is it OK for my employee to do needlepoint in meetings?

A reader writes:

I manage an engineer, Jane, who is doing an excellent job during the first six months in her new role on my team.

Two weeks ago, I joined her for a technical meeting. As I walked into the conference room, she was working on a needlepoint project. I’ll admit I was initially taken aback and made an awkward comment about how I should give her more projects if she had extra time for crafts. She laughed, said it helps her focus, and we proceeded with the meeting. I observed that she indeed did actively participate in the the discussion, so I didn’t feel any reason to discuss it further.

This week HR told me that someone observed Jane working on a needlepoint project through the window of a conference room and they felt it was unprofessional. I talked with Jane to let her know that the comment was made and, while professional appearance is important, I was pleased with her performance and felt no need to restrict the craft activity. I am curious how you feel about this situation.

I answer this question — and two others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Employee’s boyfriend keeps making her late for work
  • Contacting the person who’s currently in the job I’m applying for

{ 415 comments… read them below }

  1. Needlepointed*

    To be accurate though, the story photo is cross stitch, not needlepoint. You are right though, although it definitely helps me focus, and despite Rosy Grier (NFL player) being a famous needlepointer, I would save it for an at-home activity.

    1. Clisby*

      I thought about posting this, because I’ve done needlepoint, and was like – I think that’s counted cross-stitch? But yeah, I don’t think I’d do it in a meeting. When my younger brothers were in high school, there was a football player who did crochet during lunch period – he learned it from his grandmother. Nobody messed with him.

      1. Lilac*

        Counted cross stitch and needlepoint are different. Cross stitch is just x’s, tent stitch, or blackwork (backstitch) or maybe a french knot if you’re fancy. Needlepoint is a huge number of varying stitches, and seems to have a much less known presence online, mainly because of the price point of the painted canvases.

        Hopefully this comment is okay. You had a question mark, so I thought I’d chip in. :)

        1. Ann Nonymous*

          Counted cross stitch is not just stitching x’s…it requires concentration and, well, counting. Needlepoint is just the repetition of the same stitch over and over again, often on a colored pattern. The former takes attention; the latter is pretty much a version of color-by-numbers.

          1. Jojo*

            Can confirm. I could never do counted cross stitch during a meeting and still give it my whole attention, but needlepoint on a painted canvas wouldn’t be a problem. I would also be fine doing some hand quilting, and wish I could get away with that in my office, but it wouldn’t fly. I really struggle to keep my hands busy during meetings. I take notes and sometimes even doodle if I think no one can see what I’m doing.

            1. Clisby*

              I wasn’t thinking of needlepoint on a painted canvas, so yeah – maybe I could do that in a meeting. The only needlepoint I’ve ever done was on blank canvas, looking at a diagram in a book.

            2. Random Dice*

              You can actually buy dissolving stick-on printer paper for needlepoint. I used that to embroider a series of very intricate projects.

              Pellon Print-Stitch-Dissolve paper.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            I’ve done counted cross-stitch during a Zoom meeting (out of view of the camera), but only when there was a large block that all needed to be the same color. Peering at the pattern and trying to count how many stitches I’ve already done wouldn’t be a good look.

          3. Gostitch*

            Needlepointing is stitching on a countable canvas. Commonly it’s on 18 count canvas. Many embroidery techniques can and often used. The old school way is to do the continental stitching on pillows and pict. That’s no longer the case. Check out the American Needlepoint Guild, to see beautiful examples.

            1. GythaOgden*

              Thanks! I love counted cross-stitch and have a lot of ideas for projects (most involving surrealist Eastern European film posters, one of which is a picture of a cat uncannily similar to Meowscles from Fortnite) but I’ve been interested in other ways of embroidery in which to ‘paint’ my ideas.

      2. Wicked Stitcher of the North*

        My first thought, too! The photo is of someone doing counted cross-stitch (would probably require more focused attention to detail than would needlepoint.) But of course, the advice remains the same.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Can confirm as an avid counted cross-stitcher. I can listen to things while doing it, but not really actively take part in it.

          I’m also distracted if someone else is doing it too. The repetitive movements would be really annoying, and it would remind me that I’m not able to work on my own projects. As a fidgeter, I do need something to do when listening to something, but if someone was openly doing something like knitting or cross-stitch in an environment where it’s not expected, it would actually make it much harder to ignore them as well.

      3. Veryanon*

        I crochet sometimes if I’m working remotely and I’m on a meeting where no one can see me. It helps me focus. But I wouldn’t do it in the office as it would definitely be A Thing.

      1. Frank Doyle*

        She almost definitely doesn’t, but we’re required to correct needlepoint vs. cross stitch vs. embroidery when they’re conflated. Same with crochet vs. knitting! It’s in the bylaws.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          There was that commercial for quilted northern that had women knitting!!
          Drove me nuts!!

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            YES. I think I actually wrote to Northern about that one. They were talking about quilting while CLEARLY knitting. As a quilter, I was a bit irked.

            1. Peon*

              My husband laughed at me for the way I yelled at the TV during that commercial. If the quilting is THE selling point of your product, for Dog’s sake, get it right!

          2. Crafty crocheter*

            It also always drives me nuts when people in movies are knitting and somehow the endresult is clearly crocheted (or the other way around). It’s just as maddening as when people are playing Nintendo games on what is clearly a PlayStation or talking like they’re playing Fortnite when what we see on the screen is Horizon: Zero Dawn (for the non-gamers, google some screenshots of both those games and you’ll wonder how on earth anyone mixes those two up).

            1. Crafty crocheter*

              (And for the record, no, the crocheters who mysteriously have a knitted end result are never doing Tunisian crochet. I don’t think the directors know that’s a thing)

            2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              As a crocheter, that drives me nuts, too. But I think what drives me even crazier is when anyone uses the term “crochet needle,” because there is No Such Freaking Thing! You knit with needles: for crochet, you use a crochet hook! The only needles used in crochet are the tapestry needles that are used to stitch together motifs like granny squares or pieces of a multipart item like a sweater.

              Say it with me, altogether now: crochet hook, crochet hook, crochet hook,

              1. amoeba*

                Hah, in German it’s actually called a crochet needle (Häkelnadel) though! So thanks for letting me know, I probably would have gotten that wrong (don’t think I’ve ever used the word in English so far…)

              2. Veryanon*

                Right? I’m an avid crocheter and whenever someone refers to stuff I make as knitted, I’m ready to throw hands.

              3. KatieP*

                IIRC, the word, “crochet,” is actually French for, “hook.”

                Also, as crocheter and cross-stitcher, I heartily agree with all of the comments above. Not all yarn-work is knitting, and not all needle work is needlepoint (or embroidery)!

              4. IneffableBastard*

                In Portuguese, it’s agulha de crochê, which means… crochet needle. Sorry, I do not make the rules. But crochet already means hook in French. It’s funny to see all these differences :)

            3. MsSolo (UK)*

              Cartoons where people are knitting with the needles pointed down the whole time. It would slide off!

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                There are many different traditional ways to position knitting needles. The modern English style tends to have needles pointing up, but that’s a product of Victorian era ideas about what looked dainty/ladylike. Most methods involve a variety of angles depending on the situation and the knitter’s comfort. Some (like pit knitting) actually have a consistent downward tilt!

                I knit russian-style and often have the needles pointed down. It gives me a better view of my work and allows the weight of the fabric to rest in my lap. Never had anything just slide off… if that happens you need more tension on the yarn. Otherwise how would anyone ever knit with double pointed needles?

            4. Paulina*

              For some copyrighted or trademarked media there may be an excuse that they couldn’t get the rights to show the correct game, post-filming. Using the wrong craft is just sloppy.

        2. Minimal Pear*

          I’ve had multiple people see me embroidering in public and ask if I’m knitting. Sigh.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I was interrupted on the bus.

            “You’re crocheting wrong. You should only have one stick.”

            I couldn’t even find words, just stared at her with my best “and just how stupid are you going for today” expression.

            1. Philosophia*

              And there you were with two points, neither blunted by a hook, with which to stab her.

              1. La Triviata*

                In a book I read, a knitter has a bag with, “I have two needles, you have two eyes” or words to that effect.

          2. Jam on Toast*

            I feel you, Minimal Pear! I smock and whenever I do it in public, I get to go through a whole befuddled “Who’s on first? What’s on second?” comedy routine answering folks’ questions about what I’m doing every…single…time.

        3. My Useless 2 Cents*

          This comment made me think of the following and it’s showing my age but, who remembers the Quilted Northern TP commercials where the little cartoon grandmother was knitting the TP? I think I saw it twice before it was pulled and replaced a few weeks later with the character sewing. I still wonder how much that little snafu cost the company but the outrage must have been strong and swift to have it corrected so quickly.

          As an avid cross-stitcher myself, I can’t imagine needlepointing during a meeting. I would find it very distracting. But just like some people can find fidget spinners helpful, I can see this helping the employee. My only caveat is to make sure others don’t find it distracting, as I can also see my attention straying to coworkers pattern as they are working and not paying as much attention to the meeting at hand.

          1. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

            I use embroidery to tune out the world, so I would find it counterproductive. I envy people who can embroider, knit, etc while keeping up a conversation because I can’t.

        4. Jojo*

          Well, if we are going to get picky, needlepoint and cross stitch are both types of embroidery. I’m guessing you are considering crewel work as being the true embroidery, but even quilting is considered embroidery. But yes on the knitting and crocheting. And now I’ll stop because I’m not really adding anything useful for the LW.

        5. Donkey Hotey*

          The crafter’s equivalent of “well actually, the AR in AR-15 is for Armalite, not assault rifle.” This coming from someone who has cross stitched for 30 years.

