Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Do you ever wonder?


The spring light is everywhere. Even when it is cloudy, it is too bright to be without sunglasses. The light – as lovely as it is – is also merciless. Every single finger mark on every single surface is visible and very difficult to ignore. Signs of poor housekeeping are once again visible. Spring cleaning is about to start, but I am not quite there yet. The inspiration has not yet struck!

I have finished two pairs of Monkey socks since last time. Yes, I sound like a broken record.
Should I finally turn to some other sock pattern and stop knitting this same pattern over and over? I have not counted how many pairs I have knit but this pattern is still very entertaining. One pattern repeat is fairly quick and it takes the sock a long way forward. I have learnt to throw in my own numbers and the sock comes out perfect every time. The pattern is stable and the socks do not twist but stay on the feet very well. Should I start calling this sock pattern my basic sock recipe by Cookie A?

But just think how many great patterns I am missing while staying true to this one? But just think how many great sock patterns I have knit over the years that have not fit that well and are not that comfortable to wear. So once again, is it the process or the final product that counts? And just think what happens in my brain for the creativity cells if I keep repeating this pattern? But is it any different if I take another pattern by some other good designer? I mean it is still just following a pattern, isn’t it? I know once in a while it is good to take a rest and knit/craft something well planned but I guess, here this is not the case. Here I’m on a pattern of killing
my creativity. Or does it work so that when I keep repeating this pattern and thus being not creative, my mind will start to wander into other areas? And does that then mean that I will get less and less enjoyment out of knitting?

There is no knowing when you start a new pattern how it will feel once worn. If I put a stitch pattern on one side of the sock only, will it pull and feel funny; if there is too much going on, will it feel too big inside a shoe… If the toe and heel are right, does it really matter for the rest?

After all, if it were only socks that I want, I would probably find as good as or even better in the store for the same price. I mean I don’t think I have often bought one pair of socks for the price of 12 euros and some sock yarns cost that much. So obviously I’m not knitting for the sake of socks only. So why do I knit socks? Could it be because I am fulfilling some kind of creative pursuit or that I am thinking that I am fulfilling that? Who am I kidding? It is not very creative to be knitting after patterns or is it? So why am I knitting? Because it is fashionable and every one is doing it today and I want to follow the crowd? (I have knit even when it was not that fashionable, I knit but I was not proud of it.) Or is it because I find it very difficult to sit still?

This sock topic brings me to another one that I have been thinking of a lot lately. I have beautiful Alice Starmore books, I have one lovely Bohus kit and one as lovely Hanne Falkenberg kit sitting in the stash, plus lots and lots of very interesting books with exquisite designs in them and also few individual patterns. So what should I pick know? Or should I pick one?

Some time ago I read from somewhere (I think it was the Finnish Quilting Magazine) few wise words by a Finnish quilter Vuokko Isaksson. I have attended one of her quilting courses and she is a very good teacher. In the article she criticized that instead of teaching women and men and children how to use their own creativity, they are taught tools how to reproduce and copy readymade patterns. They are discouraged to think themselves. Creative minds all over the world are given patterns that they dutifully copy. And she compared this copying to these paint-by-numbers kits; do you know them? You buy a kit that has a pre-printed canvas with little areas that have numbers printed into them and then you start filling the canvas following the numbers and in the end you have copied – successfully or then not – one of the art masterpieces. She encourages all her students to follow their own creative mind and she insists that everyone is creative. Everyone. And most are just taught out of it.

So all in all am I just a copycat? Not a flattering thought and not something I’d like to be called but there is a lot of truth in it.

But what if I want to have a sweater exactly like Alice Starmore has knit in her books or a Bohus sweater? Should I then just go and buy the ready-made sweater and put my energy into something else? What if I don’t have the money to buy the ready-made or if it is not possible any more? Should I keep admiring them from the distance and focus on my own work, even if it never comes even close to these masterpieces we see around? Should I draw my inspiration from them only? I know a lot can be learnt by following the masters but there has got to be a limit for the copying, don´t you think? I know there even are discussions if one is allowed to add seams or shaping to classic patterns? Or people are discouraged to take their own colours so that they will not spoil the original design.

