Sailing Out of the Doldrums

May 29, 2018

The doldrums: an equatorial region of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and light unpredictable winds that has come to mean a period of stagnation or depression.

Sometimes we get stuck, the wind goes out of our sails and we lose impetus and direction in our crafting. I often feel like this during a long project, when the excitement of new ideas has passed and the execution is feeling a little tired. I also know that this is no time to leave a project, as completion brings its own rewards but in past I’ve tended to just push on regardless of waning enthusiasm, driving myself forward to the end.  If there is anything that a chronic fatigue condition has taught me is that there is another way, a kinder way forward that attends both to the long term goal and the dispirited self.

I have learned that having a rest and exploring something else for a while is both restorative and actually helps me get back to the project with renewed interest and perhaps slightly different perspective. I recently encountered the doledrums with Tuff Socks Naturally when the repetition of fleece preparation, spinning, knitting and testing had begun to feel grueling rather than intriguing. Instead of pushing through, I tried my new approach: I stopped and cast on something just for me, just for fun, just for play.

I turned to two balls of alpaca which had been enticing me since I received them more than a year ago, all the way from Northumberland in the UK. They hadn’t even made it into stash, as I knew I wanted them close at hand. I was quite sick at the time I received them and I couldn’t get my brain sorted to work out how to use them. So they waited comfortingly on the bookshelf in my room until the right moment. Then, after a wander through Mary Jane Mucklestone’s 150 Scandinavian Knitting Designs (2013), I spontaneously took up the yarn and cast on a cowl.

I used the motif on page 51 and 5 mm needles and just had a play. It was the most delightful knitting, the yarn was buttery soft but with a robust twist and the colourwork motif worked its compelling magic upon me. In next to no time, I had a lovely warm cowl, a head full of ideas and the energy I needed to keep going with socks. It keeps me warm on the walks to and from school as the temperature drops and the wind picks up for winter in Ballarat.

So when you find yourself in the doldrums, in knitting or in life, I hope you find something kind you can turn to till the wind fills your sails once more.


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  1. Thanks for sharing this project I have never attempted this style of knitting.Thinking about spinning different colours of gotland and doing a pattern.What ply do you suggest ???Are there any secrets I should know before attempting this style of knitting.No hurry to respond.Yes please do more for your self you can still share the journey

    1. Dear Cheryl, how marvellous to do some Gotland colourwork. You will have a ball. I think a 2 ply in a fingering or sportsweight would be lovely. I look forward to seeing the results.

  2. Your cowl is lovely. Your text entry is too. It’s like free verse.

    Stay warm and (get) well.

  3. So glad you were able to take up the alpaca! The cowl is delightful, and I could not agree more, that sometimes you need to put things down and await the return of inspiration and dedication. Glad you’re out of the doldrums!

    1. Thank you for ever so gently alerting me to a massive spelling error in doldrums…can you believe my autocorrect did not catch it! I’ve fixed it now. Cheers Mary

  4. Fascinating to hear the psychology behind dealing with your making doldrums, Rebecca – I think you were wise indeed to be gentle with yourself and embark on an easy project when stuck in a major one. I still need to learn this! – so often struggling when stuck in a rut, and that’s really very sad when knitting and stitching should be such pleasures. The cowl looks really gorgeous on you – and those Border Mill alpaca yarns are soft as soft – perfect to wear round your neck on chill mornings.

    1. It really is a cracker yarn kaydeerouge…many alpaca yarns are underspun and just don’t hold together but Border Mill yarn is very well put together. Yes, I do agree it is sad when we turn our pleasure into struggle. It seems I need to constantly be mindful of this tendency and softly transform it. My mind turns often to your latest embroidery post, the hidden faces and the gradual, spontaneous growth, truly a work drawn from the subconscious and deeply deeply creative. I wonder if I could ever ‘let go’ enough to try that.

  5. Picking up or starting a new project is a great cure for the doldrums. We’ve probably all been in that predicament, me included! I usually have 2 or 3 things going at once(spinning, knitting, weaving or sewing) to keep my mind involved in something. However, all my energy is completely sapped this week as the temps are in the 90s here!!
    Your cowl is beautiful!! I do love MJM’s patterns and your jumper is gorgeous! Continued healing for you, Dear Rebecca!

    1. Well, Elaine, there is little that help that lassitude that comes from heat…not even knitting! I never understood the multiple cast ons in the past but I think that is the key…to have something that you can turn to suit the energy inside. Just trudging is a bit awful.

  6. What a lovely cowl Rebecca. I’m glad you know how to be a bit easier on yourself and not fear losing your creative interest in an on-going process. I think it is like the all or nothing attitude that I lose myself in sometimes, and if I do that, it is a sure thing I give myself permission to just throw the baby out with the bath water! Maybe as we awaken to the reasoning that be a little gentle and kind to ourselves and others, it is OK to set aside a strained and difficult task. I will always think of the vision of drifting along merrily with a brief reprieve and when the wind comes back, full speed ahead with the project that had been temporarily put to rest. Your health is the most important gift we have to take care of and I’m happy you are doing that for yourself and your loved ones. Joanie

    1. What a thoughtful response Joanie, thank you. It’s funny, the cowl is not a grand thing, just a small project but ripple of rest and creativity that it created is a tonic. May you always have wind in your sails.

  7. You are a treat! And an inspiration to us all. Thank you for that look into the fearlessness of taking a break. Beautiful cowl.

  8. Such a lovely, kindly and helpful post, Rebecca! Finding myself at a low ebb midway through a breathing course, I’m following your advice and taking an evening to myself. I’d already planned it when I read this, but now you’ve made me realise that that’s what I’m doing and that it’s good. Nice also to feel your companionship in the quiet of a rural B and B in Dorset. And your cowl is beautiful! (As well as the sweater underneath it that I recognise).

    1. Dear Polly, Enjoy your quiet evening…I am envious that you instinctively know how to be pace yourself…I had to read about it, intellectualise it and then practice it self consciously before it became a bit more natural. How lovely to know that we are connecting whilst you are rural retreating…it the very best kind of interweb magic.

  9. I’m daily in the Doldrums with my nautical business, alternating with storms and squalls. Knitting and spinning are my refuge where I never care about the completion of the project, its the doing that gets me back to an even keel.

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