        6. Spinner of Light*

          And as someone who does both, don’t get me started on people who don’t know the difference between spinning and weaving. People, please; if you don’t do a craft yourself, you may well make ridicul0us mistakes when illustrating or incorporating it into a story, TV show or movie. It’s well worth the 5 minutes it takes to Google the craft and at least learn the basics of it!

    2. Lilac*

      I would KILL to be able to cross stitch in meetings at work. I get sleepy real fast when I have nothing to output.

      1. Beth*

        Hear, hear!

        I used to knit in some of my grad school classes. My teachers mostly did NOT like it.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Crochet in high school English. Seriously kept me from falling asleep.

        2. Tiny Soprano*

          Me too! I knitted a whole lace cardigan in a semester of neuropsych lectures. Every time I wear it, I think of the problems with small sample sizes and inadequate statistical power in most fMRI studies, haha.

        3. allathian*

          When I was in college, a friend always used to knit in those lectures where the lecturer allowed it. Those who did often got a scarf or something at the end of the course, those who didn’t got a grumpy and unfocused student. She consistently got better grades from the courses where the lecturers allowed her to knit.

      2. Darn, heck, and other salty expressions*

        That would be me too! There was a crochet group at church I was in and we would meet monthly after church, so I would bring my crochet to work on during the service. Some people thought it was really disrespectful, but it really helped me to focus on what was being said. I can’t just sit. If I’m not moving or engaged in something I’m falling asleep. I would think my snoring would be far more disrespectful!

    3. Fluffy Fish*

      Envious of all you improved focus people! I’m a crafter (cross stitch, knit, crochet etc etc) but I have to focus on what I’m doing while doing it. I can *listen*, and often listen to podcasts, but I cannot watch nor have a conversation.

      1. TurnedMeIntoANewt*

        Mr. Newt thought he could just chat with me while I was casting on because he’s seen people talking while knitting in movies/TV. Mr. Newt was swiftly corrected.

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          OMG, that would drive me nuts! I’m more of a crocheter than a knitter, but even I know that casting on is all about counting. I can’t count anything with someone talking at me. That also goes for making a chain in crochet (which serves the same purpose as casting on in kntting). In either casting on or chaining, getting the number of stitches right is crucial.

    4. Petty_Boop*

      I was unaware those 2 were not synonymous! Clearly I’m not a crafter of any sort but I thought needlepoint and cross-stitch were essentially the same thing!

    5. Sophronisba*

      I work remotely and I do sometimes knit during large information-dump meetings when I’m going to be off-camera specifically because it helps me focus. But it’s not something I would do in-person, or if I were going to be on-camera.

    6. Anax*

      I’m a programmer, and I definitely knit in in-office meetings – just not anything where I need to reference a pattern. Having the materials, pattern, and project all laid out in front of me would be a little much – size and complexity definitely matter in an in-office meeting.

      No one’s commented on my sock knitting, except to ask if I take commissions, though.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, socks are great, especially if there’s no pattern involved.
        I think something easy, repetitive can be great for a lot of people (myself included), but anything that requires counting, concentration, or creativity (hey, nice alliteration!) would make me doubt the person’s attention.

  2. starsaphire*

    I discovered during the panini that I focus much, much better in meetings when I knit or crochet. Instead of falling asleep or having my mind wander off, I can track the conversation and participate intelligently.

    Sadly, now that we are Back in the Office, I’m back to wandering and/or doodling on my notes to try and stay awake and focused.

      1. starsaphire*

        Oh, the doodling is for in-person meetings.

        For virtual meetings while I’m stuck in the office, I sometimes have to prick my arms or legs with a (clean and sterile, I promise!) tack or pin to stay awake.

        If they’d just let me be home, I could be knitting, and be totally alert and comfortable, and focus on the meeting. I was way better at everything when we were working from home. Sigh.

        1. Chilipepper Attitude*

          OMG! Literally, right now, as I was thinking, “omg, she sticks herself with a needle to keep focused” I realized that I pick my fingers to a terrible, bloody degree TO KEEP FOCUSED. I’ve been to therapy and we never realized that!!

          Thank you to everyone on this thread!!

          1. Cathedral Grove*

            No shade to anyone who still finds joy and comfort in attending church, but one of the things that demotivated me was when I found out my mother had to screw her earrings on extra tight to keep herself awake when she sat in the choir! If actual pain was what it took to keep you awake, it wasn’t an example of engaged devotion to me.

            1. AceInPlainSight*

              Yikes! I am so so glad my mom encouraged (and modeled) doodling during church, and that as an adult many places have relaxed enough that I can sip on coffee during the service (coffee sipping is preferable to finger picking, which is my other fidget). Even knitting only gets a glance and questions about what I’m making!

              1. Eater of Hotdish*

                I’m a preacher and a knitter, and I would be delighted if I saw someone working on the portable craft of their choice during my sermons!

              2. Lizzianna*

                Our church had a “notes” page in the bulletin, I remember at one point looking around and realizing every adult I could see was doodling on that page. I don’t know a single person who used it to take notes during the sermon.

            2. Crooked Bird*

              I’ve recently started cross-stitching in church! I’ve been in churches that engaged me fully, but the only one available to us right now is, well, perfectly nice and a little boring–but also a place where no-one so far has side-eyed me for quietly stitching during the sermon! To be fair I’m not sure they’ve noticed :) … I’m very unobtrusive.

          2. Eater of Hotdish*

            Oh, yes. My cuticles are, and always have been, an absolute mess for this reason. Funny that I was shredding them in school as a kid, but I only got the ADHD diagnosis as an adult…

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Doodling has always helped me focus in class, in church, and in staff meetings. Got in trouble for it when I was younger, but it’s still how I focus during in-person meetings.

          When I’m in virtual meetings, Solitaire or my ancient version of Zen Chuzzle helps. Well, it did, until someone saw the reflection in my eyeglasses while on-camera.

          1. maelen*

            You just gave me a start! I’ll play solitaire games on my cell during webinars or virtual meetings where I’m very unlikely to have to comment. I usually don’t have my camera on when I do because I’m looking down at my cell. Whew.

        3. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Oh, my, yes. The only way I stay awake in some meetings is because I’m running them!

    1. Justme, The OG*

      I definitely completed knitting an afghan during early panini meetings. I miss being able to do that.

      1. BubbleTea*

        I made an entire pair of dungarees during a meeting I didn’t really need to participate in.

        1. Good Enough For Government Work*

          I used to sew beads/buttons back on or mend holes in clothing during long calls and it was wonderful how much it helped me pay attention. New Job mostly expects camera on during calls (and also it’s new, so I have to take notes a lot), so I haven’t been able to do so lately, and it sucks.

    2. Captain Raymond Holt*

      Yes. I just sat through a call that would have had my attention better had I been knitting. But I couldn’t because they wanted cameras on.


        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, I’ve done a lot of things in Zoom meetings below the camera level: cross stitch, trimming nails, drawing, cleaning my keyboard, petting my cat (which is why the keyboard always needs to be clean), etc.

    3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      somehow doodling — which everyone knows you are doing — is somehow acceptable but needlepoint/crossstitch/knitting/fidget spiners are not. Except when I doodle I pay LESS attention. Because if I am doodling my mind had already wandered off somewhere.

      In law school, I read the sports pages even though we were not supposed to be surfing the web in class. Everyone knew I was doing it. But, when I was called on, I did not hesitate to answer. If it was a classroom discussion, I was a participant. Except in the one class that banned laptops. Then I just doodled.

      1. Rose*

        I think the reason doodling is “okay” is because people often don’t actually know you’re doing it if you’re being subtle. In a large meeting I’m not looking at what other people are doing, so I assume moving pen= taking notes.

        1. Kes*

          Yeah, exactly this. Doodling, done right, can look like you’re just taking notes, which is a pretty normal meeting-focused activity that doesn’t really draw attention. If people can tell you’re doodling that is also probably going to be distracting and a problem in the same way that knitting, needlepoint etc are. The problem is with activities that might help you focus but can distract others in the meeting

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yup. It’s the other people who might also have a need to focus on things as well. Some of us are neurodivergent and are driven a bit batty by the repetitive movements involved in crafting. I can’t hold a conversation with a muted TV on in the background — it’s the flickering motion in my peripheral vision that derails me, and in situations where someone else is crafting but I’m not, it really does distract my flow. I’m not asking for perfect stillness, but I’m asking for accommodation for my needs as well. In a collaborative environment there’s always going to be people with divergent needs and you’re probably not even the only neurodivergent person in the room. So giving some thought to the way these things do distract others is often more likely to make us more understanding in return. It’s not a transactional thing — it’s how people co-exist and work together. If someone is asserting their right to do whatever they want so they can focus, another individual should also have that right to say, I’m really sorry, but it’s hard to focus with that needle going in the background, can you maybe not do it so I can focus myself?

            So in a communal situation it’s a good idea not just to assume you’re the only person who matters and choose your fidget of choice responsibly. You’re not the only person in the room, so you need to have just a little bit of situational awareness about other people’s needs as well as your own.

            1. short'n'stout*

              Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m someone who is distracted to the point of actual discomfort by other people fidgeting in my line of sight/hearing, and it’s great to know I’m not the only one.

              I wouldn’t deprive anyone of the tools they need to focus. I just ask for the same consideration in return.

        2. Crooked Bird*

          Yup. That’s why I do it in venues where people might judge me for sewing during meetings. Or if the meeting/event is something truly boring and unnecessary, I just go ahead and take *other* notes, e.g. brainstorming the next scene in my novel.

    4. Ho-ho-holey hose*

      I don’t know if this is a typo or intentional but I love it. Panini is so much more fun than pandemic!

        1. Threeve*

          Maybe global catastrophes that cause millions of deaths don’t need cutesy nicknames, though?

          1. kina lillet*

            It’s not my favorite, but it’s a pretty widespread facebook-y meme. And it’s not uncommon to mince an intense word. Ie “gosh” for “god.”

