My 5 Stages of Holiday Sweater Grief thanks to Covid-19

A note before we get started, I do feel a little bit like I’ve felt all of the feelings about the holiday season this year. Not being able to see my family regularly, particularly the older members of my family, has been a gentle reminder about how lucky I am to have them. As I poke fun about the situation, know that keeping everyone safe this year is my top priority. Even if it makes me a little sad.

Stage 1: Denial

Back in September, I plotted three big projects. One of them was my accidental NPR shawl, another was my second attempt at the Stonewall sweater and the third was a Campside sweater. Each of these projects had a purpose: the shawl for adding some color to my winter wardrobe, Stonewall for hiking and Campside for Christmas.

As the stitches of Campside slid along my needles, I was oddly confident that Covid-19 wouldn’t get in the way of our traditions. There was even pure glee at the thought of my Cioci touching the soft cashmere blend of Capra and admiring the color. I could see us gushing on projects that we were working on and projects that we were planning. For 27 years, I have sat at my Cioci’s table and enjoyed a cooked Turkey. Why would this year be any different.

Stage 2: Anger

This stage sunk in as cases started to rise around me. Why is this still a thing? Why aren’t people following the CDC guidelines? Why do people still think that this isn’t real? Don’t people know that I’m working on a sweater that I want to show off?

Stage 3: Bargaining

At this point I had started the first sleeve. Perhaps if we all stay home and quarantine before getting together. Perhaps if we all wear masks we can all crowd round the dinner table. I’ll give up on the idea of everyone touching the squishy goodness of my sweater.

Stage 4: Depression

This stage sunk in when I received the official news in the form of a hand written note: we would not be celebrating in our traditional manner this year. I would not be knitting a few rows while we laughed about the Apples to Apples game that was taking place or sipping a coffee while admiring my Cioci’s latest blanket project (she’s a crocheter).

True, I was sad that I wouldn’t get to show off my special holiday sweater, but during this stage I was mostly upset that I wouldn’t get to spend time with my family (I can’t even make light about this stage).

Stage 5: Acceptance

I will wear my new sweater proudly, even if that means no one will be able to see it in person or admire how soft it is. There will come a day when I can see my family in person again, just not on Christmas Day. I am incredibly lucky that under normal circumstances, we are able to get together at all.

Stonewall, Take Two

Yellow orange yarn knit into a stockinet stitch gauge swatch.
Swatching for Stonewall in Wool of the Andes

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master something, which breaks down to about 20 hours a week for 10 years. If you break that down into a work week, that’s roughly five hours a day Monday through Friday. If you take advantage of all seven days then it’s around three hours a day. Three hours a day for 10 years in order to reach 10,000 hours or master level. Crazy.

Mind you, the 10,000 hours must be put toward something called deliberate practice or practicing in a way that pushes your skill set as much as possible (1). I learned how to knit sometime around 2006, which is over ten years ago now, but before I call myself a master I need to admit that deliberate practice did not come until I knit my friend a baby blanket for her first born in 2013. That’s only seven years ago.

I’m a good knitter. Socks come together without following a pattern. Sweaters patterns are modified and manipulated to my hearts desire. Cables are created without the use of a cable needle. I test knit patterns and am able to trouble shoot when there is an error. I’m a good knitter, but I’m not sure I can really call myself an expert based upon the above criteria.

About 8 inches of an in progress yellow orange handknit sweater, 3 inches of bottom ribbing and 5 inches of broken seed stitch.
Stonehill body

Recently, Princeton has conducted research to look into Malcolm Gladwell’s popularized work from over twenty years ago with the following question in mind: Why do so few people who take up an instrument such as the violin, a sport such as golf, or a game such as chess ever reach an expert level of performance (2)? Based upon Gladwell’s 10,000 theory, you would think there would be an easy answer: not many people commit 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to something. I think the point of their question, however, was really are people born experts (and then spend time practicing) or can you become an expert via practicing.

Before I get into what the Princeton study said, you’ll need to excuse my minor geek out moment. The study is a Meta-Analysis, which is something that I encourage my students to look for day in and day out. Essentially, a Meta-Analysis is highly transparent and reproduceable study design meant to answer a question using existing literature while minimizing researcher bias. In short, a team of researchers conduct a systematic search of the literature (using multiple databases) and then perform a title/abstract screen using inclusion/exclusion criteria. When that’s done, they then perform a full text screen using the same criteria. The leftovers studies are then used to write the review and if the data across the studies can be statistically analyzed, the team is able to conduct a meta analysis.

Part of my geek out comes from being a librarian and appraising the study before reporting it back to you. They did a pretty good job and followed the PRISMA reporting guidelines, not too shabby.

A yellow orange handknit sweater sitting in a sink filled with water and a splash of wool wash.
Blocking my Stonewall sweater

Anyway, despite their conclusion saying that more studies are needed to really understand this topic, they found that there are factors that influence skills outside of the 10,000 hour mark (think age and working memory). Which makes me wonder if some of the skills that I learned really quickly happened because I took up knitting seriously right after I finished college. AKA when I was looking to learn something new and challenge myself.

I suppose I wonder this because the motivation that existed for me to learn how to knit does not exist when it comes to learning how to better my crochet, sewing or embroidery skills.

This rabbit hole was inspired by my take two of Alicia Plummer‘s sweater pattern Stonewall, which came out a LOT better than take one. Admittedly, the bar was set pretty low when you consider that take one grew about a foot when I blocked it and I had never picked up stitches for a neckline before. The thing is, it’s still not perfect. I ignored all waist shaping because I usually like a boxier sweater, but I should have done a little bit of it. I also maybe should have gone down an additional needle size when knitting the neckline, even though I’m happy with the stitches for the bottom and sleeve ribbing.

A young woman wearing a textured yellow orange handknit sweater.
My Completed Stonewall Sweater

So where do I stand on the 10,000 hours thing? I would say it’s been a while since I’ve really pushed myself on a project, probably because I enjoy knitting that is semi mindless. That being said, I’ve think I understand how stitches can translate into a garment and can create a mental image of how something will knit up in the yarn that I’m using (pooling aside of course).

All in all, I think I’m mostly happy with my second attempt of the Stonewall sweater and think I’m going to continue to knit projects that inspire me.

Works Cited (Vancouver Style)

  1. Baer D. New study destroys Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule [Internet]. Business Insider. [cited 2020 Nov 7]. Available from: https://www.businessinsider.com/new-study-destroys-malcolm-gladwells-10000-rule-2014-7
  2. Macnamara BN, Hambrick DZ, Oswald FL. Deliberate practice and performance in music, games, sports, education, and professions: a meta-analysis. Psychol Sci. 2014 Aug 1;25(8):1608–18.