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As an elected representative on the Otsego County board of representatives in upstate New York, one of the few things I miss about our two years of pandemic-era virtual meetings is knitting during Zooms.

No one could tell what I was doing with my hands outside of the Zoom frame. Nor could anyone tell that I was rocking an outfit mullet: nice shirt on top, pajama pants on the bottom.

It’s great to be meeting in person again—for us, sharing a room smooths over some of the partisan divides because it’s hard to see someone as less than human when you are sharing the same air. But I miss the feeling of fidgeting productively for hours on end. Knitting occupies my monkey mind and helps me focus on the talk around me. And there is so much talk. So. Much.

Somebody Has to Do It

A decade ago, I would have laughed at the idea of running for office. Even local politicians seemed smarmy. But then the 2016 election happened. I realized how much I took for granted when it came to policy and laws, especially for anyone who is not a white, college-educated, cis-gendered, middle-age woman of average means in rural New York.

Here, our local elections are held in the odd years (and I’ll invite you to write your own joke). I expected the Otsego County Democratic Committee to tell me to donate my time and money to the cause. Instead, I found myself running for a county board seat, which was still a donation but not the one I’d anticipated.

The odds of unseating the Republican incumbent were not in my favor. I knit about a billion easy scarves when not collecting signatures to get on the ballot, knocking on doors, and asking for contributions. By election day in 2017, I knew I’d done all I could. If I lost, I’d finally get to think about something else and maybe take a nap. If I won, I’d have a whole new set of problems to worry about.

I never did get to take that nap.

Governing Through a Pandemic

I’m running for my fourth term this year (and if you’re in the City of Oneonta’s Wards 3 and 4, I’d like to earn your vote in November). It’s been a wild ride. The challenges we had before 2020—affordable housing, poverty, and substance abuse—were backburnered during our pandemic response. We scrambled to get the basics of governing done in a region where internet service robust enough for Zoom is spotty at best. All the issues we faced before simmered unnoticed while we focused on what was actively on fire.

Through two years of virtual meetings, I knit Martina Behm’s Hitchhiker scarves, my go-to mindless pattern and a great way to use up all of the souvenir skeins I’d acquired over the years. There was just enough room between my desktop and the tissue box I propped my laptop on to hide my hands. It’s great to be able to go out and collect more souvenir skeins now that we’re more free to move about the country, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the freedom to knit.

The Trouble Now

So why not just knit on with abandon in the board chambers now? It’s not that complicated. Most people don’t knit and, therefore, don’t realize how much needles and yarn aid listening rather than distract from it.

It’s one thing to knit in a work meeting, where most of your co-workers accept how we all work in different ways. It’s another thing when you have to reapply for your job every other year. I’m already an outlier on the 14-member board: I didn’t grow up in the area; I’m a Democrat; I’m female. I’m not sure I can add knitting during meetings to the list.

But being a knitter gives me the perfect frame for how to make lasting progress: Creating durable change is like knitting a sweater. Casting on is exciting. Each individual stitch isn’t worth much alone but is crucial to the project. Sometimes, all your hard work is ripped out, either by your own hand or by an outside force. Some parts—like sleeves—feel like they will never end.

Once the actual knitting is done, there’s still more work with seaming and blocking. Even then, you don’t know if your end product will fit the person it is intended for, much less if it will look halfway flattering.

Despite all that, a knitter will still knit, if only because the act of making something new is fulfilling. For me, at least, that’s the political process, too. Despite the frustrations, all the stitches will make something new and, I hope, better than what came before.


About Adrienne Martini.

About The Author

Adrienne Martini, the author of Somebody’s Gotta Do It, would love to talk with you about the importance of running for elected office or about all of the drama of holding a seat on the Board of Representatives in Otsego County, New York. Adrienne blogs when the spirit moves her at Martini Made.


  • It’s hard to be an outlier. Start small- knit before the meeting starts. Remember Knit in Public Day is Saturday. Be visible. Congratulations on being proactive.

    • Sorry KIP day is Saturday June 10th. Forgot what day it is.

      • I haven’t known what day it is for a few years now….

        Thanks for the kudos.

  • Loving the metaphor All good things take time. Wishing you a supportive voter turn out and positive collaboration and change in your next election!

    • Good luck in your next run for office. Have you considered trying for the State Assembly? We need more women like you in Albany.

      • Funny you should mention it ….

    • Perfect metaphor and, btw, I would vote for you if I lived in your district.

      • I mean … you could always move….