            1. Cheese Victim*

              I don’t really consider myself superstitious, but I use “panini” or “pando” because using the actual full word makes me feel like I’m tempting fate. Like I’m going to accidentally manifest another massive spike or something.

            2. amoeba*

              For me it sounds a bit off because hereabouts, it’s been co-opted quite a bit by people who, let’s say, did not take the pandemic very seriously (anti-vaxxers, etc.) So always gives me those vibes, although I’m sure it wasn’t meant that way here.

          2. SpaceySteph*

            Specifically it originated on Black Twitter and is a coping mechanism for the outsized effect the pandemic had on POC.

          3. Modesty Poncho*

            IIRC the nicknames came about from sites where people didn’t want to show up on google searches for “pandemic”.

            1. I got troubles*

              Exactly, it’s not like it’s mocking someone else’s troubles.

              This time, the troubles were for everyone.

              1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                Yes! Even those of us who were lucky enough not actually get sick ourselves or lose anyone close to us, it was an absolutely nerve-wracking time. Harder on some people than others? Sure. But not easy on ANYONE.

                Personally, I’m a great fan of gallows humor in general. There’s nothing like it, imo, to defang something scary or stressful and make it easier to deal with.

          4. Stuff*

            Part of the reason for it is, at one point any mention of the word Pandemic on Youtube was risking demonetization or age restriction, even if you used the word in one sentence of a video not actually about the Pandemic, so a euphemism was needed.

          5. BadCultureFit*

            It originated because “pandemic” was getting negatively algo-d on social media. Maybe do a little research before accusing people of stuff?

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          I like that one because it’s true! Panini / pando / panorama are fine, wordplays with “pan” but only pandemonium really delivers on meaning :)

    5. Orora*

      There are scientific studies that show that knitting or crochet can help people focus in meetings. I’ve decided that I’m doing it. Often I’ll notify everyone at the beginning of the meeting — “Hey, I knit because it helps me focus. I’m paying attention, I promise.” And then I do. I will use up my capital on this because I’ve gotten too old to GAF if someone thinks it’s unprofessional.

      I’ve knit through conferences and trainings. I keep an easy project in my desk so I have it available anytime.

      Of course, your mileage may vary.

      1. raktajino*

        I suspect it helps when the craft can be done without the person looking down. If you can at least pretend to keep intermittent eye contact with the screen or speaker, it’s less obvious. Same with keeping the project below the table line, or at least low.

        When I was assessed for ADHD in high school, the assessor did a class observation. Actual quote about me straight up drawing in class rather than idle doodles: “I thought she was just taking notes until she started shading in a large area.”

        1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Not arguing with you re how things work right now, but I would love so very hard for people to de-normalize eye contact as the ultimate indication of paying attention because it is ableist. There is a sizeable minority of people for whom making eye contact seriously detracts from attention.

          Additional suggestions for my ND peeps–someone here once described pretending to type out what people are saying with her toes; I recently discovered that if I translate what the person is saying to pictures in my mind, I can stay better focused on slow speakers.

          1. raktajino*

            Just in case my “pretend to make eye contact” was unclear: I meant “if you can look up from time to time” rather than “literally make direct eye contact with the speaker.” Like, show you’re awake and aware of the passage of time. In my experience, that’s what presenters to larger groups are tracking for engagement.

            I’ve had professors remark on not seeing someone look at the board, but I’ve never had a professor chide someone for not making eye contact during a *lecture* or similar large group. (And as a fellow ND, if a professor was going to do that, I would have been called out on it.)

            1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

              Thinking of a lecture I would think a student making near constant eye contact would actually be SUPER unnerving to most professors.

              1. raktajino*

                I’m now remembering one legendary psych 101 class in my college: the first few rows of students conspired to use body language to condition the learning and conditioning professor to teach further and further to the left of the whiteboard. When he was essentially in the corner of the classroom they let him in on the experiment, and he was absolutely delighted. (Completely in character for this prof)

                I hope it was true because omg.

              2. Random Dice*

                My deeply dyslexic dad used to have to basically memorize lectures in class, as he couldn’t listen and take notes at the same time.

                One professor hated him for it, made up all kinds of alternative reasons for why he didn’t take notes – he was a goof-off, arrogant, thought he was too good to need notes. (He hated even more his extremely good grades.)

                This was back in the day before dyslexia was understood, but people can still jump to conclusions.

          2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            As one of those ND peeps who finds eye contact extremely stressful, anxiety inducing, panic-making, I am really uncomfortable with calling the default position that eye contact equals paying attention ableist.

            Eye contact is so fundamental to the development of communication and bonding for a neurotypical person, a lack of eye contact can be unnerving in a way that is hard for them to explain beyond “you seem somewhere else” or “standoffish.” Given how much discomfort I feel making eye contact because of the quirky way my brain is wired, I’m not comfortable defaulting to calling someone else abelist for having a similar discomfort due to the way their brain has been hardwired. Yeah, their wiring is more common, but if brain chemistry like this was super easy to fix we neurospicy types would not spend so much time trying to find ways to make ours try to do what we want them to.

            1. Elle*

              I think this misrepresents the ableism a little. You (and I) are able to recognise that whilst eye contact is more than unpleasant for us, it is vital for others. We are *forced* to recognise that, frankly, because we are the anomaly. What’s ableist is not “having a different mode of communication” but “not acknowledging that other people have different modes of communication”.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                It is possibly just a different interpretation. I sort of contextualize ableism as moving through life without awareness of the burdens placed on and the negative impact actions or non-actions may have on someone without your same level of able-privilege. Eye contact is so much a part of the internal wiring of typical human development for most people it isn’t an unconscious bias that can/should be viewed/assessed in the same manner as biases that result from not considering, or lack of awareness regarding, the lived experience of others.

                If no amount of being aware or working through our brain’s chemistry has worked for people like you and me when it comes to how our brains interpret MAKING eye contact, I’m simply not sure how much awareness or work could possibly change a neurotypical person’s brain’s response to someone NOT MAKING eye contact. Our higher order VCR programming brains can do the whole “Look at Bob’s eyebrow hair” trick or “I know Sally isn’t mad at me. Her not looking at me does not mean she is mad” if you are neurospicy or neurotypical, respectively, but we can’t rewire that core part of us that tells us eye-contact or no eye-contact (depending) is something to be extremely anxious about in another human being.

                It is only my feelings on the issue and I’m not saying there is anything wrong if another ND for whom eye-contact presents a barrier to communication chooses to characterize de facto eye-contact=attentiveness as abelism. Everyone’s experience navigating this world is different and complicated. I merely wanted to express, as one of the people who also struggles significantly with eye contact, that it was not a descriptor I feel is completely accurate.

                1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

                  I just want to say that I love the term neurospicy! As a person living with ADHD, anxiety, and major depressive disorder, I am going to identify as neurospicy from now on!

                2. Stormfly*

                  Some of it is learned behaviour, rather than innate. (As a neurotypical person.) Eye contact is prioritised more in some cultures than others. In Ireland, where I’m from, we generally use much less eye contact from people in the US, or other similar cultures.
                  It’s something I realise I’m not doing until I start trying to actively give people more eye contact, and I’m surprised at how uncomfortable it feels.

            2. Also-ADHD*

              It is ableist because it’s not allowing for other perspectives and disabilities. Them feeling better with eye contact emotionally or preferring it isn’t ableism necessarily, but them being educated reasonably (as anyone could be today) that many people have different brains than they do so *expecting* eye contact as a form of communication and attention is unfair and they shouldn’t do it and still insisting people should conform to neurotypical standards because it makes them more comfortable is ableism.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                I totally respect this. The thing for me is that it seems to go beyond “makes them more comfortable.” It seems even if people expressly state “I do not expect eye contact as a form of communication from all people” and really try to MEAN it, somehow their brain will not let them get there. But that doesn’t change how it impacts people who are ND and experience the negative connotations associated with a lack of eye contact, which obviously is a serious issue.

                1. Also-ADHD*

                  If their brain won’t let them get there, which I disagree with and think there’s no evidence for, then it’s still ableism. You’re just saying they can’t not be ableist? But also people can. I’ve seen people change treat neurodivergent folks with respect and understand that eye contact isn’t attention and all that, just like being raised in a racist family or society isn’t an excuse for racism.

                2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                  Nesting limit reached. However, Also-ADHD, while I understand your reasoning, I respectfully disagree with your assessment. I suspect, though, this is just not a point we will converge on–which speaks to the breadth of view points and experiences amongst ND people.

                3. Whaaaat*

                  One person’s preference does not outweigh someone else’s actual need. Forcing a group of people to act on a way that is unnatural for them and causes them harm, all because of the supposed preferences of another group (based on norms that they’ve mostly never even thought about too deeply), does nothing but set them up for failure.

          3. Random Dice*

            Oh, I totally do that! Although in my case I draw the word with my toes like I’m holding a pen. I’ve done it all my life. I always chalked it up to a weird obsession, not with helping me pay attention.


      2. Kelsi*

        I too will use up my capital on this. Before I started crafting in meetings, not only could I barely keep awake in any meeting longer than about an hour and half, it would also screw up my focus for the rest of the day–and it’s not like I would retain what happened in the meeting.

        Now, crocheting or cross-stitching, I actually get something out of meetings and stay awake for them–even the all-day quarterly all-staff ones!

        (I also have ADHD, so I’m willing to request it officially as an accommodation if I ever need to, but so far work has been cool with it, especially because I noticeably participate more)

    6. TX_Trucker*

      I have an employee that crochets during meetings, and I don’t care. But the clicking of knitting needles would bother me a great deal.

      1. raktajino*

        Wooden and certain plastic needles are a lot quieter than metal, which is why those are the only ones I’ll knit in public with now. (And circulars rather than dpns! Metal dpns are basically wind chimes.)

