Knitting, Walking, and Memory

I’m sure most knitters/crafters have had this experience – you pick up your work and start knitting, and as you knit, you remember last night’s movie, or meeting, or conversation with friends. A bit of online searching turned up many scholarly research papers on topics such as “multisensory associative learning.” I don’t have the stamina to follow these up at the moment (or probably ever) but since what we learn enters our brain through sensory channels, such as sight or smell or touch, the ability to remember when that sense is stimulated makes, well, sense.

Last Sunday morning I picked up a sock, the second of a pair, and found that my careful grafting and weaving in of ends was time wasted. I had to pick it apart because it was shorter than its mate. I’m not all that fussy, but really, a pair of socks that will be a gift should be at least close to the same size. As I was putting the sock back on the needle, I had the familiar sensation of remembering the movie I was watching the night before. Now, of course, I can’t tell you what movie it was.  (The socks in question are the purple stripe.  This is the pile of Christmas socks finished to date.)

2014-12-14 09.59.30

Later that same day, I had a more surprising memory experience. I went for a walk into a wooded park area, not far from home. The winter my horse died I walked in there frequently. I needed more time in the woods, something riding had provided me. My foster horse now gets me into the woods, so I hadn’t been there much since then.  It was a grey, miserable afternoon, but I needed a walk break. As I stepped onto the lightly snow-covered path, Dickens came flooding back to me. (That winter when I walked that path often, I had been listening to an audiobook of Our Mutual Friend.)  All of a sudden, bobbing to the surface of my brain was the Golden Dustman, the River Thames, and especially a very funny scene where a semi-literate market stall owner is hired to read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire to the illiterate Golden Dustman.  Is walking also a pathway to memory?

winter walkrosehips

I think 19th Century giant novels like Dickens make satisfying audiobooks. Since they were often published in serial form, they work well as chapters picked up here and there, say when going for a walk on a cold, grey day. There is very little effort required to keep track of the goings on –

“But in the nineteenth century, breaking down the novel’s bulkiness into twenty snippets of entertainment allowed readers to “inhabit” a world, like a television soap opera, in manageable segments. Deprived of the luxury of installment reading, readers today find features of Dickens’s prose overbearing that would be much more appealing if read, especially read aloud, over a year and a half.”  Robert L. Patten

I don’t typically listen to modern novels as audiobooks. Somehow they don’t work for me. I just finished Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, which really enjoyed, but can’t imagine it as an audiobook.

What do you listen to when knitting, or driving, or walking?


8 responses to “Knitting, Walking, and Memory

  1. I have a pair of socks using that exact same purple-stripe yarn! 🙂

    For walking and regular (localish) driving, I listen to music. For roadtrip style driving, I listen to audiobooks.

    For knitting, I usually read and don’t listen to anything. Very, very occasionally, I’ll watch a dvd.

  2. I’ve only ever listened to an audio books twice. Once from Texas to California, and then on the return journey 2 years later. It was good, and if I still drove, I’d probably still listen to books like this. Since our neighborhood isn’t the best, it’s better not to listen to anything but your surroundings while walking.

  3. I listen to music when knitting, walking, driving; or I enjoy silence too. I should try an audiobook — might be fun to get caught up in a good story.

  4. All so true. There are knits I will wear even though they aren’t flattering because I remember how happy I was knitting them. Which is a little crazy. Once, years ago, I was met at the train station with bad news. I was just telling Dave that no matter how many times I come home to that train station, as I go up the escalator, just for a fleeting second as I can see the main lobby , I remember that day and wince.
    OTOH there are places that you can change the memory for if you keep going back.
    I listened to The Goldfinch on audio, it was so well done. I should try Dickens! Lately I listen to Serial, and I just got hooked on another interview /investigational style podcast, Stranger. (its not sci fi ,as you might guess, it is long indepth profiles of people you might not ordinarily meet, sort of like Serial but shorter).

  5. I tend to listen to audiobooks as I knit, although lately I’ve been struggling to find one and stick with it. I’ll give Dickens a shot.

  6. Thank you for a wonderful post! I had not seriously considered the difference in pleasure of tackling Dickens aloud in smaller segments to match the original readers’ experiences. I recently read Agatha Christie’s autobiography and mentions many times that she and her mother and sister read aloud Dickens and other authors’ works aloud to one another. I have a copy of Bleak House that’s been gathering dust on my shelf, but perhaps I should look for an audio version!

    • Thanks – I got the inspiration from Laura Miller, the book critic at, who wrote about her favorite audiobooks being long involved 19th century novels, like Trollope’s. I’d never read any, and ended up going through the entire Barchester Chronicles on audiobook, then to Dickens. I think the reader makes a difference. Some of the ones free at my library aren’t very good, and I ended up buying Our Mutual Friend. I’ve never read Agatha Christie’s autobiography, I’ll have to go look for that.

      On Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 8:14 PM, Yarnerinas wrote: > >

  7. I find that watching television while I’m knitting is okay, but for some reason, I can’t pay as much attention to an audio book while knitting. Curious.

    I’ve noticed that I often get more pleasure from a television or book serial when it is spread out over some weeks. I well remember the long serials of “Upstairs, Downstairs” or the shorter Poirots, for instance — my girls often want to chain-watch the episodes when we have them on DVD or Netflix now, and remain unconvinced that it’s often better to watch episodes one at a time — though I admit that rather often I imperiously make them do so!

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