personal project

Knitting to Keep My Hands Busy

Animation: Stevie Remsberg; Source Video Getty

Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.

As soon as I started social distancing, it became clear that I needed something to do with my hands.

My hands are the repositories for all the roiling nervous energy in my body. Frustration, boredom, and anxiety bubble up in the dank recesses of my amygdala, and then immediately zip down my arms and into my fingers. I twist my hair, rip paper napkins into confetti, crack my knuckles, scrape the labels off of bottles, write out random words on my thigh with my index finger. When I was little, my busy hands were such a nuisance that my father started carrying around twist ties from the grocery store that he would dole out to me at restaurants for me to toy with whenever I got too jittery.

The advent of the cell phone was a huge boon for me. Suddenly, there was always something for my hands to do. They could type, scroll, click, swipe, pick at various edges and screen protectors. My phone was an expensive pacifier for my fussy little paws. When I started working from home at the beginning of March, though, I realized my phone was no longer something soothing. Now, in a global crisis, it was a constant source of stress and sadness: constant push alerts; all caps tweets from the president; texts from city government calling for ventilator donations. I craved something that could keep my hands occupied, while also distracting me from all the terrible news for a while. So I decided to knit.

I had never knit before, but I had friends who did. From what I could tell, it was seemed ideal: an activity that was involved enough that you physically could not scroll through through Twitter, but not so involved that you couldn’t do other stuff at the same time, like gossip or watch TV. Per a recommendation from Vox editor and master crafter Alanna Okun in the New York Times, I got a kit from a company called We Are Knitters that includes a pattern, needles, and all the yarn you’ll need for whatever project you select. I chose the Clyd Blanket, because its level was listed as “Beginner (very easy)” and also it was the cheapest.

Things were slow going at first. I worried I had cast the wrong number of stitches. I worried all my purl stitches were wrong. I worried the whole blanket would fall apart as soon as I was done.

“Is this what it’s supposed to look like?!” I demanded on a FaceTime call with a friend who knits. “Should I start over?”

“I think it’ll be easier to tell once you’ve done more than two rows,” she answered gently.

Eventually I fell into a groove. Most of my evenings and weekends are spent knitting now. I knit while watching movies, while listening to music, while sitting in bed before I go to sleep. I knit, and my hands are so consumed with looping and pulling yarn that they can’t pick up my angry, glowing phone.

My blanket is, by any measure, a monstrosity. It’s lumpy, and full of holes, and the rows are all uneven. It’s the sort of shroud someone would discover in a horror movie, wrapped tightly around an ancient, haunted doll whose spirit has awakened and is out for revenge. I don’t care what it looks like, though. I just need something to keep my hands busy right now, and for that, it’s perfect.

Knitting to Keep My Hands Busy