I am not worried of the designers… really, they are creative; they will come up with creative solutions even if I try to cut down on the buying new patterns and pattern books. They are used to using their creative minds. It is me that I am worried, why am I so keen on copying the patterns?

This is a small voice that has been nagging at me for quite a while now and the voice keeps getting louder and louder. How can I hush it down and return to maybe the tenth pair of Monkeys? Do I dare to hush it down? Do you ever think about this?

I don’t have any answers; I just have a bunch of questions?

Or maybe just one: do I knit yet another pair of Monkeys?

With warm Monkeys,



  1. Anonymous18:18

    I *do* think about this, especially with respect to sock patterns. I have one very very basic sock pattern that I use over and over again. I've used it so often that I can make these socks without watching, practically without thinking. It's very convenient for watching the news or movies in the evening. I can produce something useful with my hands, while the majority of my brain is taking in the news/movie.

    Every once in a while I do think about branching out, and every time, I wind up back to the same pattern. Some of it is because that they're easy to make. Most of it, though, is because This Sock Pattern Fits Me. It's okay to have a sweater or hat that fits a bit strangely. It's NOT okay to have socks that fit oddly.

    As far as changing the colors or patterns or seaming of sweaters, I'd say go for it. Make what makes you happy. (My same old sock pattern still makes me happy!)

  2. Sometimes it is comforting to just knit. Not to worry or think or puzzle it out. Just pick up the needles and feel the flow of the yarn through your hands.

    It is still a creative act. And there is comfort in that too. Even though I may be tired and uninspired, yet still my hands can create something that didn't exist before. Something that will warm the feet and put a smile on a face.

    With the return of light, I am also finding a return of my creative energies. It will build until it is an irresistible force and something will come of it. In the mean time, I will knit socks.

  3. Many questions, few answers... that's just how life is. :-)

    I think we learn a great deal from copying and following directions. Some of us are happy to do that our whole creative lives; for others it's not enough. But there is also a middle road--starting with a set of directions and then adapting them to one's own individual needs and preferences. I'd argue that that's a kind of creativity too--seeing potential in something that already exists, and making something new and different from it.

    In the end I think it's the pleasure you get from the process that really matters, whether you're copying, adapting, or making something from scratch.

  4. I think all creative people (and as you say, that's *every*one) think about these things. I sew quilts and have for over 25 years. I love the intricate, involved designs, collect their pictures or patterns in books to pour over and dream about. But when I sit down to sew, I make simple, traditional patterns over and over; Ninepatch and BrokenDishes. I call it 'no thinkum' sewing because during this season of my life there isn't the creative energy for *designing*, *scheming*, *dreaming* quilts. In the past when my life was calmer -inside and outside myself - I made a few 'showstopper', so I know I can do it. But they're a lot of WORK and right now I turn to my craft to REST. Maybe there's another showstopper inside me somewhere, but who knows when or if it'll surface.

  5. I too worry a little about my own creativity. I know it's there, but it likes to take long naps while I work on other people's patterns. I usually let it get away with that, but should I? I don't have a Bohus kit, but I want one and it's only guilt about my stash which has kept me from ordering it. The stash has a lot of things I'd have to think about, making it hard to use sometimes.

  6. What an interesting discussion. I wish I had an answer - or even something clever to add to the mix.
    The only thing I would say is don't overlook the creative part of interpretation, e.g. think how a musician makes a piece of music 'theirs', or an actor speaks lines as no-one else can!

  7. Lene, I think that knitting the same thing over and over, even something that you did not design, does serve a purpose. While your hands let the yarn run through, creating something lovely and restful, your brain is free to relax and wander. Coming back refreshed, you are free to create something new. It all works together.


  8. We knit socks because they are fun. We knit socks because they are fast.
    We knit socks because it amazes people that other people actually knit socks.
    We knit MONKEY socks because it is a fabulous pattern that fits many different yarns well.

    Go knit. Go knit MONKEY!

  9. Everyone's mind works differently and for some creating from scratch, puzzling out new directions and breaking new ground is a must. For others it isn't necessary...creating is a relaxing joy, not a crusade. Being comfortable with oneself and knowing how to express the creative drive is all that is needed. Should we feel guilty about knitting anything, whether someone else's idea or our own? We should all be creative in the way that brings us the most joy and no one should be able to tell us it's the wrong way.