        In college I accidentally stabbed my professor with my metal dpns as I was putting away my project. So there’s another reason to be careful about knitting in close quarters. :D :D

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I used to volunteer for a project that sent free books to people in prison, and we had so many requests for crochet books we printed our own pamphlet. Never knitting, because most weren’t allowed to have knitting needles.

          (Off-topic, some of the restrictions on what a bookstore can send to prisoners are bonkers, and every state or county jail/prison sets its own rules.)

          1. raktajino*

            That makes sense! Local jury duty rules are strict on the knitting needles you can bring in but don’t have restrictions on the crochet hooks. (This is in the same FAQ section as “bring a book to read while you wait,” I don’t know if you’re allowed to knit at any other point.)

        2. amoeba*

          Yeah, pretty sure my wooden ones are pretty inaudible – I mean, maybe if you really listened in an otherwise quiet room, but in a meeting where people are talking and drinking coffee and otherwise engaging, pretty sure nobody will hear them

          1. There's a G&T with my name on it*

            This is the sort of thing that would fall right into the auditory hole for me – if it’s just audible, I will really listen for it. I’ll start to pick it out to the detriment of other, possibly more relevant noises. It’s like the squeak in Counting Stars (every second bar of the measure, it’s there through nearly the whole of the song), or the whine of the mechanism as the front doors of my building close (three sets of doors away) – once I’ve heard it, I cannot unhear it, and it will focus all my attention!

    7. NeedRain47*

      My boss knits or crochets during actual in person meetings sometimes. Only during the “lecture” type parts, not so much the “team activity/discussion”. I think my workplace is unusual in that enough of us do crafts that most people know you can listen at the same time.

    8. Pam Poovey*

      I’m the same way. Knitting or crocheting allows me to focus and not get distracted. I tend to only do it on remote meetings though.

      1. Jiminy Cricket*

        The Panini. The Pandora. The Panorama. The Pandemonium. The Pain de Mie.

        It’s a gallows-humor kind of way of dealing with the pandemic.

    9. Anonymoose*

      I do Sudoku. I tear out a couple of puzzles and put them in my notebook or padfolio … Looks like I’m taking notes, but I’m doing Sudoku. I can still engage in the convo and focus and not fall out of my chair due to falling asleep.

    10. Jane.*

      But I find people knitting in meetings so distracting! All that movement on the edge of my vision – my brains keeps going “look over there, look over there”

    11. Neurotypical is over-rated ;-)*

      I don’t have an official diagnosis, but I’m ADHD or something. I cannot sit still. I fidget, or jiggle my leg. I try not to bite my nails, but it’s a struggle. When I worked in an office, I would doodle during meetings. Working remotely has been glorious! I can have ALL THE FIDGET TOYS, even the really satisfying ones that make clicky sounds!

      People like me focus better in meetings when we can do something with our hands — stimming. I’ve done cross stitch and it does not engage my mind significantly at all. It’s like knitting. It would be wonderful if people like me could do crafts like that during meetings instead of doodling and wasting paper. I think it’s generally not a good idea, because they are so gender-coded, and that sucks.

    12. GythaOgden*

      I feel you hard on this one. I never actually left the office, but our job was basically to sit on reception and let anyone in, and since the only things happening were vital building maintenance, my boss agreed it was ok to draw (elaborate sketches from Wikipedia photos not just doodling) and knit and use my phones for YouTube etc.

      However, that got rolled back up when people did genuinely start coming back in greater numbers. It’s an awkward halfway house — we still have to be alert and focused, but we can’t do anything that would be out of place on a corporate reception and there are lots of people coming in and out but few actually needing us to do much actual work for them. So the ironic thing is, of course, the moment you do look down and check your phone, that’s the exact moment someone wants to be let in. And I’m neurodivergent so I do actually need occupation — it’s just that the people who need to be let in also need my attention. In the absence of more work to do, it can make the days very long — but the flip side is that I’m not there to do my crafts. I scratch the itch by looking for and downloading new images to make into a cross-stitch picture. I’m collecting threads now for several, but my goal for this round is to cross-stitch an image from a photograph. But again, my attention really needs to be on my job.

      I’ve also found on church zoom meetings that knitting draws more attention from the others, even if I’m keeping it in my lap. It’s hard to get things started because people are asking me what I’m doing and what I’m making even if it’s just the same thing as I was doing last week. These are Bible Studies and prayer groups, so it’s not like it’s business and distracting from important financial discussion, and for prayer, crafting can be quite meditative.

      I’m NGL — I’m on the opposite side of the fence when it comes to finding needles, clicky or not, in my peripheral vision annoying. My mother had to train herself not to pick her nails in the car because it distracted my dad to have her making those small repetitive movements in his side view.

      I think it’s important, while assessing our own needs, to be thinking of the needs of others as well and whether distracting them is a good idea. It’s not about whether they should be distracted or not — it’s about minimising other people’s discomfort, especially when we want dispensation for our own issues and discomforts.

    1. Jane Bingley*

      As an autistic person – you can have a neurotypical presentation of me pretending to pay attention, or you can have my actual attention. You can’t have both.

      I’m increasingly frustrated with close-minded ideas of what someone paying attention looks like, especially with its focus on eye contact and “quiet hands”. Forcing myself to look someone in the eye or keep my hands perfectly still is going to be so incredibly energy-consuming that I will miss half of what you say.

      For a long time we’ve assumed autistic and neurodivergent people couldn’t work. It turns out we can, we just can’t perform the way neurotypical people do. Letting someone do needlepoint while participating actively in a meeting is such a simple accommodation.

      1. ferrina*

        I’m ADHD, and this is the same for me. I need to be engaged with something in order to focus. If I’m actively talking, I’m fine. But if I’m supposed to be listening, I need something else to do, otherwise my attention will wander. That’s just how my brain is programmed- I need X amount of stimulation to stay engaged. That stimulation can come from active participation or multitasking, but expecting engagement and no participation is like asking me to do a 100 meter dash in under 10 seconds. Yes, it’s possible for some people, but it’s definitely not physically possible for me

        1. Bit o' Brit*

          Unfortunately as an autistic person I get the opposite issue; if there’s any kind of visual distraction in a meeting I’ll be completely unable to concentrate on said meeting. Someone crafting under the view of their camera, more power to ’em, but someone visibly crafting in the same room? We’ve got conflicting needs.

          1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

            That’s me, too. I’m AuDHD and I’m distracted by everything that moves plus my mind wanders a lot. No fidgets work for me (that I’ve found) because I become hyper-focused on them. Same if it’s someone else’s fidget.

            Eye contact and quiet hands are actually important to my paying attention! I’m one of the ones who prefers video because it gives me something to focus on. I have to channel every ounce of my energy into listening.

            1. Cheese Victim*

              Samesies. My notes are detailed at a truly bananapants level because it’s hard to focus if my hands aren’t moving but the motion of knitting or whatever will distract me even more. Notetaking I can handle.

              1. ferrina*

                I work remotely these days, so problem solved! :D

                I totally hear that on the conflicting needs- when my ADHD symptoms are on full blast, I’m a human embodiment of kitten zoomies.
                I do what I can to mitigate. Working from home is an extreme help.

          2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            I really do like that more people are stepping up and being like “I need X, you need Y, let’s sort this out so we both can be successful.” Compromise can suck and it takes work, but rather than leave some folks completely screwed, it means everyone gets more of the support they need.

            1. Random Dice*


              There’s likely a reasonable accommodation that can be found for those conflicting needs, if we know what the need is and are open to finding solutions.

        2. Jane.*

          I’ve posted above, but I’ll comment here too. I’m a neurotypical person who finds the motion of someone knitting incredibly distracting. For a period, it became a very common thing to do in my profession – I’d go to a conference and there would be two or three people clicking away throughout every speaker, and even more distracting if they were in my line of sight, waving their arms around. Delighted the trend seems to have passed.

        3. AnonORama*

          Love this expression, btw. I’ve compared some expectations to “expecting me to throw a 95mph fastball” or “expecting me to sing on key” but I like this one even better. (Particularly because, if I try to run, you can time me with a calendar.)

      2. Per my previous email*

        As an ND person, I become frustrated when someone else’s focus activity is itself distracting to others. When the person next to me is repeatedly clicking their knitting needles throughout a meeting, or is constantly spinning a fidget object just in my peripheral vision, they’re making it even harder for *me* to focus at a time when being ND already makes that difficult. Needlepoint away, I say, at least it’s relatively silent and unobtrusive. I wish everyone who makes “busy hands” during a meeting was equally considerate.

        1. raktajino*

          Some coworkers used clicky fidgets and knee bouncing. I’m so glad I work from home now.

          I started crocheting coral puffy loofahs and discovered they make great quiet fidgets. Plus, they’re super forgiving to my rudimentary crochet skills.

          1. Cheese Victim*

            Bouncing knees make my blood pressure shoot right up. The motion alone is enough to make me need to leave the room.

            1. raktajino*

              My lizard brain thinks it’s an earthquake, especially if the shaking is affecting the table or row of joined seats.

            2. BouncingKnees*

              Ouch, that’s rough. It’s really common for this to be an involuntary thing, especially for certain types of neurological conditions, and it’s often intermittent so even if it’s not something they do all the time it may still be involuntary.

        2. wordswords*

          So much agreed!

          And it’s rough, because I *know* it’s unconscious or a focus tool or both. I need to keep my hands busy to focus for any length of time! So I knit during movies, and knit or embroider during meetings and presentations if I can, and take incredibly detailed notes I’ll never reread (and/or doodle in the margins of those notes) if I can’t. Because if I don’t do one of those things, I’ll zone out or spend half my attention resisting the urge to play a phone game or doodle on the table or whatever. I have lots of sympathy for anyone whose fidget desire means a clicky spinny fidget or pen-tapping or leg-jiggling.

