knitting in public

There’s a certain kind of knitting in public that seems to cause a lot of debate. I have OPINIONS and have decided it’s time to come clean.

I knit in meetings: in public, in front of coworkers, on the clock. Apparently this fact would be SHOCKING to some people. But I don’t completely understand why. Let’s review the basics:
I pay attention.
I make eye contact.
I take notes.
How then, could my knitting be a problem? I don’t think it is, which is why I keep doing it. For those of you who are squeamish, but wishing you to could be knitting at work here are my suggestions.

First, maybe a little background would be appropriate. I work in science, (not always a female dominated field) I knit in lab meetings, and at national DNA conferences. Only you can judge how open people in your field would be towards knitting. You need to take into account a combination of things. How will your direct supervisor view this? Management? Are you looking for a promotion? (hey, in my lab knitting might be a positive for that question) These are all key questions. I don’t pretend that just because I can “get away with” knitting at work means it’ll work for everyone.

I didn’t just show up at a lab meeting one day with my knitting. Before taking this step I asked permission. After all, I AM on the clock at lab meetings. I actually stopped into the lab director’s office during break and asked. He looked at me thoughtfully for a moment, and had an interesting response. He explained there was a woman who showed up at town hall meeting day every year with knitting. And she had opinions, she was involved, she spoke up frequently. The lab director said if I could be that involved while knitting I was welcome to. Clearly I owe a lot of knitting time to that woman at town hall meeting day.

I also think this brings up a key point. How involved can you be while knitting? I can knit a plain sock cuff in the darkness of a movie theater. Touch knitting isn’t any harder than touch-typing, but both take practice. I don’t bring complex lace to meetings because I don’t want to be distracted. Judge your own skill level when you consider knitting at meetings. I can work simple repeats and decreases with markers while following a sub-titled movie, and so I stick to that level of complexity during meetings.

Asking permission of the presenter (or your lab director) is a great way to make sure they’re not offended by your knitting. It gives them a chance to say “no.” My rule of thumb is to ask permission in any small meeting where my knitting might actually distract the presenter. If the group is 40 or more people chances are good the presenter won’t even notice me, halfway across the room, subtly knitting under the table while taking notes.

Because yes, I can take notes and knit. I have this technique down to a science (heh, I’m so punny.) My tension is generally tight enough that if I let go of a needle the thing doesn’t fall out of the stitches. So I can stop at any point: mid-chart, mid-row, mid-decrease, to use one hand for writing. I always have a note pad (or presentation print-out) in front of me. And I leave the pattern tucked underneath (because remember, whatever I’m knitting is simple enough I can check the pattern once every 10 minutes or so) It helps a lot that I’m left-handed, knit right handed, and I throw instead of picking:

knitting hands

My left hand is never really doing anything beyond maneuvering the needle. So long as I’m not doing anything crazy like cabling without a cable needle (bad plan in meetings) I can stop at any point to write something down.

Once I was comfortable knitting in lab meetings I started to think about larger venues. A four-day conference is a lot of knitting time! I started knitting at conferences later than knitting at lab meetings. It helped that my coworkers had gotten used to seeing me knit and take notes. The other person who helped was the crocheter at the back of the room the very first time I attended a national conference. I figured if she could craft, then so could I. In fact, my knitting has encouraged several other folks who attend every year to bring theirs as well. We’ve practically got a little knitting circle going! We sit together, taking notes, and knitting. There’s strength in numbers my friends, and you never know how many other knitters might show up until you try.

Honestly, I haven’t had ANY negative reactions to knitting in meetings. These days a lot of people comment that I’m clearly paying more attention than the folks playing with smartphones. I’ve had other colleagues comment that I appear to be the only one not drifting off after lunchtime. Anyone who thinks my knitting is odd must be keeping it to themselves. The people paying attention can see that I am too, by the way I ask questions, give opinions, and react to the speaker. And the people paying more attention to the crowd than the presenter? I decided long ago those people’s opinions don’t really matter.


18 responses to “knitting in public

  1. This was wonderful to read! As someone else in a science field (med student), I’ve started to cautiously broach knitting in public during classes and presentations. I don’t do it in small groups where great participation is required of me, but it does keep me awake when I have four hours of sit-in-one-spot lecture ahead of me. And the people that complain about me knitting being rude or a distraction? They spend that lecture on Facebook. I wonder who is being more rude (:

    • Re facebook people: exactly. I think the people who are actually paying attention to the speaker are less likely to be distracted than those folks who’ve already distracted themselves.

