I learned about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory as a part of my management course in college. The theory describes human needs that underlie our motivation as a hierarchy, from the most basic physiological needs to the most advanced self-actualization. The common visual representation is a pyramid such as this one.
While this theory was challenged as being too individualistic or simply not true in each person’s case — if it were, there wouldn’t be starving artists — it describes how our motivation might change under different circumstances. Simply put, until your basic needs are not met you are not looking for a higher calling and otherwise, having those needs satisfied causes your motivations to shift to the next level. It’s also worth noting that researchers recognize presence and overlapping of several needs at the same time and speak in terms of ‘needs domination’.
I wonder if this theory can be applied to our knitting needs, if they, too, change as we master our craft. Most of us can easily relate to the ‘overlapping and domination’ part. Raise your hand if you have more than one project on the needles. Most likely, while they all lie around, each could capture your attention at one time and leave you indifferent at others.
Let’s follow the pyramid logic, from bottom up, to see how our knitterly needs might progress and influence our choice of knitting projects.
As a new knitter you would probably perceive yourself as a person in a great need of a hand-made hat. (For the sake of the argument, we should assume that any kind of store-bought hat is considered unacceptable as soon as a knitter learned 1 x 1 ribbing). Perhaps, you made a few hats, and your basic need of keeping your head warm is met. Then you go up a level and make sure your feet, hands, neck, and whatever else is covered. Cozy and secure, you proceed to the next level of knitting needs and wrap your family and friends in woolly love. You buy expensive yarn and start making Christmas gifts. I would speculate that Esteem level is where you get really good at it. You pick more challenging projects and acquire new skills, you are proud of yourself and others can really appreciate your crafts(wo)manship.
What’s next, at the pinnacle? Some knitters definitely would venture into design to make truly unique items. But for those who won’t, will making more items in addition to those already made contribute to self-actualization? And the reason I think it won’t lies in the very spirit of DIY movement — it’s not about consuming more but making something special. One hat made for yourself or as a gift is special, but twenty? Thirty? Maybe on this level, in between regular projects, knitters start looking into knitting for a good cause — to connect, to share their gift and make a difference in someone’s life. An item made for a complete stranger not only satisfies the knitters highest needs (think morality and problem solving) but it also aims higher than a basic need of warmth for the recipient. Because it means that someone in the world cares about them.
To continue with the pyramid parallel, the happiest knitter would have all needs met, from basic to advanced. Please keep knitting and making yourselves and your loved ones warm. But every so often use your leftovers or dive into your stash and make something for someone you’ve never met, to have it all.