Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Scott Perkins: To Knit, or Not to Knit

This week I've shaken the Treehouse once again and Scott Perkinswriter, craftsman, humorist, and Giant Robot wranglerpopped out to tell me to get the heck off his lawn. When he found out I wanted him to write a blog post, he was only to happy to put down his knitting. No, honestly. Quite happy! 

When Maggie asked me to write something for her blog, I had only the vaguest notion of what I was going to write about. The creative process is my usual muse for these things, but then something happened. A couple of weeks ago, despite being of sound mind, I asked my wife to teach me how to knit. I would really like to lay this on the fact that I was actually quite ill at the time with the latest strain of influenza, but I can't really blame the flu. I actually wanted to learn how to knit.

I'd planned ahead, you see. I knew going into this year that in spite of my pledge to keep active by learning all the major trades of Tudor England (and then write about them, of course) I was at some point going to end up on the sofa staring at the Netflix queue and wishing I could go outside and do something useful.

Also... rain. Living near Seattle, I had to expect rain delays.

So I made a short list of "Sofa Projects" and set it aside for those days when I couldn't do anything more interesting. At the top of the list was knitting. Kristin, my saint of a wife, volunteered to teach me.

After two solid weeks of non-stop knotting (not to be confused with actual knitting) I finally had an actual bona-fide hat and had confirmed once and for all that this craft is every bit as tedious as I thought it would be. After I finished my hat, Kristin made one from the same pattern in less than three hours.

I will never be a knitter.

I would happily hand-copy the Magna Carta with a quill pen, or paint a portrait using tiny dots, or carve a whole tree into The Thinker with a pocketknife but please, for God's sake, don’t ask me to knit a scarf. Kristin finds knitting all kinds of fun and would rather set her hair on fire than do any of the other things I mentioned. She makes enormous beautiful lace shawls and cozy knotwork fishermen’s sweaters. She seeks out the most complicated patterns using the finest threads and the smallest needles. She tells me that she finds the repetition meditative. She has several projects going at once and a backlog of projects ready to go at a moment’s notice. She’s also an engineer and can assemble robots from what are to me meaningless strings of wire and code.

I find her entire career mind-blowing; I simply couldn’t cope with what she does every day.

Which makes me think of all the times people have said to me “I couldn’t write like you do, day after day, it’s just so tedious.”

When someone says that, I bristle mostly out of habit. Because in a way, they’re right. It does get pretty tedious sometimes. This is part of why most writers keep several stories in the tumbler and can switch gears with things bog down in whatever they're working on. Kristin's multiple projects are there to give her a change-up when that lace scarf gets to be too much of a pain and she needs a break.

Many writers will tell you that they like having written much more than they like actually writing. Writing is hard work. When someone at the college writing center where I work asks me what it’s like to write for a living I tell them that it’s like volunteering to do homework every day for the rest of your life.

And I’m only sort of kidding.

Long before I spent two weeks trying to turn a fraying cat’s cradle of yarn into a hat using a pair of sticks, I realized that everything from knitting to sculpting to painting a portrait and building a robot was made up of moments of joy stitched together by long stretches of monotony. A huge portion of our lives are made up of finding where our tolerance for tedium lies and find a matching pastime.

Over the past twenty years, Kristin has taught me to knit, embroider, and sew. And while I actually enjoy sewing, the rest is just something I have to finish before I get to move on to something more fun. Rather the way most of the students I encounter every day view writing: Get the paper done, get the grade, graduate, and for the love of all that’s holy, please never make me write another thing as long as I live!

The rhythms of language and the tap of the keys are the soothing notes that punctuate most of my memories back to a very early age. Poring over texts for the odd and the esoteric are my idea of fun. Synthesizing what I learned and putting it on a page as something new and – dare I hope – fresh, is a glorious thing to have done even if it's not always easy or exciting to do.

The fact that other people would rather set their hair on fire than do it just makes it better somehow. I feel that way about knitting and having tried it didn’t change my mind. In fact, it made me appreciate all the more the fact that she was willing to put up with it so that I have warm sweaters and mittens to keep me warm. Just as she, I hope, appreciates that I write funny stories for her to read so that she doesn’t have to.

This strange business of putting words on paper is my favorite brand of tedium. I hope you find yours and someone else to appreciate it with you.

Scott Perkins is a Writer and Artist (and brilliant creator of  book covers --mps). When he's not managing a college writing center, he blogs about writing and literary culture at Each year he takes on a Massive Crazy Project, chronicled in blog form. Last year was an online science fiction farce called Howard Carter Saves the World and this year it's to become the ultimate renaissance artisan, currently underway at Come join the fun!


  1. As both a writer and a knitter, I can see both sides. I agree with your wife, knitting even complicated patterns is meditative and can help with working out plot-knots.

    Lovely post, thank you.

  2. Nice one, Scott. You may not have the temperament to knit, but you sure do understand it.

    I knit *and* write - and the two are counterweights to one another. When I am knitting, I am plotting something to write - and the knitting is always there when trying to write another line will result in a cerebral hemorrhage. But neither one is actually tedious. In fact, with all the things that can go wrong with both creative processes, they are almost too exciting to survive!