sew, and sewing is something to which I return when I need to refill my creative well.  Over the years, every bed in my house has been adorned with multiple handmade quilts, so now I limit myself to baby and lap quilt size projects.  I am strictly using my stash fabrics, make just the quilt tops, and do not worry about quilting until I have enough made to work on them all at once.  The point here is: I quilt for its own sake, no deadlines, no worrying about anyone else’s color or style preferences, and above all, NO WORRYING ABOUT PERFECTION.

That last part is really important.  It is also one of the main reasons that creativity gets sapped.

The point to #1 here is to involve yourself in something that you a) like, and b) give yourself permission to be imperfect at.

2) Make your break count.


Say what?  (I can hear you now!) It does not matter if you have five minutes or two weeks.  The point is to completely shift your mind away from whatever is causing your stress and burnout.  The longer you can focus away, the better, but often this is just not possible.  Several shorter breaks can be as effective as one long break.  The same caveats apply here: do something you like and give yourself permission not to be perfect.

3) Another writer’s trick: the morning pages.  Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) advocates taking 30 minutes (yes, 30 MINUTES) each day before work and simply writing down whatever is in your head.  It could be: “I’m bored” over and over, it does not matter.  The point of daily pages is to rid your mind of unnecessary chatter so clarity will reveal itself.

First try at Rug Hooking!
First try at Rug Hooking!

The knitter’s version of daily pages is this: keep handy a no-brain-cells-required project, e.g. a dishcloth, a simple sock or hat, a scarf, something that does not require intense concentration or following a complex pattern.  Let your fingers work and your mind wander.  Restrict yourself to 30 minutes, then start the real work.

4) Julia Cameron also advocates taking a walk (“Walking in this World: The Practical Art of Creativity”).

The Cabinet Garden, Munich Germany
The Cabinet Garden, Munich Germany

Getting out into the world (and I do realize some people have significant physical limitations) will take you out of yourself.  This is for the kind of burnout that comes from intense, long-term focus on one, usually exceptionally complex, task.  Taking a walk is not just taking a break, it is to remind yourself that there is a world outside and away from your stress.

Okay, enough pontificating, just remember Rule #1: Be Nice to Yourself.  Take care of yourself and come see me if your knitting is giving you fits.