Rules for Knitting in Meetings

All my life I’ve been a terrible fidget, and I’m easily distracted by visual stimuli. So in college I doodled and wrote stories in my journal instead of taking notes. As an adult, I’ve found that I tend to drift off into work if I use my laptop too much. But knitting keeps my hands busy while allowing me to listen and talk.

Over the last half-decade, I’ve worked out these rules for knitting in meetings. If you’re a knitter, or if you’ve considered learning to knit, I hope you find them helpful.

Read the Room.

Some meetings are just Not Good for knitting. Some meetings are Very Good for knitting. Best for knitting: all-hands kinds of events where you are basically an audience member. Worst for knitting: you need to be typing stuff or there are particularly high-stakes attendees.

Unfinished hat and ball of yarn
Sitting in an auditorium for an all-hands event? Time to bust out a hat!

Explain Yourself to New People.

If it’s a meeting that’s good for knitting, and you’ll be interacting with other people in the meeting, the other people should know that you aren’t being rude. When new people show up, I always say that I knit because it helps me listen better. (FWIW, knitting has quite a few health benefits!) Now that I’ve been at this job a few years, and other people have heard me talk about it, sometimes they say it for me.

Unfinished multicolored scarf
Knitting is a good hobby for other tedious activities, like flying. Plus seeking out yarn stores is a fun thing to do when traveling!

Select the Right Project.

If you have the right project, knitting in a meeting can be remarkably unobtrusive. That’s the goal: give me something to do with my hands so I’m not distracted without distracting anyone else.

Unfinished hand-knit sock about 2 inches long.
A sock in progress. This pattern features a simple four-row repeat.

Characteristics of a good project

  • Size: larger projects just take up a lot of space and call attention to the work. Go for something on the small side.
  • Complexity: if you’re constantly looking at the pattern, you’re distracted from the meeting. Same thing for lots of counting. I do sometimes work on projects that require some row counting, but a simple hashmark on a piece of paper or text document doesn’t take too much focus.
  • Apparent Complexity: some projects look harder than they are. Lots of cables; sock heels; toe grafting. (Naw, for reals: these are all remarkably easy to do!) But they look tricky to someone who doesn’t know knitting. So unless you can be totally unobtrusive, stay away from these features.
  • Frequent Stopping Points: this is a small thing, but projects with short rows or entirely in the round mean that you’re not trying to calculate time to finish a row against time to the end of the meeting!

So what sorts of projects are those? Well, here’s literally everything I’ve ever knit in a meeting. In general, scarves, cowls, beanies (or toques, depending on your Canadian-ness), socks (except for toes and heels), and mitts are all excellent choices.

Recommended patterns

These all meet the meeting project requirements, have good free patterns, and make great finished objects!

Now you’re ready to pick out some yarn, grab the correct needles, and sit down in your next meeting prepared to keep your hands busy and your mind on the work.

Finished socks shown at the beginning of the article
Knitting is just fidgeting with string, but then you also have socks or a hat or whatever.

Postscript: Learn to Knit!

If you’re thinking about learning how to knit, I got started with these resources from Lion Brand Yarn Company. I’ve also written a blog post about why knitting is cool with more resources for learning how.

I’ve also written about the overlap between knitting and coding, knitting and the Growth Mindset, and how picking a knitting pattern is a lot like picking an open source tool.

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