          And yet, at the same time, having any of that happening next to me or in a way I can’t look away from absolutely shatters my focus. It feels almost physical, like every jiggle of the leg (and thereby the chair, and the table, etc) is smashing through my attempt to put a thought together. It’s competing needs, and it’s miserable.

          All of which is to say, quiet knitting or crochet or inobtrusive needlepoint or silent doodling or a silent fidget spinner under the table is great in my book!

      3. Aggretsuko*

        I’ve been saying this for years. Do you want my genuine attention while I fidget below the desk, or do you want my vacant stare that LOOKS like I’m “paying attention?”

        IRL, the answer is “vacant stare, please” unfortunately. Thank gawd for Zoom meetings so it’s not an issue.

      4. Rose*

        Ugh I’m not autistic but I am the same way. A manager gently called me out on it early in my career, telling me she knew I was paying attention (from my recall later) but that people considered me to be zoned out and rude. I told her I can’t focus sitting still making eye contact and she told me I had to just try. A few weeks later she was frustrated I once again had missed major portions of our meeting and I was like k… told you so? It’s one or the other for me.

      5. Aerin*

        I’m in tech support and I will regularly cross-stitch on calls. (Yes, cross-stitch. I do 8-bit sprite patches that are easy to follow, especially when I mark out the borders on the fabric and do those bits first.) At first I got some negative comments on it, until I finally challenged management to listen to some of my calls and tell me if I was stitching or not.

        That put an end to the discussion, which disappointed me a tiny bit. My next trick was gonna be rattling off a 48-digit authorization code without missing a stitch.

    2. sara*

      Yes, if I’m not knitting, I’m doing something more distracting… Thankfully I haven’t found anyone at my job who minds – but I also knit without looking 90% of the time so unless they can see my hands they don’t even realize.

      To me that’s the difference with needlepoint – I could be wrong but when I’ve done anything like that it’s needed all of my visual attention. Knitting might seem that way from the outside also, so I fully could be on the wrong track here.

      But I’d go on the thought of – if you can do your fidget activity in a dark movie theatre, it’s more okay to do during meetings. But that’s because of how it’s perceived not a slight on if the person in question is actually paying attention.

      If you’re in a meeting, looking at the presenter (or you camera when remote) goes a long way to reassure people that you’re paying attention.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        This is where I come down. If people can do their craft while only occasionally looking at it (versus doing their craft while only occasionally looking up), I think that’s okay. I can listen fine when doing cross stitch or needlepoint, but if there are graphs, other visuals, or eye contact that I need to make, these aren’t great things to help keep my focus. OTOH, I can knit without looking at it much and don’t have a problem with seeing the things I need to see in a meeting.

        1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

          I took up knitting when my son reached toddlerhood for this reason. He had finally reached that stage of independence where I didn’t need to stare at his every movement, BUT I did need to keep at least 55% of my attention on him. Reading while he played (which would have been my top choice) was out, as was my phone. I found knitting and later crocheting were perfect for keeping my hands occupied and giving me at least a tiny sense of productivity, while also allowing me to keep plenty of attention on WHAT DID YOU JUST PUT IN YOUR MOUTH

      2. Michelle Smith*

        I constantly worry about this, because the way I keep track of everything is to take detailed, copious notes during every meeting. My setup means that I have Zoom on my laptop screen and my eyes are looking off to the side to my external monitor 90% of the time. I would hate that people think I’m not paying attention in meetings just because I’m typically not looking forward! If I don’t write it down (well, type it), five minutes later it might as well have not been said. I’m not going to remember it.

      3. Clisby*

        Yeah, everybody’s different, but I could never knit or do needlepoint without focusing my attention on that. Whereas, I could doodle all day long without really paying attention.

    3. HR Friend*

      I appreciate that knitting helps some people focus, but what about the people around you who are distracted and irritated by the constant movement in their peripheral vision?

      1. MrsThePlague*

        I was wondering about this, too. I know it’s a matter of competing accommodations, but people fidgeting and moving constantly in an otherwise still environment is not only distracting for me, but also anxiety-inducing.

        Not at all trying to say that neurodivergent folks shouldn’t be accommodated – just noting that people pushing back isn’t always a matter of being intolerant.

        1. Also-ADHD*

          I think it’s intolerance if they push back because “it’s not professional” but not if they push back because someone in the room has expressed they are distracted by it. But honestly if it’s a team meeting as seemed the case here, the team can work something out for the conflict in priorities that respects everyone, as long as there’s a desire to work together to meet everyone’s needs.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        Could this not be solved by sitting up front? That’s what I used to do in classes. I always sat in the front row because people surfing the web or checking their email/IMs during a lecture would immediately draw my attention.

        1. goducks*

          I’m distracted by things like knitting, and most of my meetings are in a conference room around a table. There’s no such thing as sitting up front, everyone is facing everyone, or next to everyone.

          1. goducks*

            I’m also distracted by doodling, if I can see it. Basically if I see that you’re producing something, I’m distracted by watching the progress. I’m less distracted by something like putty or another manual fidgit because I’m not trying to see your progress.

        2. HR Friend*

          Yes, I suppose so, though I don’t always choose where I sit or who sits near me.

          I like the idea in the reply below this thread, that knitters should sit towards the back to minimize distractions for those around them.

          I don’t appreciate the reply suggesting I’m creating the problem and should “sit somewhere else”.

        1. HR Friend*

          This is rude. I asked an honest question. Whether you like it or not, bringing a craft project to a meeting would be out of place in a lot of offices. It’s as distracting to me as it is focusing for you. Dismissing that and making it my problem doesn’t solve anything.

          1. OK*

            Doesn’t solve anything for who? I’m not trying to be rude either.

            “Dismissing that and making it my problem doesn’t solve anything.” What is supposed to be done?

      3. AmandaBentley*

        Yes, this is where I’m at with this. While I completely understand that knitting, etc. may help some people focus, I would personally find this incredibly distracting and would have a difficult time focusing myself. I agree that paying attention doesn’t look the same for every person, but your activity used to focus shouldn’t make it harder for other participants to focus.

        1. MV Teacher*

          Meetings full of people are by definition full of distractions. I don’t see how this can be prevented.

          The only way for this not to be true is for meetings to be virtual or to get rid of meetings.

          If important information is being given, it just can’t be given verbally because of this. Which means that if the information can be given in written form, why is this meeting happening?

          1. HR Friend*

            People aren’t inherently distracting. I expect people to shift in their seats, cough, take notes, glance at their watches or phone. It’s background noise. I don’t expect people to pull out a ball of yarn and move needles and a craft project around in my field of vision for 45 minutes straight.

            Look, I’m trying to be respectful of the people on this thread who say they’re able to focus when they moving their hands. But I’m getting, like, zero acknowledgment in return that knitting at work could possibly be disruptive to other people around them who are also trying to focus.

            1. raktajino*

              > But I’m getting, like, zero acknowledgment in return that knitting at work could possibly be disruptive

              Crafters are making this exact acknowledgement, just maybe not in direct response to you. Maybe reading these would make you feel better and less ignored.


            2. HQetc*

              Yeah, that’s a totally fair critique, and I think some of the lack of acknowledgment is because folks who are on the knitting end get a lot of baseless pushback, so the hackles are up when legitimate pushback comes along (which doesn’t make that ok. Explanation, not excuse, etc).
              I do think the seating arrangement approach is the first line of defense. At around-a-table meetings, that can look like, for example, a knitter sitting on the same side of the table but pushing their chair back to be out of your line of vision and using non-click needles (usually wood). Virtual meetings are obviously easier with some of this, so that’s an option too. I think there’s also room for a convo about whether the knitter/crafter has a different thing they can do for meetings you are both in even if that different thing is slightly less effective for them w/r/t maintaining focus, and/or even if it’s still a little distracting for you (but less so). Something like a fidget toy, or even winding a ball of yarn (which might be *less* distracting for the person above who noted that their thing is watching progress, so knowing that the only progress will be “the ball is bigger now” might be easier to shut out). But I think it’s an iterative conversation, if that makes sense.

            3. Irish Teacher*

              I think the point is that anything could be disruptive to others. For some people things like somebody coughing or shifting in their seat could be way more disruptive than somebody knitting.

              I don’t think knitting is any more inherently distracting than any of the other things you’ve mentioned. Some people may find it more distracting just as some people may find any of the others distracting. I wouldn’t really find any of the things you mentioned distracting, but I would definitely find the knitting less likely to be distracting than the shifting in seats or coughing or even the taking out of phones.

              And to some extent, each person has to take responsibility for themselves. It’s not entirely fair to expect the person who needs to do something with their hands to be responsible for everybody’s focus and not just everybody’s focus but everybody’s possible focus.

              Yeah, I do think people should try and avoid fidgeting in ways that are likely to be distracting a lot of people, such as playing with anything that makes noise, tossing things in the air (which I do a lot, but not in meetings), getting up and walking around, but I really don’t think knitting comes anywhere close to meeting that bar. Sure, it could distract somebody, but it’s probably on a par with something like doodling.

              If somebody is very distracted by it, then yeah, the two needs have to be balanced, but that would mean compromise on both sides, not just “if anybody is distracted by it, you can’t do it, because you need to prioritise their need to focus above yours.” The person who finds it distracting firstly needs to try and find a way to focus on their own, just as the other person did. As others have said, changing seating arrangements is the obvious choice.

              If there is no way they can find a way to work it themselves, then they should talk to the other person and find a compromise. Maybe there is something else the other person could do. Maybe they could lower it so that it’s not as visible.

              But both needs are equal and each person should firstly try to work on their own needs. The person knitting is no more obliged to find a way for the other to concentrate than the other is obliged to find a way for them to do so.

      4. raktajino*

        Then ask me to make it less obvious. I can bring a different project that I can do completely under the table with very little hand motion, position my bag or body to block your vision, or just bring something else that is even more subtle if I really need some sort of fidget. The same sort of conversation that a left hander and a right hander might have when negotiating which chair to take at a table.

