I’m a knitter. Maybe you also knit, or crochet, or do other needlecrafts that are small and portable.
I knit in meetings and in other public places.
I knit in the pub while talking to friends.
Can you really do that without looking?
This is probably one of the major issues that is going to be problematic about you doing needlework in a situation where people expect you to be concentrating on what someone is saying.
Chances are you are skilled at your craft, and you’ve brought a project that does not require a lot of concentration. I often work on plain stockingnette socks, for example. One stitch. Round and round for a really long time. Unless I drop a stitch, there’s not much need to do more than glance down briefly from time to time.
Other people in the room may not know how to do what you are doing. They will assume (wrongly) that the level of effort and concentration it would require for them to do it is similar to what you require. If you aren’t looking at what you are doing, that will just create a bit of cognitive dissonance. But their assumptions may lead them to assume that you are not paying attention.
You have to judge how much you care about this. In some situations it may be really important to be perceived to be paying attention. In others, it only matters that you know you are concentrating. Who gives a damn what that guy sitting next to you thinks?
Did I just see a lesbian socialist feminist academic doing needlepoint?
Sometimes the cognitive dissonance runs deeper. The recent death of a former mentor reminded me of this particular reaction.
Our culture draws a pretty clear line between the domestic and the professional. People also have some strange ideas about feminists.
Needlework is pretty firmly located in the domestic and tends to be the kind of activity that some are going to assume you have rejected as a feminist (especially if you are also a lesbian and/or a socialist). If you happen to be a man, a version of this reaction is pretty much par for the course.
Knitting in public is a political act, even when you don’t intend it to be.
Here the issue is not so much that folks will think you are not paying attention but rather that the cognitive dissonance is really distracting to other people. Again, you get to decide how much you care about this.
The benefits of knitting in meetings
In case some of the colleagues experiencing cognitive dissonance actually say something to you, it might be useful to know that some people concentrate better if they are doing something with their hands. I know homeschoolers who let their kids play with lego while they read to them because the kids actually listen much more attentively for longer if they do.
Needlework can also calm you down and help you take the time to think before you launch into that rant. And, though you probably won’t say this out loud to your colleague if you are busy knitting it is much harder to strangle him for being such an idiot and making this meeting go on way longer than it has to.
As many of my knitter friends point out, you don’t have to be patient to knit. Knitting makes you more patient.