        I kid. And thanks. 🙂

  • Thanks for all your work and for sharing your experience.

  • I remember being in the back of an auditorium full of counsellors and psychologists listening to the ADHD guru Russel Barkley. He told a story of being in an even bigger setting and telling that audience that the person who was paying the most attention to him was the woman in the front knitting…. Oh how I smiled as I knitted away as I, too, focus so much better when I’m knitting.

    • RUSSELL BARKLEY??? Geesh, a name I haven’t heard in awhile. I was fortunate enough to attend a conference at which he was speaking in the early 1990’s. Very technical book on ADHD that I tried to wade through.

    • I had a similar experience during an evening college class. I took notes and knitted in the back row. The first night the instructor commented that he had lost the lady in the back. I explained that I could concentrate more if my hands were occupied. He spoke to a psychologist and at the next class apologized to me and invited me to the front row where I enjoyed the rest of the course. He joked each session “what are you making me today?”

  • Loved your sweater analogy. So true!

  • A friend of ours tells the story of how his mother, a professor at a local tech university, would knit during faculty meetings. There she was, this kindly grandmother-looking woman, knitting away – until she had something to say, at which point it was glaringly obvious that not only was she paying attention but that she also was a force to be reckoned with. Knit with confidence – and be prepared to enlighten your colleagues (politely, of course!) about how knitting is so much more dignified than playing with your smartphone or doodling (or whatever the others might do to fight off the distractions).

    • … or falling asleep, as several of our elderly Board members used to do on a regular basis.

  • This resonated on so many levels. I knit during many professional conferences over the years. It seems counter-intuitive, but knitting was so helpful in maintaining focus during hours of lectures. And, as a product of upstate New York, thank you for becoming part of the political conversation.

  • Thank you and anyone who for runs for elective office or sits on any governing board. Being a community caretaker is a large responsibility. Not everyone can make that commitment but most people can be aware of what is going on in their community.
    When I feel the need to attend a community meeting or city government meeting I often take a knitting project because it does help me focus on the business at hand but it is also a gentle door opener for a conversation. “What are you knitting” turns into “I tried that once a long time ago” to “what brings you here?”

  • Hi neighbor (Schoharie County Democrat here). During the start of the pandemic, I was still working, but retired at the end of 2021. Working remotely, which I had done for many years as an independent consultant writer for the pharma industry, the transition to knitting during calls didn’t happen, as I always tried to have at least a sock-in-progress next to my computer.

    Now that I’m retired, I’m contemplating greater involvement in local politics than my county elections inspectors job, so am seriously thinking about running for our local school board. This group of folks is perpetually in a love-hate relationship regarding our annual school budget, as cuts anger residents, but tax increases to cover new projects make them cranky, too.

    In my work life, I was often the mediator between client wishes and desires vs reality, so this seems to be a perfect opportunity to move my skills into a new arena! Wish me luck.

    • Kim I’m a medical writer for pharmaceutical companies too. I’d love to connect with you and talk about how you started consulting. I’m on facebook if you’re up for it.

      • Jody, feel free to reach out to me! I’m on LinkedIn as me (Kim Berman) and respond to folks when I see messages.

    • In that role on a school board, leaving your knitting at home would be best. It is truly difficult to see good intentions all around at the meetings, and few have been in the positions of everyone involved. So many only remember school as one way or the other, “good or bad”. We all were through the halls, but few worked there decades to see it as an organism dealing w changes of society. The board has to sit deep in the saddle, hold on tight and use a firm, but gentle rein- all while wearing that knitted sweater!!!
      Love your analogy. Best to you.

    • You got this! Your voice and mediating skills need to be put to use. 🙂

      • Thanks so much for your encouragement.

        As a transplant from MI by way of MA in 1990, it has taken me many years as a resident and local elections inspectors to move from the ‘You aren’t from here’ to the ‘Hey, didn’t your sons go to school with my kids?’ level of acknowledgment.

        Knowing that others have made this leap is added impetus!

        • I would say “jump on in. The water is fine.” but really the water is frequently frustrating. Still. The jumping is good.

  • This is just lovely. Thank you. Continued success in reapplying for your position every other year.

  • Wonderful post. l too love the comparison of knitting to making policy.

  • Oh. Thank you for this

  • Just being a female somewhat STILL puts you outside the “framework” of your destined field, so why not just pick up a treasured strand of who you are and combine it with a strand of who you’ve become and live outside the box. Be a modern Kate Heptburn. Put on a a pair of trousers and knit “on set”.