        Respectful one to one communication is probably more productive than a blanket ban on one specific thing that doesn’t even solve the root issue. If I was just asked to not knit I might bring something else that has just as much motion, or makes noise, or just channel everything into body fidgeting like knee bouncing. That wouldn’t be any less distracting.

        1. wordswords*

          Yes! I absolutely have (or can start) smaller projects that are easy to do in my lap, or work to keep my hands inobtrusively out of sight, or whatever. And if I have to switch from knitting to a different way to focus in order to keep from distracting somebody else, I might be briefly bummed (I like knitting! I was looking forward to working on that scarf!) but I would also totally understand, and get over it, and do my best to find something that worked for both of us.

          Similarly, if it were just absolutely not the company culture to do that kind of thing in a meeting even inobtrusively, well, I wouldn’t like it, but I’d appreciate the heads up. (And if I were starting a new job, I’d hold off a while to test the waters first, and maybe ask my boss for their input. In my current job, I work from home, so I just make sure my hands are well off-camera.)

          But all of that is very different than being told not to knit just because, or, worse, because someone is incorectly sure it means *I* can’t focus.

      5. ElizabethJane*

        I mean I’m not able to sit still. Most people aren’t able to sit still. If I’m not knitting I’m going to bob my knee, doodle, stare off into space…. meetings with people have distractions. I do my best to keep it unobtrusive (also I’m 100% remote so it’s off camera). But I’d also bet if handwork activities were more widely accepted they wouldn’t be any more distracting than doodling or note taking. Part of the distraction is the novelty.

      6. Mockingjay*

        My supervisor knits. She makes beautiful, wonderfully complicated things. It distracts me beyond belief, because I’m watching what she’s creating instead of paying attention to the presentation or training. We’re all remote now, so the problem is “solved” except for rare in-person meetings a few times per year.

        My take: Things that you do to keep yourself alert and focused should be unobtrusive to others.

      7. Clumsy Ninja*

        If it’s in a classroom style setting, I make sure to sit in the back so that I am less visible.

    4. Threeve*

      Thing is, you aren’t knitting *only* to keep focus. You’re also making a scarf or a sweater or whatever–you’re producing something. I absolutely do not care if someone on my team does a craft during a meeting, but I also find the people claiming it’s no different that doodling or fidgeting with a pen kind of disingenuous.

      If its only purpose was to keep your hands busy, you would be just as happy to unravel your stitches as create them, and I’m guessing you don’t do that.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Oh, sometimes that does happen :P Or I can just detangle a ball of yarn, or sew something by hand. Just don’t make me sit still and stare!

      2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        I’m doing the typing version of stammering in disbelief here. What? I don’t see the point of making ND people/physical learning style people “prove” it by doing something unproductive. And not all physical activity is equal in terms of assisting focus. It could well be true that someone focuses better while knitting than while doodling. I used to doodle in person, but I don’t do it WFH, because doodling is somewhere near last place in terms of physical activities that help me focus.

      3. I&I*

        Doodling is creating something too – a drawing!

        Come on, we’re a tool-using mammal that finds deep instinctive comfort in using our specialised paws to complete tasks. Wasted activity is less soothing than productive activity, which makes it a worse concentration aid.

        Unless you want your team’s literal only comfort or pleasure in life to be working for you, you’re on a loser there. Why not abolish the water-cooler and put them all on IV to save time while you’re at it?

      4. Moryera*


        I’m puzzled by the choice of “disingenuous” here, since it implies bad faith on your team members’ part, and as far as I can tell, everyone benefits here. You get a more engaged and productive team, they get better focus AND a scarf. Win-win!

      5. raktajino*

        I’m guessing you haven’t had many people knitting or crocheting in meetings then, because I’ve also unraveled projects during meetings. I and everyone I know who knits or crochets in meetings has specifically “for meeting” projects that are basically “do this just to do it.” As in, “if this is a complete mess I don’t care because I’m just knitting it to knit it and will never actually use it.” If the square of fabric turns out to be a functional washcloth then bonus, otherwise whatever, it’ll get frogged. Not every project is one of these, but if I’m mostly working on something that takes actual attention, I’ll bring a trash project to work instead.

        And I’ve kept doodles and hung them up.

      6. MigraineMonth*

        I’m confused. Why is producing something a problem? Almost everyone agrees taking notes is a good use of meeting time, and that is productive.

      7. metadata minion*

        I sometimes do unravel stuff so I can knit it again! I’m very much a “process” crafter rather than a “product” one. I have a pile of afghan squares that someday I will possibly actually assemble into an afghan, but I might just unravel them and knit them again, especially since they’re fidget squares and I haven’t been especially careful to keep them all the same size. I also fidget by making perfectly neat balls of yarn out of skeins that don’t actually have anything wrong with them, but that generally involves way more movement than knitting so I don’t do it in meetings.

      8. Lexie*

        I do crochet with no end goal. It helps with my anxiety and keeps me from stress eating. Sometimes I have a specific project I’m working on but other times I just make row after row of double crochets. Unraveling the stitches is a completely different process than making them, and does not meet the same need for me.

      9. HQetc*

        So, +1 to all the folks that have questioned why that’s a problem, but also here’s another perspective: I have ADHD and take adderall. It’s really effective for helping me buckle down and be productive. But it also makes it hard to focus on things that *feel* unproductive to my brain (like meetings) even if I rationally know that they *are* productive. So the “productivity” of the thing keeping my hands busy is actually part of it for me. Doodling is less effective *because* it feels unproductive to my brain. (And that same rational brain knows that the knitting is not actually productive because I have no need for a 700th square dishcloth, but that’s what I make because it its totally mindless to do.)

      10. Mal Voyage*

        Ah yes, everything an employee does at work should result in a “win:lose” situation in the employer’s favour. If that’s not possible a “lose:lose” is acceptable. A “lose:win” or “win:win” is a sign of disloyalty, as a responsible employee is sure to always shift 100% of the benefits of every situation to the employer, or destroy them.

        I personally can’t stand this “things are only permitted to get worse” thinking.

        1. ZincMink*

          This is one of the best comments I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for calling out this absurd and damaging way of thinking.

      11. Jessica*


        If a person is doing their job and paying attention, why on earth does it matter if their fidgeting produces something or not?

      12. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        Oh this is silly. It’s like saying if you feel like you are sluggish and falling asleep every day at 2 p.m. you can take a 15 minute walk to nowhere to wake you up, but if you stop and pick up tampons along the way it calls into question the validity of needing to get up and move for 15 minutes to be able to do your job functionally?

        Killing two birds with one stone (even if one of those is a non-job related bird) is a plus, not a minus.

    5. I am Emily's failing memory*

      Seriously what kind of miserable sack goes to HR to report that they saw someone knitting in a meeting they themselves weren’t even in?? And honestly why didn’t the HR department tell them to keep their eyes on their own work and let the people in the meeting with the knitter, or the knitter’s manager, decide whether the knitting is a problem?

    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      I am in favor of allowing people to do whatever helps them focus as long as it isn’t too distracting for others, and I love that OP was open to it and then based her opinion on having actually seen her employee in a meeting rather than just making assumptions.

      I admit though that I am having a much easier time envisioning someone knitting something very simple and repetitive like a scarf in a meeting than I am envisioning someone doing needlepoint during a meeting tbh. OP says she didn’t find that her employee came across as being actively engaged so I will take her word for it, but unlike knitting where you’re working with pretty big balls of yarn at a time–it seems like for something like needlepoint you would have to change thread so often that I can’t picture how it would work in a non-distracting way!

      If OP thought it was fine then I believe it, but I admit I am very curious what it looked like. (I say this as someone who spends a lot of time doing cross-stitch and embroidery.)

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Sorry, bad typo in there changing the whole meaning of my sentence–OP says she *DID* find that her employee came across as actively being engaged!!

    7. Random Dice*

      When I was a baby manager, I got suckered by a drive-by complainer, and learned to be MUCH less gullible.

      One man hated the casual dress that another woman wore to the office, and complained to me that he once saw her underwear when she leaned over. I spoke to her. Later I learned that he liked to police black women’s clothing (he’s black and somehow took it personally?), and that her actual client had no issue with her attire.

      Lesson learned. I won’t be manipulated by vague rumblings by someone who’s not impacted by a behavior, especially if there is a potential for it to actually be bias at work.

  3. Fan of fans*

    Ugh, if you’re a manager, please don’t ever, ever do this: “made an awkward comment about how I should give her more projects if she had extra time for crafts”. It’s just not funny and it won’t land right most of the time. People aren’t robots, and they’re going to have downtime and need to step back and just check out once in a while. Comments about the person “apparently” needing more to do are just so cringe. Actually, a manager commenting at all about me taking a break just gives me anxiety, like I need to prove my worth at all times.

    1. Reality Check*

      Yeah that irritates me, too. Usually these same people have nothing to say/don’t appear to notice when I’m busting my butt working.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        And are martinets and micromanagers. No, I’m not in grade school anymore, please don’t give me busywork just because I got up and stretched.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        My job requires a high level of focus, and the human brain sucks at maintaining that for long. Take away my breaks to read AAM or go for a walk and I’ll be less productive (or everything I produce will need to be thrown out, because I lost focus).

      3. House On The Rock*

        There are a lot of things to learn as a manager, but something that has served me very well is always pausing to consider how I’d feel if my boss said what I’m about to say to an employee to me. Now it might still need to be said if it’s true corrective feedback, and it might not feel great, but anything “jokey” that could land poorly is a no-no and so unnecessary.

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      The issue here is the optics. Generally, it’s not great to look like you’re utilizing downtime to check out while on the clock at work. Most of us do it, but most of us make it look like legitimate work. Really underlining that you’re not giving your job all of your focus can definitely make people angry.

