Fruit of the twine

Sock knitting vs. Thesis

Posted by yarnberry on May 27, 2007

I am eight days away from depositing my Master’s thesis in preparation for my defense on June 18th.

I am also knitting my first sock, after several false starts. (Please don’t ask me about the Patons Canadiana sock debacle.)

Knitting a sock is a relatively straightforward process. Its shape is pre-defined, its demands are clear. When I begin, there is a pattern to follow. I know that I have 80 stitches per row, and if I wanted to I could probably calculate how many stitches I must knit in total, and how long it takes me to knit a stitch on average, and from there approximately how many hours it will take to finish this sock.

My thesis won’t be done until it’s done. At every stage, it has been very difficult to predict how long each step will take. Some large tasks have whipped by very quickly. Other (seemingly) small tasks have taken (seemingly) forever to finish. There is a rough guideline, but in fact, it only now, when I’m almost done, that the overall pattern of my thesis is coming clear. Each section and paragraph is slowly slotting into place. At the very end, maybe I could draw you a schematic.

It is so rewarding to see the sock spool out of my needles, stitch by stitch, row by row. After 20 minutes of knitting, I can hold the finished result in my hand and admire it.

There will be no finished product of my thesis until the very, very end, and that product will just be a stack of paper destined for the basement of the library. As I near the finish line, I am finally starting to feel like my research is Vaguely Interesting and possibly even Slightly Useful. But the sock — ah, I think a well-made, hand-knitted sock is something that can be loved.

The sock is so much more forgiving. Certainly, it was a little frustrating at first. But once I’ve finished knitting a section, I don’t need to go back and edit it 167 times. I don’t need to send the sock out to other people to read and comment. When it’s done, I won’t need to stand up in front of a bunch of people and defend any errors, inconsistencies, or confusing aspects of my sock. Unless it’s a true disaster or it doesn’t fit, any mistakes in my sock can be accepted as part of the “handmade charm.”

Through the endless months of this process, crafting has been my antidote to my thesis. Its tangible, row-by-row progress is soothing after hours of chipping away at my writing, trying to make my intangible ideas make sense to someone else. So, after I’ve been up until 2am on a Saturday night, writing and re-writing — I will knit for a while, and finally relax.


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