  • How very fun is this?! Who says politicians don’t get anything done?

  • Thank you! For your service and for this post!

  • Great article! Thanks for being so brave and running for office!

  • When Melissa Agard was a member of the Wisconsin State Assembly (not my rep.) She would have her knitting ready when she knew a long, late night, debate was coming. She would post on Facebook about the yarn and what she was knitting, prior to the floor session.

    She is now in the Wisconsin Senate and Minority Leader. My guess is she doesn’t have time for knitting during Session in that position. The Senate also doesn’t have the grueling debates that the Assemby has.

    Carry on!

  • Thank you, Adrienne, for the excellent article and your involvement in local government! It is more critical than ever to step up and be heard! Best of luck to Kim B. in your campaign! As an upstate, rural New Yorker, our local political leaders often drive me to the brink of despair! I think school boards are a great entree into helping bring some balance.

  • I salute you!!! I too am missing ZWK! And I also haven’t yet knit openly during an in-person meeting, unless church counts? I started that when relegated to the balcony with a breastfeeding infant. And I am not about to stop now that I am back in the regular pews!!

    • Debbie, I am a lactation consultant and your description of being relegated to the balcony makes me shake my head and also makes me laugh. Do they think Mary ran to Target to get formula for Jesus?!

  • The same studies that show knitting sharpens attention also demonstrate that doodling has the same property. Even knowing this, and knowing how knitting helps me focus, I would not be happy if a legislator – or a judge, or my doctor – doodled during while they were supposed to be listening to me. (And if my partner started doodling during a difficult discussion, he might not survive!) People in responsible positions have an obligation to ensure the people they are serving feel heard, and knitting would not help that. Few if any of the people who elected Adrienne had any interest in educating the public on the value of knitting, they were voters who too often feel voiceless and ignored and wanted her to hear them. Bravo to her for putting their needs ahead of her own preferences.

    • I think listening to individuals along with having an exchange of ideas is quite a different thing altogether from just sitting and listening to others speak. I have been knitting in meetings, at lectures, at concerts, while traveling, etc, for many many years. There are times when one puts down the knitting because the specific situation requires it. But in general, I say KNIT ON!

  • I’ve been a devoted reader of MDK for what seems like forever. I love the daily fun in opening up a fresh new article and in fact, it’s one of the first things I do every morning. What a joy and I thank you, Ann and Kay, for your energy and diligence in making it happen. What I do hope, more than ever, is that this continues to be a free-of-politics safety zone. Today’s article, discussed the appropriateness of knitting at work, which is a great topic. However, this article ventured into the political arena which can become divisive and uncomfortable. PLEASE (please) don’t do this here.

    • So if a writer states her party affiliation in an opinion piece, that’s considered divisive? Did you read the 3rd paragraph? I agree that politics can be uncomfortable, but so can knitting in public, running for office, or commenting on an online post, but that doesn’t mean any of these are inappropriate or taboo. If everyone in government were knitting, doodling, etc., I can’t help but imagine how much more could be accomplished. And to anyone who equates KIP with a lack of attention, what would you say to someone who “appears” to be listening, but is instead daydreaming about the knitting they wished they had in hand?

    • Describing how she knit while being at service to her community is not a political discussion.

    • So if a self-identified politician writes about knitting, it’s by default a post that ventures into a political arena? By that logic, if a mechanic wrote a post about knitting, it would be venturing into too much strut job talk, right? Or if a delicatessen owner wrote something about knitting, it would really, secretly, be about…say, baloney? Just wanna get it all straight!

    • I disagree with the gist of your comment PT. There will often be venturing into politics with postings on MDK and I think they’re educational and refreshing, while non partisan as well. I entered “politics” into the search bar above and enjoyed re reading posts by Dana Williams Johnson, Brandi Cheyenne Harper and even Lazy Sunday: Must-See Political Movies. I find none of these questionable and on the contrary I welcome more from MDK about how knitting and textile arts impact and interact with our political beliefs.

  • What a lovely comparison.

  • I, too, am one of those people (probably undiagnosed ADD) who listens much better if I am knitting. But it is a bit stereotypical to be seen as an older white woman knitting during an important meeting.
    The world is not kind so you just have to step out there, knit during the meeting, and when you occasionally speak up with some brilliant thought, the non-knitting dummies in the room may eventually show you some respect.
    You go girl !

  • I too worked for municipal government- in the south and I knitted thru many a planning meeting!! It was the only way I got thru them with out telling someone to pull their heads out of their butt and get real!!! Good luck with your election!!! I also knit in n church. God understand especially if it is a charity knit.