      I don’t necessarily think it’s right, but there are ways to use your downtime to check out subtly and won’t get you called out. Doing crafts right in front of everyone is really overt and will garner commentary as a result.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        (And I do know that for many, the crafts actually mean that people are giving their jobs MORE focus, but, again, the optics can make it look like the opposite is happening.)

        1. Irish Teacher*

          I think though, that there the problem is large with the person who is misinterpreting and assuming the other person isn’t paying attention. Now, there are situations where two sets of needs have to be accommodated and doing something that distracts everybody else is likely to be a problem, but if it’s just “well, it allows you to concentrate but other people will think you’re not and get angry,” then I think that the people being told they need to change things are those who are making judgement calls about others and getting angry based on false impressions.

          I honestly feel that if somebody is angry because somebody is fidgeting in a way that doesn’t actually affect the person getting angry, well, that’s a really unreasonable reaction and that it should be treated as such.

        2. Too Many Tabs Open*

          Yep. I paid much closer attention to meetings in the past when I brought knitting than now when I bring my laptop. But I look much more attentive now, even when my attention is taken up by a work email that I’m answering.

      2. Zephy*

        Okay, but in the context of this specific incident, it sounds like the LW was walking in to a meeting that hadn’t started yet. What’s Jane supposed to do if she’s a few minutes early to a meeting, stare in silence at the wall until everyone else shows up and the meeting starts?

        1. Kes*

          Think about the topic of the meeting, or plans for the project she’s working on, or check her email… work related activities. Honestly even staring at the wall probably would look better than doing crafts stuff that is typically perceived as a personal hobby. Butterfly Counter’s point stands about avoiding looking like you’re using work time for perceived personal hobbies

          1. melody*

            Yeah, this. Also, how did it become difficult to…be an adult at work and accept that meetings, and engaging with them without having to be entertained into doing so, is part of the deal?

            If you don’t like the meetings in a current job, time to find another job that actually interests you so that you can un-bore yourself.

            1. raktajino*

              Good luck finding a job that *never* has boring all-hands meetings where nothing is important enough to take notes and the back row isn’t fighting to stay awake.

            2. Aneurin*

              Please read the comments from the ND people on this thread: it’s not a case of being uninterested or “having to be entertained”, it’s a requirement of people’s brains in order for them to focus.

            3. Irish Teacher*

              It’s not really about needing to be entertained or not liking the meetings though.I am a teacher and I absolutely love my job. I look forward to classes. Yet, I fidget all the way through them; I walk around the classroom throwing my whiteboard marker in the air and catching it (we’ve actually had last classes before holidays when the students attempt to do the same). I’m not bored; I’m not in need of being entertained. I just need to do something with my hands.

              My ND students love it because they know they can just say, “Miss, can I go get a fidget toy?” and so long as it’s something non-distracting, I’ll be fine with it (when it’s something like playing with an elastic band and degenerates into shooting them at each other, then I have a problem with it, but so long as they are using something to keep their hands busy, that’s fine).

            4. HQetc*

              It’s really not a matter of being entertained or not bored, though. My job is really interesting, and I care about it a lot. Most of my meetings are about topics that I find important and engaging, some of which I have a personal investment in. I also have ADHD and simply cannot focus in meetings without doing something else with my hands. I’m not bored, I’m just distracted. Those are different things.
              And this may to may not be what you are doing, but it’s a common thing that neurodivergent/disabled people face to have neurotypical/non-disabled people try to map their experiences onto what the ND person is describing (I only loose focus in meetings when they are boring, so you must be bored and incapable of managing it), which really isn’t helpful because it’s a fundamentally different thing that needs to be managed in a fundamentally different way. And the implication that we*could* be doing it the neurotypical way but choose not to because we are, what… lazy? … not intelligent enough to realize we need a different job? is honestly a little insulting to hear.

            5. Aggretsuko*

              Good luck finding a job you find interesting that pays enough to live on and isn’t expendable. That’s why most of us have jobs that bore us.

            6. Ellis Bell*

              Fun fact, but scientifically, you don’t grow out of being neurodiverse, so “being an adult” has literally nothing to do with it. We have already lived in a world were nuerotypical people were relegated to a narrow field of jobs were they were using their hands. It’s ridiculous to allow that to continue; why are we rewarding people simply for having the correct appearances and being the same as each other? I know a need for activity can be misread as bored or inattentive, but it’s an extremely ignorant misreading in this day and age. The activity doesn’t “entertain”, it switches the brain into a higher gear so we can do more with the problems being discussed than often a nuerotypical can dream of; some of us are lucky enough to have hyperfocus, and while I feel sorry for people who never experience hyperfocus, it’s completely ridiculous to expect everyone to have the exact same brain.

      3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

        Unless you are in an org that actually believes in diversity and inclusion, and then you should re-examine how your org’s “optics” may have evolved from standards set by white nondisabled hetero Christian men.

      4. Jessica*

        “When you produce as much as Jane, Mary, *maybe* we can start talking about something as trivial as optics. Until then, the way Jane works is working for her and it’s working for the company, and I’m disinclined to disrupt it.”

      1. Chirpy*

        The people harping on other workers to clean instead of lean are almost always the ones who actually get chairs to sit on or computers to fiddle with, too…look, everyone needs a moment to pause. And lean, if there’s no chairs. 8+ hours of standing is rough.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        When I worked retail, I could keep busy almost all the time (unless I was in pain). There was always something to be straightened or stacked or cleaned, and I could daydream while doing so.

        My professional job requires large amounts of concentration to produce each widget, and if you take away my breaks then none of the widgets I make will work. I worked way too long for a company that mandated overtime every time the quality dipped below a certain threshold, which just snowballed into a quality crisis.

        1. Chirpy*

          Of course there is (almost) always something to clean or stock in retail,
          but there are times when if I don’t get a chance to chat with coworkers occasionally, I can go weeks with my only human interaction at work being customers screaming at me about things I cannot help.

          A previous job had a boss who only said “time to lean…” to one subset of support staff. We worked 6am to 11pm most days, and only got a break if we were efficient at our jobs, which were pretty physical (and without us, literally no one else could function.) So we just started hiding while taking our break (if you were efficient, you could get a 2-3 hour break in the afternoon where there literally wasn’t much we could do, our supervisor would just tell us when to be back for the evening portion.)

    3. Irish Teacher*

      Yeah, that would genuinely upset me. And I know this is largely just me being me and my weird aversion to that kind of joke and the LW almost certainly didn’t mean it as anything other than a joke, but it is the sort of thing that sends me into a complete tailspin.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, I didn’t care for the phrasing either. If it’s not a fit with organizational culture to knit in a meeting, just say that. I hate hinting, especially with a side of passive-aggression.

  4. Ghoulia Yelps*

    I have known MANY men who have impacted their female partner’s life negatively because they couldn’t get themselves out of bed in the morning– dated one myself for a frustrating period of time –and it really grinds my gears. Way to make her mommy you while also making her job performance suffer when there’s no cost to you, dude.

    1. I&I*

      To be fair, we don’t know what’s going on with the boyfriend; there are medical reasons why someone might struggle to wake up. He doesn’t have to be a bad person for her to need to find some other solution.

      1. Clisby*

        He doesn’t have to be a bad person at all, but there’s no mystery about the solution. If he’s not ready when she needs to leave for work, he doesn’t get a ride. End of story.

        1. Schnapps*

          This. So much this.

          Without further information, he is presumably a grown person and she is not his mother. It’s HIS responsibility to get out of be on time for HIS job and his partner’s job if he is depending on her for transportation.

        2. Betty*

          And I think we can assume that he got himself to work before they lived together. He can go back to whatever that was (I assume he was driving himself, but train, bus, whatever).

          1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

            THIS. How did he get to work before?

            The reason WHY he has trouble getting up in the morning are not the girlfriend’s problem. She needs to get to work on time, whether he can manage it or not.

          2. Michelle Smith*

            Well, the letter says they moved. It’s possible they downsized to one car or moved away from the train/bus route he was taking. We don’t know. We also don’t know that he got himself to work any earlier than he is now. It’s just a problem that it’s affecting LW’s employee so that’s the part I think we should focus on.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Yeah, we can’t say for sure of course but from the way it was worded in the letter my assumption was that he used to take public transit near his old place but now they got a new place together somewhere else.

              I am torn because I dislike the idea of her boyfriend causing her problems at work… but I am also a person who struggles with getting up in the mornings!

              So, based on the fact that OP says 1) her tasks are all still getting done on time and 2) she would be willing to let her start time be later officially but is afraid that suggesting that would just make her even more late, then I have to ask: is there even actually a problem here at all?

              1. a good mouse*

                Well she says that the tasks are time dependent and to move her start time would mean shuffling tasks in the department, so I don’t think its as simple as shrugging and considering it not a problem. If she legitimately can’t get to work those 10-15 minutes earlier, it can be a bigger discussion on if those changes are needed, but if it’s just a matter of her changing her routine or putting her foot down it seems like those personal adjustments are a better solution.

          3. TypityTypeType*

            He apparently doesn’t need to be as conscious about time as she does, so he has, consciously or not, extended to her to his “flexible about arrival time” prerogative.

            This is a bad look — people who know about the relationship may conclude “Whoever is dating Jethro can come in whenever they want.” And any blowback from that will affect her, not him.

            If Boyfriend wants to keep flexibility about his arrival time, he can get himself to work.

        3. Reality Check*

          Exactly. Reminds me of my younger brother when he first moved into an apartment with me. My mother always went crazy getting him out of bed on time. I refused to do it. He was late Monday and cured of it by Tuesday.

        4. GreyjoyGardens*

          Agreed. He’s a grown adult and it’s on him to find solutions to life’s problems. Got a medical issue? He and his doctor work something out. If he’s just lazy and entitled, then being late and getting in trouble will cure him.

