Projects: Process vs. Product

– By Anne Ferrey

When we started the Yarnfulness Project, our goal was to find hard evidence on the effect of crochet/knitting/crafting on well-being. In researching this, we’ve tended to think about the benefits of crafting as if they would be similar for everyone – despite individual differences, we have been thinking about crafters as one largely similar group. But is this the best way to look at it?

I find crocheting to be soothing – the actual handling of the yarn and the repetitive nature of the stitches have a calming effect for me.  That said, I wouldn’t be happy to endlessly crochet the same row over and over and never have a finished product. In fact, I often gravitate toward designs that include stripes or other colour or pattern changes, so I get to do something different more often and so it feels like I’m moving forward. I’m always delighted to finish something off and get quite bored with large, repetitive pieces.

I recently watched in wonder (tinged with horror) as someone I know ripped a single section of knitting out and then reknitted it six or eight times in an attempt to get it “just right”. I asked whether she didn’t think she should just embrace life’s imperfections and just get on with it (partly because it’s so frustrating even watching someone reknit the same section over and over). She told me that she actually enjoys the process of knitting, and therefore doesn’t mind re-doing the same piece until it’s right – it’s all knitting and she enjoys knitting, and the fact she’s not moving toward a goal doesn’t bother her. Repeating a step until she gets it right is fine with her because she is learning to do each complicated step, and the learning itself is enjoyable.

So maybe there’s more than one way to get benefit from creative arts. There are those of us who wouldn’t be happy to knit Sisyphus’s sweater: although we may enjoy the process itself, we need to feel we’re moving toward a goal and not repeating the same section over and over. However, apparently there are others who enjoy the process so much that they will quite happily continue to do this even if progress toward the goal is very slow and littered with setbacks.

It turns out that, unsurprisingly, knitters noticed this dichotomy a long time ago1. There’s a lot of information online about “product” vs. “process” knitters (and absolutely no scientific literature on this topic that I have been able to find). Generally speaking, a product knitter (or presumably crocheter) is in it for the finished product – they may or may not enjoy the actually knitting and only care about the end result. Process knitters, on the other hand, just love to knit and would do it even in the absence of a finished product. This often seems to encompass people who really like to learn new techniques – so learning is part of the process which they enjoy – as well as people who don’t really care to wear knitted things but just enjoy making them.

I think most people fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum. There are anecdotal accounts online of people who have boxes full of knitted swatches under the bed, but I suspect being this “process-oriented” is somewhat unusual. However, perhaps it is more common to be process-oriented to the extent of being willing to rip out a section out several times to get it right. On the other side, I suspect very few people who actively hate knitting/crochet are willing to continue with it just to get the end product – if there is no enjoyment of the process, it would not be worth the pain. However, there are probably plenty of people like me who will happily fudge the process a bit and put up with a few mistakes in order to get the finished product more quickly.

There’s a psychological construct that might align with this distinction. It divides people into “satisficers” and “maximizers”2. A satisficer solves a given problem by listing their requirements, and adopting the first solution that meets all the criteria even though it may not be the best possible solution. A maximizer, however, continues to search until they have found a solution that will provide the maximum benefit – even overlooking other solutions that might have quickly solved the problem. Interestingly, satisficers tend to be happier with their decisions while maximisers often feel disappointed with their decisions and doubt whether they made the best choice. Does this map on to the product/process distinction? I suspect it does, to some extent – people who are willing to rip out imperfect work are probably trying to maximise the benefit of the finished product. However, the satisficer/maximiser distinction says nothing about enjoyment – maybe this is another aspect of deciding how to use one’s time that is captured by the product/process division.

What do you think? Is this a helpful way to categorise crafters? Would “knitting for well-being” have to be tailored to a person’s preferences to be effective?

And do you identify as a product or a process person?

 

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  1. Pearl-McPhee S. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot’s Guide to the Land of Knitting. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, LLC; 2007.
  2. Schwartz B. Maximizing versus satisficing: Happiness is a matter of choice. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 2002; 83(5): 1178.

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