Knitting in meetings


Photo by Amanda Slater, used under Creative Commons license

I’m a knitter. Maybe you also knit, or crochet, or do other needlecrafts that are small and portable.

I knit in meetings and in other public places.

I knit in the pub while talking to friends.

 Can you really do that without looking?

This is probably one of the major issues that is going to be problematic about you doing needlework in a situation where people expect you to be concentrating on what someone is saying.

Chances are you are skilled at your craft, and you’ve brought a project that does not require a lot of concentration. I often work on plain stockingnette socks, for example. One stitch. Round and round for a really long time. Unless I drop a stitch, there’s not much need to do more than glance down briefly from time to time.

Other people in the room may not know how to do what you are doing. They will assume (wrongly) that the level of effort and concentration it would require for them to do it is similar to what you require. If you aren’t looking at what you are doing, that will just create a bit of cognitive dissonance. But their assumptions may lead them to assume that you are not paying attention.

You have to judge how much you care about this. In some situations it may be really important to be perceived to be paying attention. In others, it only matters that you know you are concentrating. Who gives a damn what that guy sitting next to you thinks?

Did I just see a lesbian socialist feminist academic doing needlepoint?

Sometimes the cognitive dissonance runs deeper. The recent death of a former mentor reminded me of this particular reaction.

Our culture draws a pretty clear line between the domestic and the professional. People also have some strange ideas about feminists.

Needlework is pretty firmly located in the domestic and tends to be the kind of activity that some are going to assume you have rejected as a feminist (especially if you are also a lesbian and/or a socialist). If you happen to be a man, a version of this reaction is pretty much par for the course.

Knitting in public is a political act, even when you don’t intend it to be.

Here the issue is not so much that folks will think you are not paying attention but rather that the cognitive dissonance is really distracting to other people. Again, you get to decide how much you care about this.

The benefits of knitting in meetings

In case some of the colleagues experiencing cognitive dissonance actually say something to you, it might be useful to know that some people concentrate better if they are doing something with their hands. I know homeschoolers who let their kids play with lego while they read to them because the kids actually listen much more attentively for longer if they do.

Needlework can also calm you down and help you take the time to think before you launch into that rant. And, though you probably won’t say this out loud to your colleague if you are busy knitting it is much harder to strangle him for being such an idiot and making this meeting go on way longer than it has to.

As many of my knitter friends point out, you don’t have to be patient to knit. Knitting makes you more patient.


  1. Knitting is one of those funny things. I remember my supervisor had a friend who was a cardiac surgeon at Harvard. She always knit at meetings because she didn’t want to be wasting time. It was a message to her male colleagues to make the meeting relevant.

    I, as a knitter, have not been able to bring the needles to a meeting. I have this feeling for some reason that it is rude. However, over the last couple of years I have noticed people, especially administration, are constantly checking BlackBerries and texting messages. Would my knitting be anymore offensive than this. Maybe I’ll try it at the next faculty meeting … I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. Your point about knitting perhaps giving you time to think before you speak seems to me a good one! And in fact I did start bringing knitting to department meetings years ago when we went through a long period of quite intense conflict over curriculum and priorities. I’m not a good knitter, but I still found it calming, and just distracting enough that I could listen and think without being overcome with stress and frustration. As Lynda says above, people bring lots of other toys or distractions along. Why should we think we can or need to decide for other people how much attention is enough attention, after all? I suppose there is the question of whether our soothers are distracting to other people.

  3. Dr Steph

    I don’t knit in as many meetings as I used to because it seems a bit career limiting compared to checking my iPhone and other things that make me look “productive”. I just knit though out a big conference and it was a pleasure to be able to do it.

    When I was an activist in big convention meetings I knit constantly. It kept me from being reactionary and jumpy and I listened better because I wasn’t squirmy.

    I see it as no different than doodling and way better than working on other work during a meeting which is rather rude.
    Dr Steph recently posted..Book Review: Knit AccessoriesMy Profile

    • Alacaeriel

      A few years ago, I was in student politics, and I knit in all the meetings. This was actually for a few reasons reasons. 1) it does help me concentrate (and proving to everyone in the meeting that I could knit lace and pay attention to what they were saying was very satisfying) 2) I was working on a major project with a deadline, and I always did like doing two things at once and 3) one of my colleagues in the meetings was heard to say “well, if she knits, at least something gets accomplished!”