  10. Learning a complex pattern is like reading a poem for the first time: it pushes you to think and to focus. But once learnt it has a rhythm and a logic to it. The genius of some patterns is that they retain their interest even when known off by heart.

  11. Hello!
    I think knitting well-known good patterns feed the creativity . No one create with nothing. We use what we know and it's always variations more or less geniously. This monkey pattern that seems so good certainly bring something to you, that you don't know yet, and one day it will bring out a new idea in your mind, but mixed with others designs, colours, stitches or so... all the things you have kept year after year. The more we know, the best we create... These socks are hatching eggs !

  12. I somehow doubt that any of the work you do - be it from a patern or not - could ever look like anyone else! I marvel at how original everything you do looks - right down to the photos you take of your finished objects!

    I use patterns as a guideline and as a break - sometimes the brain gets tired from too much creativity but the body needs to keep going.

    And, by the way, other knitters will never notice your finger prints - only you will. Enjoy the sun!

  13. I've been thinking the same thing lately, though less eloquently. And I, too have just knit some monkeys. They are addictive! I think our choice of yarn can be our creative input, and it's a bit like yoga - even when you are just going through the motions there is a lot going on in your subconscious without any attention on your part. It's quiet, meditative downtime that pays rewards, and those rewards come out creatively in other areas of life.

  14. Dearest Lene, your creativity shines, no, it beams, with so many of your projects... If you take the time to produce beautiful coverings for your feet and you enjoy the yarn slipping through your fingers, who is to criticize you for creating... socks? And even if you make a Starmore sweater in the exact colors and pattern from a book, have you not created a warm smile in your own heart by bringing the photograph to reality in your hands?
    Sometimes the stitches are enough, in themselves, to fill the definition of creation: "Voila! I've created Monkey Sock!" Sometimes the artful mind takes over and a whole new sweater springs from your mind to your needles.
    Both ways are good.

    (And seriously, if you're knitting to be trendy, you really need some bulkier, flashier yarn. Fun-fur, as it were...)

  15. Lene, Glad to know you are basking in the sun with your monkeys. Your interpretation of Henry VIII was awesome. I think you have a calling. Your picture of 'Tina' is so adorable too. Take it one stitch at a time.
    Wool be with you!

  16. I say if knitting monkey socks leaves you feeling happy and satisfied, then stick with it! You'll know when it's time to move on. The pressure to be creative when you're in the mood to knit from a pattern is exactly that--pressure.

  17. Well, I've been new to your blog recently and I love your Monkey Socks. The way you displayed them walking in the snow just cracked me up! And I love your dwg. too!

    So let's give a good cheer to "Monkey Socks"! :)

  18. I think it is ok to use a pattern over and over if you love it. You also do knit others and try out new ones you like, don't you? So keep going. And you make your own stuff.
    I think it is perfect and there is a time for everything! Oh and I don't see aproblem to add my own changes to something written down by soemone else - don't you do that with cooking or baking recepies, too? We just shouldn't call them our owns then. Just my 2 eurocents! :-)

  19. India14:53

    I knit many things--other people's designs, my own designs, and lots of socks. Though I enjoy the occasional lacy or heavily patterned sock, usually the socks are absolutely plain. I call them my relief knitting because I can work on them when I'm too tired or preoccupied to knit something more complicated, and I can still be soothed by the process of knitting and by the beautiful yarn turning into something both lovely and useful. And each morning when I'm getting dressed I open my sock drawer and see all these fantastic, colorful, utilitarian socks--it does my heart good. As for "copying" someone else's designs--when I knit a really fine pattern from someone else, I learn things, tricks, ways of seeing the stitches, that then inform everything I knit after that. There are seasons to creativity. Sometimes you need to express your own, sometimes borrowing someone else's is just what's needed. But as in all things with knitting, there is no overall right or wrong here, just what works for each of us as individual knitters!

  20. Hello Lene,
    Ricognize your question! I feel sometimes quilty too, but then I think: Trust your brain, perhaps it takes a rest for a wile! Knitting a pattern....I call it my "knittingblock" Now I enjoy to knit my inspirations and I enjoy to knit an others inspirations.
    I'm a happy knitter. Knittinglove from the Netherlands, Anje

  21. The Buddhists believe that in doing small repetitive things creativity is released.

    I think someone telling you that you must create is just as limiting as someone telling you that you must follow a pattern.

