I was bingeing Brain Games on Netflix (still am, with an exception for finishing Downton Abbey before it disappears April 1st), and in one recent episode they demonstrated how incredibly creative children are compared to adults.
I think of myself as quite the creative mind (I am, after all, a writer), but the show aptly demonstrated that even I tend to think in entrenched patterns, compared to the free-flowing imagination of a child. After showing the kinds of inventive thoughts that children were capable of, the show suggested we can improve our imagination by thinking like a child. And it actually works! And what do children do best? They play.
So what's playful knitting? It can't be knitting a swatch, can it? Swatches are the worst! Well, it might be knitting a swatch, actually. It might be trying a new technique. It's experimenting. It's letting yourself go, and not worrying about the end result looking good.
That's the key, really. If it has to look good, then you have to (a) try hard, and (b) know what you're doing, and (c) have confidence in the pattern, and (d) trust your ability to intrepret or invent it, and (e) not make any mistakes or at least none that are tricky to fix. So, in general, knitting a sweater is not playful knitting, nor would be any present, even for a baby (who, despite the common term "fussy baby," aren't actually all that discriminating, but their grandmother probable is).
Back to the playful swatch: if you're trying to get gauge for a vest, then no, that won't be playful. If you're trying to see what happens if you knit 3 together and then a yarn over, and keep repeating that, and then when you're inevitably down to a couple of stitches you start increasing again, then yes, that's a playful swatch. And maybe you'll invent something magnificent, and maybe you won't.
Yesterday I frogged an entire hat—but lucky for me the whole thing was playful knitting. I'd spent three hours in a class making a swatch (three different difficult patterns back-to-back), and I liked it, so I thought I'd try to somehow knit it into a hat. I cast on, knit a ribbed border, then introduced the swatch—knit 2 together (1 new stitch + 1 swatch stitch), turned, purled 2 together (1 swatch stitch + 1 new stitch), and carried on like this until I hit the other side of the swatch, then reverse + repeat.
My joins weren't great ... in retrospect using the same colour would have made so much more sense ... but I imagined I could easily crochet over the join for a fun decorative detail. Once I was finished, it didn't sit quite right, I don't think blocking would fix it, and although it looks roughly hat-shaped, when it was on my head it stood straight up like a bishop's mitre.
As planned, I tried to crochet over the joins, but it was immediately apparent that was the fibre arts equivalent of lipstick on a pig. So I frogged* it, wound up the red into a ball, and it's totally cool. It was just a fun experiment, and I enjoyed trying it out. My attempts last year to make a hat that preserved a square top but was knit on the diagonal was another pleasant failure.
My recent, more successful hat that repeated Japanese Stitch Pattern #52 four times around also qualifies as playful knitting, and I'm just lucky that it at least manifested into a wearable garment:
It's fun to leave knitting somewhat to chance: you could take a yarn with interesting semi-regular colour changes, and then as a new colour appears (or a specific colour) alter directions or create short-rows, and voila, perhaps an exciting scarf or shawl or blanket will emerge. You'll know soon enough if that's going to happen—if it's not, you learned something, and can stop, but if it does, yowza, you're going to have something that nobody else has.
So don't feel that every time you sit down to knit that you have to tackle a project like socks or a blanket or a dress or a tea cosy. Maybe you're just going to knit. Think like a child, and have some fun playing with your yarn, trying out new techniques, making up your own patterns, or who know what else! (What if I tie a knot here? What if I yarn over 5 times? What if every 10 stitches I knit into a stitch 5 rows below, for no apparent reason? What if, what if, what if?)
P.S. In my spare time, I run a musical theatre company. Our next show's in June ... which would have been a perfect occasion for a blog post titled "Play Time," as it could serve as a family-friendly double entendre. Alas, I have squandered that clever title this week, as this post was entirely about playful knitting, and nothing whatsoever to do with my upcoming musical production "A Bandmaid's Tale" opening June 12th for four days only:
Off the Needles
Experimental Hat-with-Swatch (finished and frogged, sadly)
Sophie's Universe crochet project #1 (at last!) See it in the room:
On the Needles (and actively being worked on):
A swatch of stockinette in white worsted (first of three needle sizes) ... more on this mysterious swatch later
Autumn Vibes (Brioche Hat, in what appears to be the ribbing—I'm new to Brioche)
Caldwell Vest (1/2 an inch from finishing the pre-shaping part of the back—this time I measured correctly!)
Persian Dreams Blanket (finished Hexagon 8, about to cast on Hexagon 9)
Itineris Shawl (I'll pretend it's a scarf. I've just finished the third repeat)
Grey Intarsia Vest (my own pattern, almost finished the first set of squares which will be more like rectangles, I think)
*frogged = unraveling your project, anecdotes suggest the term comes from the fact that "rip it, rip it" resembles a frog's call.