A Pre-ponder-ance of Making


When you allow it to, how far does your mind wander?

As I stood at Grand Central Counter this morning, trimming dozens of pieces for quilt blocks, my mind wandered. I mused. I ruminated. I pondered.

My mind wandered widely and freely, not always deeply, but in ways so satisfying.

And this pondering, it occurred to me, is one of the reasons I love to make things by hand.

As much as I desire an endeavor that engages me and makes me focus and solve problems, as much as I want a mental challenge from the making I do, I realize that I also want periods of mindlessness, or at least of repetitive action that requires only minimal thinking.

I love to ponder and let my thoughts wander. I spend a huge amount of time in my own head, in introspection.

Almost none of this is meaningful or profound thinking. I just wonder about things. When I was child, I wondered about the fact that Santa and Satan had the same exact letters in their names . . . surely that must mean something but what? Hmmm . . .

Similarly, I pondered Skitch Henderson and Mitch Miller. Skitch and Mitch, such funny names, and they both were on TV and they both made music and they had similar facial hair.

Were they related? Surely there must be a connection but what? Hmmmm . . .

Some of my pondering has been a bit weightier, it’s true.

When I was a grad student, I needed to ponder the ideas for my never-ending dissertation. When I was teaching college, I needed to ponder ways to get difficult concepts across to my students. When I retired, I needed to ponder what would make me feel productive and good about the rest of my life.

So, yes, I am given to pondering. But I’ve found that if you just sit around and stare into space and ponder, it makes other people nervous. They think you’re wasting time or that you’re bored and they need to amuse you.

I’ve always needed a socially-acceptable cover for my ruminating. I get it to some extent, like I know many of you do, from walking. I like to take long walks—I like the exercise and, I swear, some of my best pondering occurs then.

But my feet have never been able to wander as much as my brain wants to ponder.

And that’s where making comes in. All of the creative activities I like best have processes that are necessary and important but also repetitive and easy and undemanding.

Tempering chocolate—Each batch takes about 40 minutes of simple stirring, and it can’t be rushed. Some days, I temper 4-5 batches over the course of the day. So much time to ponder . . .

Winding warp—I stand at the warping board and make the same basic movements maybe 600 times, to arrive at the numbers of threads I need to put on my loom. Lots of time to ponder . . .

Quilting—On the machine, I sew the same short seams over and over, to create the small blocks from which to create more complex ones. At the quilting frame, I make thousands of tiny, rhythmic stitches to turn the fabric into a bed cover. Endless time to ponder . . .

I ponder big and I ponder small. What will I wear to dinner tonight? How come people believe in God? What do people see in rap music? Should I increase the insulin dose I’m giving the cat? What in the world will I blog about next? Hmmmm . . .

I can get away with all this pondering because I’m engaged in making something and I appear to be busy and to be concentrating very hard. No one wants to interrupt another person if they are concentrating very hard!

So, how about you? Do you use your gardening time, your crocheting time, your kneading or stitching or purling time, to ponder?

66 thoughts on “A Pre-ponder-ance of Making

  1. What a lovely post! I think you are right, that pondering, or wool-gathering as my grandmother used to call it, is more acceptable when hands or feet are busy. I do a lot of it when knitting, and when driving to work (you have seen the road – 20 miles of basically empty Route 1 between home and work.) I also ponder when skimming leaves from the pool. Spouse says “That pool is so much work, is it worth it? You seem to spend more time cleaning it than actually swimming.” If only she knew. 🙂 On the other hand, machine sewing garments is not a time when I can ponder, it does not come easily to me. I know HOW to do it, but it is not calming to me. I do see why my sister-in-law hand pieces her quilts, though. Time to ponder.

  2. I’m a big fan of pondering. And never gave it too much thought as far as where and when I ponder but I’m pretty sure I do it a lot. In fact, as much as I hate that I do this, sometimes I wonder how I got to work because I was so lost in thought. Its my process of solving problems, think, think, think.

    • I’ve done that, too–driven 30 miles and then not remembered the specifics. I tell myself that pondering is less dangerous than texting or talking on my phone while driving, though!

  3. You mean everybody doesn’t?! You described it very well. And yes, there’s only so many showers you can indulge in (especially in this house which runs out of hot water much too quick).

