The Probability of Tangling

Tangled ball of pink yarn

Endless yards of knots accumulated in unattended yarn are a sad truism of knitting.  This particular mass of tangles walked into my life at a particularly tangly moment.  I sat down to work through it, only to walk off in a huff at the intransigence of it all.  But, then, I couldn’t quite leave it alone.  Knowing that it was there, neglected in its disarray, stole any possibility of ease.  In fits and starts, I gave in to the inexorable call of this lumpy conundrum.

 Watching me struggle with these knots, my daughter observed that scientists have created a method to quantify the “tangle-bility” of any substance.  The factors are what you’d expect.  The thinner the substance, and the longer the length, the greater its tanglability factor.  

None of this is particularly amazing of course.  I didn’t need a complicated equation to intuit that a pile of yarn is more likely to get tangled up than, say, a pillow, for example.  But, then she added this: the scientists have also proven that, the higher the tanglability factor, the more likely you are to encounter this object with a tangle in it, even if no one has touched it since you last encountered it.  Appartently there’s some quantum mechanics theory that this plays into.  But, I think any knitter can attest to the extreme likelihood of finding one’s yarn knotted without having to dealve into dark matter.

As I sat for hours working through these knots, I turned over in my mind her words.  Jumbling with them are the words of a friend, Julie Brunner, who uses “tangles” to describe the places we get stuck in life.  I can’t help but marvel at how accurately the scientists’s theories support Julie’s analogy.  Because, it is true, the longer we’ve had a relationship the more likely it is to have tangles in it.  Or, the less I take care of myself, the thinner my reserves become, and the more likely I am to find myself in knots.  There doesn’t have to be one particularly agitating factor to make all of this true.  It is the very nature of the universe.

 I can also see the part I played in this mess.  The knots happened because I let them. I saw little tangles, and I didn't straighten them out. When things got a bit more complicated, I didn't take the time to neaten up. I allowed them to get increasingly snarled, trading in future sorrow for immediate efficiency. 

 Now I am left to face this recalcitrant muddle again.  In my more frustrated moments, I’d love to take a pair of scissors to the whole ugly knot.  Or, toss it aside, and start with the next skein.  Now, I reason, I’ve learned so much, I’m sure I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes again.  I’m certain I could keep everything in order if only I didn’t have this one big, messy, intractable snarl.  I’ve even considered just starting to knit and deal with the knot later.  But, the reality of trying to work through it all with a sweater-in-progress attached sends me back to my work with renewed vigor.

And so, I return to my tangles.  Not because I enjoy this process.  It is uncomfortable and frustrating and crazy-making.  No, I come back to it because I see that the only way out is through.  I take breaks when I need to, but I persevere.   I tease out the tangles, unwrapping all the places where things got muddled along the way.  I’ve already snapped the delicate fibers once with a rushed jerk.  So, now, I go slowly, gently loosening knots, even when I want to tug.  I follow just one thread, resisting the urge to despair over all the tangles I have yet to encounter. 

Inch by inch.  I untangle.

KnitMicah Bremner