Friday, November 6, 2009

The antidote: knitting

Ariana in handknit sweater
Ariana at 3 weeks, wearing a sweater I knit during my pregnancy. Had she been a boy, I would have still made him wear it home from the hospital.

Eight years ago I agreed to join a friend for an evening knitting course taught by a black heterosexual volleyball player named Steve out of a converted Vancouver warehouse. I've not stopped knitting since. It has proven to be the perfect antidote to medicine and parenting.

I'm working on a spruce-coloured cabled vest for my five-year-old, and when I knit a few rows in the evening the steady soft clicking of the needles work the yarn into perfect V's of stockinette stitch that are blessedly tangible. Row by row, cable by cable, visible results emerge. Measurable progress is directly proportional to the work I put into the project. Such is not the way of medicine or parenting.

The stitches behave. My needles cooperate. I control every aspect of the garment-making process. When I put it aside for a week, it is exactly as I left it when I retrieve it. Unlike disease, patients, offices or children, it has no life of its own. There are no surprises.

Reading Beatrix Potter
Leif reading Beatrix Potter on a Sunday afternoon. Vest not limited to professorial pursuits; also good for walks in the woods or autumn beach visits.

There is every opportunity for perfection. It is possible to knit an item flawlessly. If this were only true at home or in the office: all errors can be undone, most with nothing more than a crochet hook.

In The Artist's Way Julia Cameron discusses the importance of filling the well - replenishing our creative resources. She gives another reason to knit:
Any regular, repetitive action primes the well . . . Needlework, by definition regular and repetitive, both soothes and stimulates the artist within . . . [and] may tip us over from our logic brain into our more creative artist brain. Solutions to sticky creative problems may bubble up . . .
I do love the organic, messy, unpredictable nature of medicine and mothering. But that's what fills most of my days, and a moment stolen to give my hands over to bamboo needles and wool grounds me, lets my whirling thoughts settle and the most worthwhile rise to the top. An inch or two of knitting later - of perfect, even, countable stitches - I am ready to get on with real life.

Blackberry picking on a Saturday morning
Toque for early morning September blackberry picking.


  1. I'm not a doctor but I am a mother and a knitter. My son has had some major health issues over the past 4 years and I find knitting restores my calm. I agree about the control and the ability to make something perfectly. Knitting is satisfying! It's soothing and exciting at the same time.

  2. I've missed your posts!

    I'm in awe of your knitting.

  3. totally brilliant! As a Dr., a mom, and a knitter, I couldn't agree more.

  4. Amen, sister. It's a bad day that I don't get a few minutes on my needles.

  5. I keep thinking about taking up knitting, and now you've given me even more motivation to just do it.

  6. Great article, Martina! I think it is so important to have a creative outlet, no matter what it is. You are a very talented knitter, too. LOVE that vest you made for Leif.

    And I just borrow The Artist's Way from the library yesterday! Think I need to dive in:)

  7. Wow you have made knitting sound so appealing! I've always kinda thought that it's something my mother does..not me......but....I can change my mind...hmmmm. I do admire your finished products!

    I too, have missed your posts...good to 'have you back'=0)

  8. I picked up knitting a few months before becoming pregnant with #1...knit like mad throughout my pregnancy...even finished a pair of socks for my husband while in labor...then never picked up a pair of needles since.

    The knitting spirit just up and left - odd. Wonder if it will ever come back again. I could use an antidote to my hectic life every once in awhile.

  9. Nice sweaters and hats. And your kids are precious.

  10. I used to crochet in college and loved it. I made hats and scarves for all my friends. Unfortunately, anything I do, I tend to do in excess.... I started to get severe pain in my first MCP joint and had to quit :(

  11. I, too, use my knitting to achieve perfection in the only way I really know how. I also love knitting for the challenge it can present when creating something complicated, or for the relaxing nature of something simple.

  12. Thanks for the comments. For those considering knitting, I would highly recommend taking a knitting class (rather than asking a friend or aunt to teach you). Many yarn stores offer them. For me, seeing knitting explained on powerpoint brought it all together. Working it out with a class of other new knitters is fun.

    I also recommend The Ravelry group 'knitting physicians' has 407 members.

  13. I love the idea of priming the well with a simple hands-on craft. I find knitting and cross-stitch really relaxing, for many of the reasons you listed :)

  14. When I was studying for USMLE step 1, I would put a review tape on and crochet while I listened. I got a blanket halfway finished.

  15. Good to know there are sister knitters out there--I knitted my way through college, medical school, and inummerable medical conferences. Even those that turn out to be useless leave me with new blankets, hats, scarves and the occasional sweater. Someday I'll even make a sock...

  16. i feel exactly the same way about knitting. it's so nice to have something you have a little control over in this crazy, mixed-up world.


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