Wednesday, July 3, 2013

getting better at what we do

I was encouraged to do a 10K run 3 years ago, and I got hooked. But I have certainly learned a few things about taking on something new. And those lessons surely apply to our knitting.

What I learned from my first run 
I can do this!
A crowd (in this case, 10,000 runners) is very motivating.
Equipment matters: my running shoes weren't.
I would probably do better if I studied this!

I was proud of how I did in my first run. And I started dreaming of my second. Notice that I dreamt about it, rather than actually training for it.

What I learned from my second run
The motivation of the crowd doesn't help if you set unreasonable expectations.
I would probably do better if studied this!

So I thought about how it feels to learn something new. (I was learning how to run--something  thought I knew how to do, something everyone knows how to do, but which of course can be improved with training.) Now that I am training properly for a fourth run, I've looked at that training and realized how very much it applies to knitting.

So here's how we train to run, and here's how it translates to knitting.

Each week we do 4 kinds of runs.  
Translation We need to always have 4 kinds of knitting on-the-go.
How many of us don't do that? How many of us think we have to finish one thing before we start another? This is not, apparently, how one masters a skill.

Type number one is a short and slow run.
Translation This pattern will be easy and small--perhaps a pair of socks, something small for charity, something for a baby.
As we get better at something, we can easily forget the value of these little, carry-along pieces.
Type number two is a long and slow run.
Translation This pattern will be easy but long--a simple shawl in a lace-weight yarn, an Einstein Coat, a blanket.
This is the knitting we do while we watch a move--maybe a foreign film with subtitles--or as we read a book, or while in a meeting, or hooking up (forgive the pun) with friends. If the knitting for these events is too challenging, we could end up ripping long hours or work.
Type number three is anywhere between a half and the whole of our distance but approaching our race pace.
Translation This pattern will be more challenging and something we want to wear.
Race pace is the runner's goal, and isn't it a knitter's goal to knit what we wear, wear what we knit, have it admired far and wide?
Type number four is a short and very challenging, either sprinting or running hills.
Trranslation This might mean simply knitting complex swatches (from a stitch dictionary) or taking a class on a new technique. Or it could mean trying our hand at pattern drafting--short and simple to start, increasing challenges as we master it.
The results of the swatching or classes might be stuff we never use, but we'll be better knitters for the experience. The results of the pattern drafting makes us masters of our craft.

The other lessons I learned from my first 10K still apply:
  • join a group (a guild or a knit-and-chat circle) because they are motivating and we can learn from them;
  • equipment matters . . . because it just does.
And one final lesson . . . 
When we run, we are also encouraged to cross train: bike, roller-blade, lift weights, whatever. It doesn't make sense to do just one form of exercise, so we are encouraged to mix it up.

I translate this to knitting by believing that we should all be including other stuff in our hand-work: sewing, crochet, needlepoint, quilting, weaving, spinning, etc. We'll be better for it, and who knows what cross-over can produce. One of my greatest joys has been putting knitting and sewing together: if you have not already seen it, check out Nothing in recent years has been as exciting for me as the creativity that this cross-over has sparked.

We've all heard that it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something. But mileage without goals, without challenges, without training, without mixing-it-up doesn't make us better. What I've learned from running--and applied to knitting--is how to get the best from those hours.


  1. I really like this, made me think in a new way.. Thank you

  2. So beautifully said Sally. Thank you!