  • Adrienne you are an inspiration! I’ve also thought more recently of running for local office after watching what “doesn’t” seem to be working in my state. And yes, knitting does help people to focus, unlike the constant scrolling through phones or tablets.

  • Loved this article and would tell anyone to keep knitting even if others can see. I too listen better while my hands are occupied. If my hands have nothing to do I have a wondering mind hence I miss much of what is being said! You go Girl!

  • Beautifully said.

  • I knit SO many socks during pandemic zoom meetings that I lost count. My husband and I must have 20 pairs each. Great use of time. But, I beg to differ about knitting during in person meetings. YEARS ago I was on a board of a national organization and I knit my way through years of meetings. Maybe it was a different time. I understand your challenges – keep up the good work!!

  • Well said. All of it.

  • I knit in faculty meetings and I’ve gotten comments from colleagues who say at least I am accomplishing something. All the best for your election!

  • I also got politically active, in nonprofit groups, after the 2016 election. Still am. But I didn’t start knitting until 2 years ago. I can only work on easy patterns during Zooms. I used to take notes during in-person lectures so I could listen better to the speaker. When my younger daughter needed to talk to me, she would bring me a pen to hold once she learned that I concentrated better with something in my hand. I also like chopping veggies and fruit so I’m the designated salad bringer for potlucks. Thank you for caring about your community.

  • I agree with your decision to leave the knitting at home when you are meeting in person. I had a similar situation a few years back as President of a professional organization. My rule was if my role involved sitting in the back of a large auditorium, just to listen, knitting was fine. But if you are at U, O or rectangular seating, you have an obligation to listen intently, only looking at your phone when there are breaks, or surreptitiously if there is an important message, no matter how much your fingers itch to knit.

  • I always knit in meetings I’m not leading. I do explain that it helps me concentrate. Some wish it helped me keep my mouth shut, but no luck. In Vermont, knitting in town meetings is almost required.

  • Eleanor Roosevelt knit while attending UN meetings as our ambassador. Go for it.

  • terrific analogy. Thank you for participation. Good to hear from you again.

  • …and then there is Eleanor Roosevelt knitting in chambers at the UN…

  • Congrats on your previous terms and good luck with the next election. Maybe you can organize the knitters in your district to support you. They could hold a knit-in in a public area to fundraise and also get projects done.

  • Excellent article. Best wishes for all your endeavors!

  • I had a job with a hospital and clinic provider (in IT), where there were usually two or three of us knitting when we had meetings. When I worked for an insurance company later, the boss said not to even ask if I could knit during meetings (a coworker had asked in front of him if I did). I guess we have to deal with our audience. Happily retired now, I can knit when I want to!

    Thank you for serving!

  • I’ve knit in meetings as a schoolteacher (retired) and in private industry. Since I work from home and don’t use my webcam unless It’s mandatory, I usually get away with it. The one time I did get caught the facilitator was particularly fazed, but did caution that knitting in meetings would not always be appropriate. I’d say, if you want to KIP, know your audience and do what seems appropriate. Adrienne, good luck in your next election.

  • I belong to the Iona Community here in Scotland, knitting is encouraged at meetings . I’ll be taking mine to the AGM next week.

  • You are wise not to knit in official in-person meetings. When I was first elected to our county Board of Supervisors, I made the mistake of knitting a sock in the the first month or two of meetings. A local reporter (who ALWAYS has something bad to say about the Board) mentioned in an article that the Board meeting was so dull one of the supervisors was actually KNITTING! I talked to him and tried to explain that small repetitive hand movements increase theta waves in the brain (info courtesy La Harlot) and helps me concentrate. He was having none of it. Needless to say, I never knit again during a county meeting during my three terms.

  • In 2020, I was reading your book about running for office, and thinking – wow, if she only knew what was coming up (well, it applies to all of us). Good luck on your next election!

  • Love this article! Unfortunately, I live in Seattle so I can’t vote for you but, I think we are soul twins.

  • 1) Thank you for your service. Seriously.

    2) I crocheted my way through all three years of law school and the ensuing eight years of legal-aid work. Not sure I’d have survived without my yarn and my hooks and my making something in the midst of chaos. Knit on in strength.

  • Sweet Adrienne: I encourage you to knit during meetings: I do! I’m on the school board and those stitches do calm my monkey mind! Several people gossiped about it, but I always explained and now they understand it is a mitigation technique. I very much love your sweater metaphor! Spot on!

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