Skinny Daily Post


Here’s the scene: I’m writing on my laptop by candlelight. I woke to a house and a neighborhood without power this morning, and I’m using up the last of my battery juice writing about it. I have fumbled through the dark to my gas stove to make a cup of warming tea, finding matches and candles, and by candlelight, the laptop.

When the power gives out, I go into Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-gets-her-merit-badge mode, calling up my real and imagined frontier survival and camping skills, figuring out ways to stay warm, sheltered, fed. It occurs to me that knowing how to do things, having basic survival skills in your head and hands, isn’t entirely dopey or outdated. I try to imagine what I can do without the aid of a computer: I could make fire, make soup, read. I could knit.

I mentioned knitting in passing in a recent post and buddy Susan dropped me an email, pointing out that, “If you’re knitting your hands are busy, your mind at least minimally engaged, and that snack you might have had while watching the news, the movie, even reading the book (knitting and reading at the same time is laughably easy) gets postponed and postponed.”

Aha! I backed back into knitting recently (watch those needles!) when pal Lois, recognizing some symptoms of excess stress in my life (Okay I was raving like a lunatic, which she interpreted as a cry for calm.), suggested its therapeutic qualities, and I bit. I haven’t knitted in 25 years or so.

And you know, both Susan and Lois are right. Knitting is the bomb. Knitting keeps me calm by focusing my attention on needles and yarn, counting stitches and rows, attending to pattern. If you’ve ever tried meditation (and if not, why not?), then you’ll recognize the benefit of emptying your mind of anxious thoughts and lists of pressing concerns, giving your brain a break with a new and simpler focus. Occupying your two hands, managing needles and fibers you’d like to keep clean, it’s hard to binge on sticky or powdery or crumby things. We really shouldn’t jump up for a snack until we finish that row, and that little hesitation gives us plenty of time to really think through hunger, cravings, make decisions. Both calmness and snack hesitation help keep the weight off and health high. And though I admit I knit for therapy, darned if I haven’t some sort of garment (mostly scarves these days), on the other side of it.

Okay, it’s a sedentary sport, but for those times when I’m bound to be sedentary anyway, for those evening stretches in front of a ball game, the long waits, lectures and mass meetings, having the focus and the productive fidget of a ball of yarn and a couple of sticks is a fine thing, a saving grace.

While I long ago filed knitting away under anachronisms and family nostalgias (Why, I wonder? My own grandmothers were a showgirl and a doctor. I never saw them knit. The doctor was a demon with a crochet hook, but the showgirl was mainly good at looking pretty, helpless and coy until a kind stranger stepped in to clothe her. Who would you rather be stranded with? On the other hand, the showgirl lived a long, long time. Hmm…), knitting has undergone a kind of renaissance. It’s been taken over by a new generation savvy of recent fiber innovations, and clear about knitting’s soul-centering magic and productive addictiveness. These “chicks with sticks,” have taken their knitting online in entertaining and addictive blogs, and offline in Stitch ‘n Bitch meet-ups you can find just about anywhere.

And now I see my laptop battery wanes. I will attempt to light that fire, and knit by its light. Or perhaps I will go back to bed and whimper coyly until my husband makes fire. Decisions, decisions.

My favorite ‘zine, Knitty

Susan’s favorite blog author, Yarn Harlot

Find a Stitch ‘n Bitch near you

8 thoughts on “Busy Hands

  1. Mj says:

    Having rushed, panic-stricken, from work to pick up “just a couple of skeins” of yarn right before the store closed Sunday (last) night, I was delighted to see this topic today!

    I have my specific projects (afghans for DDILs2B, for example) but there’s also the ongoing creation of the just-in-case crib blanket/sofa throws (in ubiquitous cream-colored worsted), suitable in pattern and color for ANY emergency gift. As long as I’ve got one of those suckers on the needles, I’m guaranteed my “stolen moments of peace”. I’ve even learned not to let the stress reflect in my yarn tension (THAT made for some interesting variations in the quality of past projects!).

    Now if I could only learn to knit over OldManKitty’s head, when he demands to drape himself across my lap… or maybe I’ll enjoy THAT peacefulness for itself.

  2. PuzzleDiva says:

    Yes, there is a Needlework Renaissance underway. Another form of needle work, cross stitch, came back into my life after 20 years. I started stitching a few days after September 11 when insomnia took hold of my nights. Living in NYC a mile from Ground Zero, I needed something to calm me down. Stitching did the trick. I continue stitching to this day. It keeps the NO-NO (NOcturnal NOshing) in check.

  3. Amy E says:

    I recently took out my cross stitch after a few years of it being tucked away, and I have remembered how enjoyable it is. It IS like meditation- the counting, the stitching back and forth empties your brain of any distraction- and it is so satisfying to see the results of your work. Watching that house or tree take shape brings a fulfillment that eating a pan of brownies cannot. it is a truly great distraction from mindless eating that so often accompanies a night of watching television.

  4. jappy says:

    This is all too weird! I JUST started crocheting again! Decided to do afghans for Warm Up America which will keep me busy. First there’s the afghan for youngest daughter’s SO; then baby blanket for grandbaby-to-be next year. Gracie kitty does think I’m playing, though! I keep the Warm Up America yarn at work & crochet when it’s slow.

    For sure, it’s kept me out of the kitchen.

    You remind me fondly of a time when the power was off & we were the only family in our neighborhood with oil lamps & candles and batteries in the radio. The my kids & step-kids did homework & played games by oil lamp. They were amazed we could survive without power so well and even have fun. It’s nice to be reminded we do have survival skills.

  5. Liz says:

    I was so glad to see your topic today. I started knitting a few years ago because it seemed so relaxing and I missed my grandma, who was an avid knitter. I have really noticed that it cuts down on my snacking. Now when my husband gets out chips or something I don’t want to touch them because I don’t want to get my hands greasy.

    I am also a nervious flyer who loves to travel (I know – bad combo) but I have found that crocheting (I need too much elbow room to knit so I can’t do it on a plane) requires just enough concentration to calm my nerves in the air. Just take toenail clippers to cut the yarn – no scissors.

    Thanks again for the great column.

  6. JuJu says:

    Sorry folks, but the spam kings are back. Going to turn off commenting, at least for awhile. Please join in on the Skinny Daily forum at The folks there are very cool and hardly ever bite…


  7. Robalee says:

    I’m writing because it seems like a longer than usual pause between your postings – and I hope that you’re OK. This can be a hard time for many of us, so I send my best and wishes for peace.

  8. JuJu says:

    Hi folks, JuJu here. Reader Darcy offered this:

    “Re your knitting column, there is a group, Warm Up America, that donates afghans to
    homeless shelters, nursing homes, battered womens groups and day care centers.
    Information is at

    Just finished two scarves and a baby blanket. Now attempting a sweater – keeps my hands out of the cookie jar.


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