‘Built into the contractions of the human heart, the skilled craftsman has extended rhythm to the hand and the eye,’ is how Richard Sennett* summarises routine. Rather than equating routine with boredom and mindless repetition, Sennett argues that ‘doing something over and over is stimulating when organised as looking ahead’ (p. 175). While thinking ahead to a finished product or a gained skill is motivating, the repetition comes to be performed for its own sake, a kind of cathartic release.
This is certainly something experienced by knitters, who, while they anticipate the finished garment, tirelessly knit stitch after stitch and take pleasure in it. People who do not make things always frustrate me with the same question: upon seeing a finished piece of any variety, they gasp and ask, ‘How many hours did that take you?’ Perhaps I could even answer the question if it was in the form of ‘how long’—perhaps a month or two, but only in the evenings, and I’m out several evenings a week—but something so specific as hours? This obsession with the commitment required to produce a final object starts from a false place that misses the point of crafts. If one knits, or sews, or paints, or writes, one knows that although possessing the consummation of one’s labour will be terribly rewarding, for now all that matters is the doing. A creative person is so caught up in ‘being as a thing’ (p. 174) and so consumed in the process, that she could hardly want it to end, and, indeed, immediately follows with another project so as not to have time elapse without the desired activity.
‘Sheer movement repeated becomes a pleasure in itself’ (p. 175).
* Sennett, Richard. 2009. The Craftsman. Penguin: London.
** A treat from an older travel sketchbook. I lived in Edinburgh a year, and this sketch was done on my street as the cherry blossoms exploded into Spring. This sketchbook marks the time I first started to take sketching seriously, having fresh material for my eyes, and started a habit that has become all-consuming.