  4. Ruth Ellen says:

    I feel exactly the same – knitting helps me pay attention better and not be too vocal in meetings. However, it’s not accepted at work meetings, so I have to do other things. Frustrating, though. Checking email makes me pay LESS attention.

    I’ve saying this for years: “As many of my knitter friends point out, you don’t have to be patient to knit. Knitting makes you more patient.”

  5. Ruth Ellen says:

    I’ve BEEN saying this…
    What happens when you try to finish a comment while on the phone…

  6. I don’t have many opportunities to knit at meetings since I am an independent yarn dyer and a part-time waitress! I do take my knitting with me everywhere, and I’ve been known to knit a row or two at a stoplight.
    I find that non-knitters think that knitting during a meeting or something that you are supposed to be paying attention to is rude. It doesn’t stop me. I just make sure that I make more eye-contact and get involved MORE than I normally would to make my point- that I CAN pay attention while knitting. The more we knit in public, the more it will be accepted.
    When I was a teacher, I used to walk around knitting while the kids were testing. The kids found it soothing. Nobody could cheat and I was close by so I could answer questions.
    I love knitting in public!

  7. When I turned 45 (seven years ago) something snapped. For along while I had a difficult time paying attention in full day meetings and decided that I had enough.

    I an an educator, At that time knew what I needed to do, and I was going to do it. So I started bringing my “mindless knitting” to meetings. That’s the knitting that’s mentioned above, row upon row of stockinette the for a sock or a mitten. Not something that you have to study (complex lace or cables), but easy stuff that keeps your hands busy and minds occupied on a certain level.
    And that is what motivated me. I realized that if I didn’t know enough about learning and my own needs as a participant in a meeting, and couldn’t defend it, then I shouldn’t be knitting. But I did. And some people questioned it, but some people joined in because I paved the way.
    Now I love full day meetings because whenever do yo get that much knitting time?

  8. And sorry that I didn’t say this earlier, but thanks for this post Jo. Such a great conversation. Thanks for starting it.
    Diana Twiss recently posted..100-Mile skirt update IIIMy Profile

  9. Elizabeth in VT says:

    I’m a knitter. There is regular knitting and there is “meeting knitting”. My knitting is usually a one-row-pattern scarf, on quiet needles, and if it’s an “all-hands” meeting I sit toward the back of the meeting so that what I’m doing doesn’t distract anyone else. This isn’t out of worry, just what I think is courtesy.

    We are a small office, but things can get contentious, and knitting, like Rohan said, somehow allows me to pay attention but maintain a distance from the emotional undertones of some subjects or even some speakers. I was taken to task by the Dean once, who made a remark on the order of “You seem to be knitting more furiously these last few minutes”, to which I replied “But I’m not arguing with you, am I?” which got a smile out of him and brought down the rest of the house. He has not mentioned my knitting since.

  10. I knit my way through college classes and 20+ years of corporate meetings. Sometimes it was the only way to stay sane. Sometimes it kept me much more focused, as you and several other commenters here note. I’ve always said that knitting is like doodling; it occupies that part of the brain that wants to wander.

    Now that I’m self-employed, I knit through most online conference calls and teleclasses.

    But I NEVER knit when I’m on the phone with a client!
    Grace recently posted..Playing with oppositesMy Profile

  11. This reminds me a lot of the benefits of doodling in meetings, which also assists in our ability to concentrate. Maybe it’s time to get out my needles again :)
    Sue recently posted..AHH Mandala – First in a SeriesMy Profile

  12. Thank you for this! I find knitting so calming. I don’t have to be in meetings these days, but if I ever have to again, you’ve given me the backing I need to knit in them – especially your point about knitting in public being a political act, especially as a bisexual feminist and anarchist :-)

    I have a friend who does needlework in Friends meetings, as it helps her enter the quiet. Sometimes other Friends object, not understanding that it is her way of staying fully present.