In today's Sydney Morning Herald there's an article by social commentator, Hugh Mackay, on the value of 'the arts' to society. This is the central argument:
'We talk endlessly about the need for "balance", by which we usually mean the balance between work, family and leisure. But there's another quite magical possibility: balancing the stresses, disappointments and tedium of life with the therapeutic release of tension through some form of regular creative outlet.'
I think this sums up the reason so many knitters value their knitting so highly. I particularly like the notion of the 'therapeutic release of tension'. Knitting is a series of manageable challenges and projects in the chaos of our lives; something we can control when much of the world is beyond our control; a personal satisfaction when other parts of our lives are about 'making do'. Hugh Mackay would argue it promotes well-being and relieves stress.
If you accept this argument, it's remarkable that we introduce possibly stressful deadlines and demands into the world of our knitting. I've just finished the 100 gram Challenge Swap organised by the Australian Knitters group on Ravelry. This required knitting an article from 100 grams of yarn for a swap partner, meanwhile concealing your identity, but trying to discover the partner's preferences and tastes to ensure the article might give them pleasure. Deadlines; possible uncertainty, anxiety and stress.
I made some mitts from Noro Silk Garden Sock yarn, and then a small bag from the remainder of the skein. My swap partner is travelling to New York at the end of the year, so I though both these objects might be of use to her.
I've re-visited Noro stripes - knitting 2 row stripes alternately from the inside and outside of the skein. Noro stripes are not quite as much an obsession for me as garter stitch, but are heading in that direction. For the mitts, I tried to match the cuffs, but then let the stripes for the body of the mitts order themselves as the colours came from the skein.
The bag was great fun to make. The pattern is the Soft Drawstring Pouch from Joelle Hoverson's Last Minute Knitted Gifts, adapted to accommodate the Noro stripes. It's presented as a 4 to 6 hour project - but if you knit at the pace I do, it takes significantly longer to complete. This simple project has lovely finishing touches - a rolled top knitted on more stitches than the body of the bag to ensure a generously full top, and a tasselled i-cord to draw it closed.
So, I've completed some knitting projects in a context that would usually bring me stress - deadlines, and uncertainty about whether the recipient would like the gift. But I've not been the slightest bit stressed by the swap. I've enjoyed it. The delight of knitting seems to outweigh the angst of deadlines and uncertainty. And, of course, those of us participating in the swap are doing so for the mutual pleasure of knitting a gift, rather than the satisfaction of some perfectionist acquisitive desire.
To quote Hugh Mackay again:
'Can you think of a better way of fostering a sense of community, promoting mental health and well-being, and reducing the debilitating effects of our competitive, materialistic way of life?'