3 Hours and a Jumble of Yarn

A few weekends ago, I looked around my house at all the outstanding projects: tidying up, laundry, dishes, general cleaning, and inside I said “no.” Call me avoidant but I picked up a tangled, unlabelled mess of wool, previously gifted to me in an old plastic bag, later shoved into the corner of my office with mental note to attend to it, whenever, and decided that this was where I wanted to direct my energy.

Truthfully, I didn’t have a lot of energy. I was at the end of a mild cold—the first in 3 years—that was having an impact on my body that would have been child’s play, formerly. I optimistically took out my yarn ball winder and clamped it to my desk, thinking, with a few strategic tugs, that I could unravel the yarn mass and get to winding. I started laughing to myself when I realized that I was on minute 20 and I still hadn’t found one of the yarn ends. I took the yarn upstairs to where it was warmer and started complaining; a family member asked how long it would take before I gave up and cut the yarn, creating my own end. “Not yet,” I said. Shortly after, I found it.

Then I asked myself how I wanted to approach this project. Would it be a problem to “conquer” or something to teach me?

So, I suppose this article is about what I learned from a jumble of yarn.

Some of you may have seen the therapy meme  about the client’s mind that is a tangle of yarn, attached to the therapist’s mind, which is winding it into yarn balls. As a knitter, I relate a bit to that metaphor, although as a therapist, I think that the counsellor is a conduit, but isn’t the one actually ‘holding’ the neat balls of yarn: the yarn balls ultimately circle back to the client. And as I thought of this meme when holding my yarn jumble, I also noticed that the only therapist in the room was actually me. Client and therapist were one! Would I be able to detangle this yarn ball literally and metaphorically?

Lessons from a Yarn Jumble

What is starting anyway?

As I’ve referenced above, it didn’t take me too long to figure out that this was going to take a while. I almost gave up when I tried and tried to find one of the two yarn ends, and then half an hour into it, eureka! I could finally get started. But, before, I could officially start, I noted that I had actually started: Holding the yarn, loosening it, appreciating its beauty, opening up in willingness to straighten it out were all starting points. I didn’t need a yarn end to start!

Sometimes it gets harder first

When I found one of the yarn ends, it was buried deep inside the yarn mass. And as I gently tugged on it, to try to free it, the surrounding yarn only hugged it harder. I was working in millimetres for what seemed like the longest time, and I had a flash of discouragement arise. Should I give up? “Do I really want to do this?” I thought. But I persisted and I noticed that I started to get a bit more familiar the yarn and its ‘behaviour,’ and then sometimes its path would “throw me for a loop” again. Something like a pattern of challenge-ease-challenge-ease. I kept thinking, “So much of my life has been like that.”

Yarn’s gonna do what yarn’s gonna do

Anticipating where the yarn would take me next was next to impossible. Just when I thought that I figured it out, I would hit another knot. I realized quickly that I couldn’t control this thing and all I could really do was respond as best as I could, to the yarn situation immediately in front of me.

Easy does it

I have a little experience untangling much smaller quantities of yarn and the one thing I remember distinctly: the gentler you are, the better it goes. Any vigorous tugging only tightens knots. This made me think of all the times in the past that I’ve figuratively tried to jam a square peg in a round hole, which of course, never works. It’s an interesting approach to try to be gentle with a project that can incite frustration. But it’s a great way of cultivating a practice of internal stillness within difficulty.


I’ve referenced this above, but I realized pretty quickly that this yarn situation was a process thing. One of the things that I didn’t anticipate, was that it reminded me of sitting meditation. In the kind of meditation I do, thoughts are allowed to come and go naturally while trying not to attach to them. There’s no mantra or theme involved, just me trying to let thoughts go. And I found that a lot of thoughts arose during this yarn untangling: things that I was worried about, things about my past that were bothering me and current things that were making me happy. I wasn’t trying to invoke these thoughts they were just coming and going, coming and going. It’s interesting to see what arises in the mind when I slow down.


This was an interesting test to see how patient I could be. Of course, being human, patience has its limits, but it was—in this low-risk scenario—a good exercise to see how I would treat impatience when it arose and, whether I could use these skills in other situations (driving in traffic, waiting in line, etc.)


An early lesson in this process. There’s no wrangling a jumble of yarn. I had to accept that this was the project in front of me and no amount of willing it different was going to make a difference! Something I’ve had to come to terms with in other areas of my life too.

What is time well spent?

I have to admit, a part of me felt a little foolish participating in this project. Why was I spending so much time doing this? If I just looked at the mechanics of the situation it seems utterly ridiculous on one level. I turned to a family member, wondering if I was being foolish with my time. The response: “Are you enjoying it?” The answer? An unequivocal “yes.”


In case you’re wondering what I did with that jumble of grey yarn, it became a hat!