  2. I completely agree. Also, I think it’s worth noting that for kinesthetic learners, they are actually able to better pay attention and retain the information if they are able to, say, do something with their hands during a meeting or presentation.

    I knit in meetings and in conferences as I feel comfortabe and if I have an appropriate project (ie, something that is not too large to be in the way or be too complex that it requires most of my attention). But since I normally knit while listening to an audiobook or watching TV, I am well-practiced at knitting while paying attention to something else.

  3. Hmmm, I dunno…I don’t think I’d knit in public or at work or whilst in conversation with someone, except another knitter. Because other knitters know that you can do both things at once.
    I mean, if I was having coffee with someone and they started doing paper-mache, or molding a clay figurine while I was trying to talk, I might be a bit offended.

  4. Lisa-Marie haugmoen

    Having grown up in Norway,we were allowed to knit in class as it had been studied that those who knit paid more attention,retained more( we have verbal as well as written exams in front of a board of examiners) and were more interactive in difficult/important discussions etc. I knit everywhere and it is the best ice breaker there is! I also get a lot of projects finished.

  5. I’ve been knitting during classes for years. I started when I was in high school taking online classes where the teacher taught via audio – that was a lot of time just sitting in front of a computer listening! – and then when I started college I took it along to class there as well. Mostly I would try to ask the professors if they minded, and I did explain that I really pay better attention if I knit – it’s a sort of controlled fidget, which keeps me from doodling or spacing out. Some of them were skeptical but none of them forbade it, and I made straight A’s so they realised it didn’t hurt me :)

    I also have a lot of practise at knitting-and-something-else. When I was a kid I read almost constantly, and I realised that if I were ever to have time to knit I would have to be able to read and knit simultaneously. So now I can do just about everything except complicated colourwork or REALLY tricky lace while reading or watching TV. It’s great!

  6. I agree–I knit at our annual training for tour guiding and it really helps to keep me awake and not fiddling with my phone. It’s not that it’s boring; it’s that seven hours is a long time to sit and pay attention, and if I have something to do with my hands, it helps me to listen better. There are a hundred people there, including my boss and her boss. Nobody cares, and I had a good conversation with the assistant curator, also a knitter, one year. I think this was my third year doing it.

    It’s been a while since I had a work-mandatory meeting at teaching, but I tote my knitting all over campus, so people are used to seeing me with it at book talks and other optional things. I don’t knit while I teach, but definitely during office hours and while proctoring. And when I was a student, I would knit during film class. The professor found it weird but harmless. I tend to tell people it’s a nervous habit that keeps me focused. They seem to have heard of that before.

  7. I started taking my knitting to our continuing education conferences a couple of years ago. At first my boss and coworkers were a bit skeptical, but when I was the only one not struggling to stay awake after lunch (imagine eight hours of tax law updates… not exactly stimulating material!) they saw the value of it! Now no one blinks an eye, and like you I still msnage to take notes and keep up – I think I retain MORE because my mind isn’t jumping around thinking of other stuff. Knitters Do It Better!

  8. I am really amazed how many others feel they retain more of a meeting while knitting. I find that my mind is too active to stay on the talker if my ‘side track’ area of the brain isn’t busy with some hand work. (I crochet and knit)

    • I definitely think it depends on the person! That’s part of why I point out that I can knit in a dark movie theater and while following a subtitled film. Everyone’s brain is wired differently, so it makes sense that it’d be different for each person.

  9. I’ve been knitting in class for years, and I rarely have a problem with it. I tend not to ask professors beforehand, but few have ever told me that I should stop. It’s certainly easier for me to stay focused, and I can take notes just fine.
    I actually posted about this a while back.

    • I always knit in lecture halls. In small classes with desks I would ask first. I have had lecturers/teachers worried that my knitting would be distracting to THEM while they tried to teach. So I try to be understanding of that :-)

  10. I just started knitting about 2 years ago and I never “just knit”. I am always watching tv or doing something else. I took my knitting along to a training and asked the presenter ahead of time if she minded and she said that she didnt and I was amazed at how much more focused I was and how I didn’t have to fight with the usual afternoon sleepiness. I recently attended a week long conference in Vegas and took my knitting along. The one afternoon presentation I dropped my cable needle and couldn’t find it and that was the longest 2-3 hours of head bobbing and trying to stay awake. From now on I will carry extra needles! LOL

  11. If I can’t knit, I need to doodle to keep my brain focussed. That’s just the way I am, hands must be moving! I’ve knit through professional commercial photography conferences and had a lot of comments & sideway looks, not surprising, its by far a male dominated field. A friend who works in mental health said almost everyone knits at their professional staff meetings. I think that says it all.

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