  4. hmm, I’ll have to think about that… Actually, when I’m working on a quilt I don’t ponder much. I tend to focus pretty thoroughly on what I’m doing. I rarely have music or television going. When the teevee is on, I turn it to NCIS reruns or Bonanza or The Rockford Files, shows which are patterned enough (or I’ve seen enough times) that I don’t need to pay much attention to follow the plot. (And I just realized how much testosterone oozes from the television on all those shows…) But I get tired of that noise pretty quickly, could never take more than a couple of hours of it and that would be a long time.

    I ponder a lot when I’m reading and while walking, and in the night when I’m trying to go back to sleep, and in the morning before I’m ready to get up.

    • I’m with you about the quiet. I’m not a TV person at all and often quilt or weave in silence. Pondering works best in silence! I try very hard not to ponder at night–I’d never sleep at all!

  5. Interesting topic. My mind wanders while driving which I probably shouldn’t admit but it does. Outside for hours gardening also finds my mind floating around. I don’t wander too far when quilting or sewing otherwise I cut or sew incorrectly and end up asking myself ‘what was I thinking.’ But, I’d sure like some chocolate right about now. 🙂

  6. Here’s a thought to ponder – what’s happening to pondering time with all our devices to ensure we don’t have a moment to ourselves. Will we post selfies of ourselves pondering on Instagram?

    • This is actually a very good question. I don’t worry about me or you–I don’t think I’ve taken more than 3 selfies ever–but the really connected generations that come after us . . . I don’t know. There’s never any down time, to be in touch with one’s self (instead of one’s selfie!).

  7. I know what you mean. I do a lot of thinking when I’m sewing/quilting/walking… anything. I sometimes actually put some music on just to give my mind a rest. Btw, I thought it was hilarious that you refer to your kitchen counter as Grand Central Counter! 🙂

  8. My mind certainly does wander while I’m cooking, doing housework and gardening. Some of my best wandering gets done in the shower or driving. And the most annoying wandering is at bedtime when I’m trying to fall asleep.

    • I don’t even think of that bedtime thinking as pondering–mostly, that’s worrying and I work very hard to turn my brain off then! The pondering I do is supposed to be, at least, pleasant and, at most, problem solving!

  9. Great minds think alike. We must be sisters from another mother. First, Mitch Miller! I remember my parents playing his albums. I, too, come up with ideas and answers after a long walk. Think of it– we literally move forward step by step. I ponder what to blog about too. And I can’t understand why rap is music. I muse all the time. My family tells me I think too much. I find the repetitive motion of chopping vegetables meditative. And all the pondering you are doing is both exercising your brain and at the same time, meditating while your lovely hands are in motion.

    • People tell me I think too much too and I’m always confused–is it really possible to think too much?! I can’t say i ponder while chopping veg–I’d probably cut a finger off–but definitely while walking–I like your image of moving forward!

  10. oh yes, the best thoughts come while in the shower – when it is difficult to write anything down. I do wish there was an off switch sometimes and meditate everyday in an attempt to find some silence. Mother used to warn me about “idle hands”, she would be happy with how well I learned the lessons. I write a journal so I can discuss the ideas with someone – it is surprising how different the ponderings look in print!

    • I heard the same warnings about idle hands . . . and took them to heart as well. Sometimes I think I learned them too well! And i don’t know what I’d do without my journal–as you say, it’s a place to get the ponderings sorted out–and to cast the bright light of day on them and get some objectivity.

  11. My greatest time for pondering is while I am at my spinning wheel. The rhythmic motions, the soft whirl of the wheel, the joy of watching the colours spin out, and my mind floats away. I think about connections to ancestors long past, and to real and imaginary people. The colours and fibres move through my hands and stories flit in and out of my brain. And best of all no one makes demands of my time or attention because I am busy making something useful.

    • Exactly–you said it better than I did! I never got to that stage with spinning–I had to concentrate to keep the wheel going the right direction–but it definitely happens with hand quilting and i feel the connections you describe.

  12. Gardening is my time to ponder – often so deeply I come too hours later and have no idea where I’ve been, but the garden is weed free and tidy! 😀 Knitting and crochet [most often] allow my thoughts free roam time but painting and bead work requires my presence. I deliberately ponder prior to sleep as I have come to see that the state of my thoughts [and emotions] before sleep is influential on how my next day pans out.