    The only thing you must do is follow your heart.

  22. As a fairly new knitter, I depend on other's patterns to help me learn the basics of design. Sometimes I take their pattern and tweak it to suit my tastes. Is that creativity? I know that I am a creative person because I create things that are both useful and beautiful. Does it make me more or less creative because I didn't think it up first?

  23. Anonymous22:06

    I've knit a couple of Alice Starmore designs and learned so much by doing them - it's definitely worth "copying" something when you learn tricks and think about designs that you can work your own way later on.
    Sometimes we also need those repetitive patterns that we can work on without thinking too much - if the socks are wonderful to wear, then why not?

  24. I knit for different reasons, some times what I want does not yet exist, so I have to design/create it, some times I knit to relax, so it is meditative, some times I knit because I want to prove I can, that I am able to knit this complex clever design by another. Some times I even design my knits because I want to show off, you know when you plan a complex thing to show you can,

    and lastly I knit to provide warm, loving things for people I care about, so i also sometimes knit the same sock over and over, mine is ribbed and toe up, with a gusset heel.

    On my academic life I work with students of design, teaching them to select the right methodology for the work they are doing - with knitting it is the same - select the same sock if the challenge is not the methodology that is right, select a bohus reproduction if the methodology is about being inspired and technically proficient, is the selection and the knowing selection that matters to me,

    I would be worried if everything you knit had the same methodology or reason, imagine a designer of knitwear who could sell patterns but not value and use the patterns of other designers, Imagine if you were limited to the vision of the original designer and couldn't modify any hand knit? the world would be a scarier place wouldn't it?

  25. and I've just read beths comment, I also knit to learn in an 'how did they do that' way.

  26. Anonymous04:23

    Why don't you consider your choice of yarn, modifications to fit your feet or those of recipients, etc. part of the creative act? And is there anything so bad about perfecting a skill? I played piano for a long time, and that meant a whole lot of scales. They're not 'creative,' they defy you to 'interpret' them, but they are part of the process nonetheless.

  27. I've not posted before but like to look at your blog.

    This is a GREAT post which I read very quickly: I need to go back and digest it. Your quilt teacher had some very valid points. A lot of "creativity" can depend on "how" you start -- when I started quilting I was started with mariner's compass and feathered star - not usual patterns for beginners. But I learned how to do those processes early. Then you are not so "afraid" to go forward. But I'm mostly knitting now, and am very happy to use beautiful patterns that people have taken the time to create. But most knitters usually ALWAYS change something, don't we!

  28. Suzy in Idaho07:45

    "More fun than a barrel of Monkeys" !!! Socks are fun, have fun making monkeys, monkeys are useful for making fun. Make a whole barrel full of monkeys!!

  29. Well Lena,
    What an enquiring mind you have! So creative! Also what a wonderful artistic blog you have, and what cosy feet!

  30. knittinginmind21:56

    I do not believe knitting from another’s pattern or knitting the same thing over and over kills creativity at all. On the contrary, when knitting from a pattern there are things to be learned, seeds planted for your own creativity. Whether it is seeing how to make a beautiful decrease or successfully combine unlikely colors, new ideas are generated. The repetition of knitting monkeys over and over allows your hands and body go into a rhythm that is soothing to your soul and allows your mind to relax and wander, or just relax. If you are like me, sitting and doing nothing, is not relaxing, but the repetitive nature of knitting a simple stretch is relaxing. There is no stress to knitting a tried and true sock pattern. With a clear relaxed mind your creativity can blossom. Creativity can be thrilling, frustrating, confusing. Knitting a repetitive pattern allows you to continue knitting without frustration and confusion; your creative mind can process without the pressure of waiting for the solution to be realized, without forcing an unsatifactory solution.

    I am currently fussing over a pattern that I want to alter, in the mean time I am knitting hats.

    What I DO wonder is how you produce such wonderful drawings and have time to knit. I LOVE your drawings. Do you draw quickly? I wonder, if I could draw like you, would I ever knit again? Your drawings inspire me. I think…someday...I will try to draw.

