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Everything Could Use a Sweater

Even beer bottles, books, and rocks.

Alanna Okun

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I’ve made sweaters for a lot of people. In the 20-plus years I’ve been knitting, I’ve swathed newborn babies, beloved roommates, and, of course, myself, many times over, in handmade cardigans and pullovers. I’ve never knitted a sweater for a significant other — knitting lore contends that if you dare attempt this before marriage, the relationship will end, which is a) extremely dated, b) statistically unsound, and c) a central theme and also the source of the title for my very first book — but I have crocheted one. Sweaters, with their sleeves and their head holes and their expansive coziness, are one of my all-time favorite things to make.

I’ve also made sweaters for a lot of not-people. The most egregious of these enrobe a collection of rocks in my apartment, which I picked up near my parents’ house by the beach and proceeded to cover in lacy cream-colored yarn. I’ve made tiny sweaters destined to be Christmas ornaments or displayed around the necks of beer bottles, and this past weekend, wracked with nerves about its impending publication, I made a sweater for my book.

This is, to be clear, indefensibly twee behavior. Even though sweaters for rocks and books require less effort and materials than those for humans, they still take a not-insignificant amount of time and money (yarn is expensive!). That’s time I could have spent being productive: cleaning my house, or catching up on work, or even making something for a sentient being that would actually appreciate it. I could be checking an item off my to-do list; I could be helping make the world a better place; I could be moving forward.

But that’s exactly why I love these occasional projects: They’re the opposite of productivity, called for by nobody but me and my craft- and miniature-obsessed brain, bringing nothing into the world besides a small measure of zaniness and joy. They’re not meant to be the building blocks of a life. Sometimes — often — I forget that not everything has to be.

I’m an anxious person (which makes me extremely one-of-a-kind, I know) and the way I try to combat it is by arranging my life into neat, quantifiable blocks. I don’t make plans without an accompanying GCal invite; I keep a careful record of how much water and booze I drink, how many books I read, and how many words I write per week; I have an app that reminds me to take my medication and go to the gym. I write to-do lists every day, even on the weekends, and my work email hovers around inbox eight. For the most part, all of this suits me. It soothes me. It doesn’t all come naturally to me, but the alternative — chaos, unstructure, and the accompanying paralysis — scares me too much. I worry sometimes that if I slow down, I won’t be able to start back up again.

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting is available now from Flatiron Books.

Crafting, though, is a break that still feels worthwhile. I mention this briefly in my book, that it “replicates the motion of productivity without the pressure,” and this is doubly true for projects that serve no function at all. It feels good to conceive of something solely for your own amusement and then to execute it, exactly (or at least closely to) the way you want it to look; it feels good to scroll through your Instagram or glance at your desk and see the results of your tiny, gloriously pointless labors. It’s an antidote to the sneaking fear that you’ll never make anything of value, big or small.

I have a lot of big projects I want to complete. I just finished my first two blankets, and would like to make more; I’d like to write another book. I want to learn audio editing and Japanese, and I want to make more sweaters, for babies and boyfriends and myself, and I know that all of this will only happen if I work at it, one day and stitch and sentence at a time. But in the meantime, maybe I’ll clothe more stones and hardcovers; maybe I’ll move on to something even weirder, like eggplants or mailboxes. I still want to leave room for the lovely, and the unexpected, and the small.