  13. Oh, goodness. Gardening, walking, cooking, all things that use the body, but don’t need serious intellectual engagement. There are more. What a lovely post, Kerry!

  14. Hah! This reminds me of my father who ‘concentrated’ while mowing the lawn. My mother often complained that he had mown some flowers that she had specifically told him to leave until they had gone to seed and his excuse was that he had been ‘concentrating’ too deeply. I love to ponder and really get to resent people who come to join me while I am gardening to keep me company. Do *they* never need a little pondering time?

  15. People who don’t work with their hands don’t know this….. I really like when I am doing something mindless and a solution to a design problem or a problem problem pops into my mind, seemingly out of nowhere. So interesting how your mind works on things subconsciously.

  16. I realise I need to be doing something to ponder. It might be striding out on a country walk, washing up, ironing ( 😉 ), gardening. Somwthing that doesn’t of itself engage too much brain. But however much I ponder, those eureka moments generally arrive later, when I’ve done with pondering.

  17. My inner world often differs so incredibly much from what my body is doing!! I knit, I cook, I clean, I garden, and I love it all and meanwhile my mind does its own thing and I love the silence in my house so my mind can keep on wandering and pondering.Generally it is a happy state of yoga. Sometimes when I have problems to solve or sadness and anger to deal with, I give myself hard tasks like complicated cooking or vigorous cleaning. My mind, in the silence of this activity usually sorts itself out and by the time I am done, I have dealt with my troubles. Does that make sense to you? You word things always so wonderfully.
    But I tell you, it has happened more than once that Mr walker came home to a feast of a buffet of dishes and said happily: ” ah, you had a rotten day! let’s call some friends to help us eat all this .”
    Another bonus to letting the mind wander and ponder…xo Johanna

    • It makes perfect sense–I think you describe it very well! When my sister and I were in grad school, she always knew when i was stressed or upset because she’d come home and find 10 loaves of zucchini bread! Simple pondering doesn’t work when i’m sad or angry–that takes action! But good, quiet time, spent pondering, does much to avert sadness or anger!

  18. Steve Wright wrote”I’m trying to daydream but my mind keeps wondering” … Is that the difference between pondering and daydreaming……

  19. I absolutely love this post. I was thinking about all kinds of things while I was hand weaving project I picked back up today, instead of doing the laundry I meant to be collecting upstairs. My mind drifted to so many places, including the places that are inspiring the piece. But also to my chores, to my kids, to the calls I need to make, to a beloved aunt who just passed away. The thoughts drifted like waves, a welcome change from the type- A qualities I reckon with at times. Beautiful post.

    • Thanks–I’m glad you could relate to it! You’re right about the respite from the type-A behavior–weaving is a good way to encourage oneself to slooooooww down!

  20. I love to go a – pondering along the mountain track …….well, not really, it’s more a ponder as I wander round the block or from room to room, or from task to task. I am glad I am not alone. 🙂

  21. Oh yes! Yes, yes, yes: gardening, knitting, sewing, petting the cats, puttering around the house, all of it makes for wonderful pondering time. It’s so good for our brains and for our mental health in general.

    I love this post. Thanks for giving me even more things to ponder.

  22. Ooh, I love this. I am a ponderer too! I enjoy time in my own head. At work I manage a large team of volunteers and I am organised and engaged (I hope, anyway.) Sometimes I run into volunteers out and about, on the street and doing my food shop, and I am caught up in my own thoughts and walking into things and turning down the wrong streets, and they look at me baffled. I love long journeys (which is a good job because I do a lot of them) and sometimes I can spend 5 hours looking out of the window and thinking about things. I like to ponder whilst I’m crocheting too. Most of my pondering is inconsequential but most of my good ideas and probably all the big life decisions I’ve made have come to me in that time. It’s amazing what our minds can figure out when they are left to wander freely! x

    • I think allowing the mind to wander really is critical to making big decisions. And I wonder whether people are pondering less, now that we carry our phones everywhere and are always amusing ourselves with them, instead of just . . . pondering things.

  23. I do a lot of walking Kerry – that’s great pondering time! Plus I like to sort all my clothes and accessories out planning outfits (I have rather a lot despite wardrobe culls!) – that makes good pondering time too!

    • I agree about the walking–one of the best times to ponder! Regarding outfit planning–I could never ponder during that! I spend all my time wondering “why did I buy that?!” “what was I thinking?!”

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