  31. Just go ahead and knit those socks. I don't think many knitters exclusively knit their own designs- many of us find joy in the journey of construction, whether it's our own design or not. (Many people express themselves by modifying the original pattern, or by subbing fibre.)

    Do what makes you happy! Even if you follow a pattern, no-one else can claim to have put the time and effort into those particular socks!

  32. Anonymous19:47

    Dear Lene,
    I think we shouldn't overestimate individual creativity. Maybe it doesn't even exist..! I think we all swim in one big collective sea of creativity, longing for beauty and joy of crafting. No one is really able to create something without all the artistic work done before. Our creative minds are fed with all the beauty and inventivity that others offer us, around us and in history. In the end I think it's not really possible to divide one's 'own' idea's from everything you have seen before. Maybe the real joy of making something consists not really of creating something new, but of linking you as a seperated individual, the material world (the wool) and this collective spirit of beauty and creation. I think that the question 'how new, how original, how proofable individually invented by ME' is eventually of no importance. Let's jump in the warm bath of this inspiring, yarn- and colourloving sea and simply enjoy it, be it re-creating or new-creating!

    I've never before react to your blog, but have been reading it since last september - have read all the old posts too - and love it very very much, so: thank you!
    Flora (buddhaknits at Ravelry)

  33. wow! what a thoughtful discussion..if the sock fits i say keep on knittin'. i love your blog name...monkey socks? at first i thought it would be like the kind they make the "sock monkey" out of but yours are way more kool and the colors are great. where in finland? my grnadmother was from laparanta and i have relatives scattered across finland. my husband is also of finn heritage and up here in da UP many many finns...they are the only ones who fly the flag proudly...whats up with the swedes and norse? only 18 today with more snow to come but i am fairly sure by may it will be dry and green, well, it was last year anyway. this is my firs year away from kauai where i lived for 35 years. always have lived within hearing distance of the pacific ocean, never lived land locked before althou we are surrounded by three of the great lakes and there are thousands of lakes in da UP.

    what would you like in trade for a current finnish quilt magazine? i dye, print and paint fabric...havent tried wool yarn or cotton thread yet but i am sure that is looming on the horizon >:-)
    althou dyeing wool takes different chemicals and dyes but i am up for the challenge

  34. In my head its like music. There were masters of composing that never ever get old or tired and hard on the ear, and people of great talent interpret that music in all kinds of ways. New expressions are found inside those same patterns of notes by each different player, all just a little different from everything every one has played before.

    Musicians are rightly applauded for their talented playing, and a good knitter should feel just as satified with the sound production of a pattern from any source, be it her brain or a book.

    Your interpretation of knitting is not going to be the same as Starmores, though you might play the 'notes' in the same order. How you interpret the patterns found in knitting or music is what makes the magic.

    Its all about scale perhaps. One day it might be a grand symphony of a Starmore sweater, or a Lene sweater, and one day it might be the country dance of monkey socks, but trust me. There is music in there and endless creativity and talent.

  35. Anonymous04:36

    The socks are lovely and they fit well-what more can you ask of a pattern? How many colours of yarn can you use without a repeat?
    Cheers. Naomi

  36. Séverine (Cidrolin on Ravelry)00:49

    Dear Lene,

    I've been a regular reader for months, because you never forget to think about what you are making, even if it's only that, just making something according to another's pattern. I do believe that one can't be creating from scratch all the time – and with two young children I find myself following patterns more than ever before -, and just making offers a different form of satisfaction. It's like growing a garden: you don't do much, really (like, you are not selecting plants to create a new variety), but you do get the satisfaction of seeing something beautiful and / or useful grow and of having your small part in that wonder. As others have said, your mind is probably at work in the background, just like a garden needs a period of rest over the winter. Spring is just around the corner !
    Thank you for blogging so beautifully.

  37. PF in Seattle07:17

    I am the kind of knitter that grows ideas from other designers knitting. It is difficult for me to come up with designs on my own. I freeze up when it is left entirely up to me. I used to think that I needed to get over that and just try harder. Finally I realized that it simply is not the way that I work. I now find great joy in knitting a project designed by someone else. I will make changes that I feel suit me better but, I need the foundation of someone elses design to get me going. Perhaps you could say that that is how I design. I thank those designers for giving me their creations.