          Women, please don’t feel like you have to Mommy your partner!

        5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          That in the end was what I had to do to a sibling in HS (they had orchestra and I had pre-calculus first period). It was no big deal if they were a few mins late in their mind, because their class was always a bit slow getting going – mine dove right into academics as class started. After they started complaining that I was leaving them behind without a ride to school they finally got it in gear and would get to the car on time to leave – but it took them being left behind almost a dozen times before they got the message that I was serious (fortunately my parents also had my back on the leaving sleepyhead sibling behind).

          Ultimately this is on Sarah to fix – all you as the manager can do is lay out what needs to happen and hold her to the requirements of the job.

      2. n*

        Truthfully we don’t even know if her explanation is true or not, and luckily it doesn’t matter. There are a million personal reasons people might be late. It’s not a manager’s job to fix them. That ought to be liberating to the OP!

    2. Thatoneoverthere*

      My husband is a very good person, who struggles with getting up and out of bed on time. He is a great worker, Dad and partner. However this is a major struggle for him. He’s literally tried everything under the sun (apart from a bed that launches him out). My mother in law is very similar (although) not as bad. It used to really bother me, but I stopped caring and attempting to wake him up. This doesn’t make him a bad person.

      1. Thatoneoverthere*

        Also to be fair, I am not usually home when he needs to get up. I am already at work. So he gets up it just takes him longer and he will occassionally sleep through an alarm.

        1. J!*

          It’s not that he has trouble getting out of bed that makes the LW’s partner rude. (I do, too, I am not good with mornings.) It’s that he consistently makes her late.

          You can get up early and get the ride, or you can go at your own pace and find your own way there. You don’t get to rely on someone else and go at your own pace without consequence.

      2. nm*

        I’m the sleepyhead in my marriage–it turned out to be a treatable health problem, but to this day my partner still calls me “sleepy” instead of “sweety” XD
        A person in Sarah’s position needs to find a solution that she can implement without *needing* buy-in/consent/cooperation from her partner…and I don’t think a manager can realistically know enough personal details to find that solution for her. They can really only tell her that the problem is serious, and let her figure it out.

        1. I&I*

          Exactly. Hopefully this will turn out to be teething problems from changing their living situation; whether he’s a jerk or not isn’t a work issue. All the manager needs to worry about is the outcome.

      3. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        The issue is that LW’s partner is making them late, not that they sleep in/have trouble getting up.

        As someone who struggles to get out of bed in the mornings, I have tons of empathy for anyone with similar problems–but not for someone who makes it their partner’s problem to the point of getting said partner in trouble at work.

    3. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      If this guy happens to be one of the people in the world who are Always Correct and anyone who disagrees with them is Always Wrong, having an actual request for timeliness from a manager could be useful to her. Because if he does happen to be that kind of guy, sometimes the less egregious variety will accept a No, You’re Wrong from someone who isn’t their partner where they might not accept it from their partner.

      (I was in a relationship with two separate medium-to-bad examples of this kind of guy, and it was amazing how many things that each dude dismissed when it came from me, but paid attention to when it came from someone who he respected, or at least whose authority he was obliged to respect.)

      1. Part time lab tech*

        My husband did something in this vein early in our marriage. My chief regret is not talking over the situation with someone or using the available EAP before my team leader brought it up. Hubby doubled down when I told him I was going to get into trouble at work. I simply didn’t know what to do when explaining and giving contact options that would work were ignored.
        He only called me once more after I actually did get corrected:/
        Perhaps recommend she talk to EAP or talk to one of his relatives who is likely to tell him he’s being a selfish patriarchal jerk.

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    My daughter is in the hard sciences and learned to knit it graduate school, where it is quite popular at conferences. Perhaps this is reaching a critical mass to shift norms?

      1. Lizcase*

        I know of a few people who knit through grad school, and at least two mathematicians who do this in conferences.

        i wish it were more acceptable. i can take in so much more if I can distract the part of my brain that is trying to distract me. I have specific projects that are for “social knitting” that need little attention by eyes or brain. plain socks or hats are good: knit stitch only, round and round and round. If working from home, I use small movements, quiet needles, and keep my hands in my lap. knitting is my fidgetspinner

    1. WomEngineer*

      There’s someone on TikTok who knits during her college lectures. I (Gen Z) would see it as more of a quirk than a faux pas.

      1. Manders*

        For the record, I have no feelings either way about doing something like needlework at a conference. I’ve just never seen it in action. I am very much NOT crafty, but I could probably jam the pointy sticks into my thighs to keep me awake during certain talks :)

        1. nm*

          I’m also an academic in the sciences and I’ve never seen it in person…but when all the conferences were virtual and my camera was off, you bet I was knitting.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That has been my observation! I wouldn’t be surprised if it varies a lot by industry. But STEM tends to attract neuroatypical folks, so that makes sense in your example.

    3. anonymoose*

      Alan Turing used to knit (Moebius scarves:) during seminars, so I think that’s a good example for scientific types to cite to wipe out the sexist aversion to yarn/thread work.

    4. Jen*

      There are often some people knitting or crocheting at library conferences. Librarians tolerate a LOT of quirks, but I hope that the norms are shifting.

    5. judyjudyjudy*

      I have a PhD in chemistry and I don’t observe the norms shifting. I have never seen anyone craft at any meeting I’ve attended at my biotech company.

      1. Jam on Toast*

        While not common in the academic circles I belong to, it’s not unusual, either and I’ve never observed anyone commenting critically in public. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen academics that I know personally who regularly knit or crochet during meetings and conferences. In my own professional life, I’ve seen a significant increase over the past fifteen years or so, largely as a result of two factors: the increased visibility and awareness of neurodivergency and the feminist reclamation of previously marginalized domestic craft skills like knitting, sewing and quilting.

  6. Anonymous Educator*

    I used to doodle when in school, and I’ve knit during meetings before. I don’t see what the problem is here. Is she paying attention during the meeting? Is she contributing? Is her “needlepoint” making too much noise? How is her actual work performance? Is she meeting her goals?

    I think, whether you’re an employee or a manager, you need to pick your battles. As a manager, is this really what you want to spend your energy on? Is this really the thing you want to make a thing with Jane?

    1. not a hippo*

      I’d be fascinated to know how needlepoint makes /any/ noise unless she’s swearing every time she accidentally pricks herself with the needle (hi)

      1. Watry*

        Depending on the type of cloth and how tightly it’s pulled, the needle can make a small noise when it goes through, and the thread can sort of scrape against it as you pull it through. IME there’s less noise when I’m knitting unless I’m really barrelling through some garter or stockinette stitch, when the needles start clicking.

      2. Jojo*

        As Watry said, there is a bit of noise with needlepoint. However, if you are using typical needlepoint canvas you can stitch with a blunt needle and eliminate poking your finger painfully. Personally, I’d find the motion more distracting then the sound, but that’s just me.

    2. not a hippo*

      Gotta say, I envy anyone who can embroider/knit/crochet and pay attention to the world around them. I need to put all of my focus on my embroidery otherwise I fuck up immensely.

      1. Keyboard Cowboy*

        There are definitely different levels, and you do have to be at a certain competency for it to be a fidget instead of a distraction. Learning to knit in a meeting? Probably not. Knitting complex charted lace in a meeting? Again, probably not, although simpler lace which you’ve memorized the pattern for may be fine. Knitting stockinette, when you know you can do it without looking? Yes, perfect, do it.

        1. Orora*

          Plain stockinette (or an easy rib) socks on two circular needles are ideal for this: small, portable, no brain power needed until the heel and/or toe (which can be worked on when not in a meeting).

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I did every color in a counted cross-stitch except black before I started bringing it to meetings. Filling in a large black section with zero counting is about the level of multitasking I can accomplish.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      My manager approaches the need to fidgets from the standpoint that we’re all different. All he asks is to try and keep your fidget from distracting your neighbor (and if you know in advance to be kind and not sit next to Jane if you know in advance she’ll be distracted or pick at you all meeting).

      And yes – he did shut down the office “appearances police” with a conversation about their work is fine – what about the doodles is causing a concrete work product concern. She now has to sit in the very front of the room in an assigned seat because she wouldn’t stop complaining and picking at those of us that doodle on the margins of our agendas…..with no impact other than better attention in the meeting.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        To clarify, my boss was never you can’t fidget – but he did try and work with people to come up with noise-minimum or noise-free fidgets. The fidget wasn’t the problem, it was the noise and it’s impacts on others ability to participate fully in the meetings.

  7. Schnapps*

    I work for an Indigenous organization and people often bead, weave, or crochet, during meetings. If we said it’s not allowed, there would be an uproar.

    In a previous job, I worked for a municipality, and there was a Council member who would knit during Council meetings – she still participated.

    I have always found it odd that doodling on notepads is acceptable, but other activities that keep you focused aren’t. Many adult education courses now provide “fidgets” for people to hold and play with while in class so I don’t know why meetings would be any different.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      My pastor routinely knits in meetings. She participates fully. It is not a problem. As for doodling, the difference is the pretense that you are taking notes. This is entirely prioritizing appearance over substance.

      1. Rainbow*

        That’s a bit of an assumption.

        A few years ago, a guy made a derisive comment about how I (a woman) had been “doodling all the way through that meeting”. I had been taking copious notes, as I always do, because I remember things better when I write them down. He shut up when I showed him the notes page. I have no idea why he thought it was appropriate to comment in the first place.

        1. n*

          Not only is the comment rude and out of line, but also quite revealing that the guy sees someone putting pen to paper and assumes they’re drawing and not, you know, taking notes, like a responsible person does. Some projection there.

        2. Per my previous email*

          Because he was a sexist prick. He wanted a reason to snipe at you, and he didn’t start with the assumption that you, a woman, would be taking copious notes unless it was for somebody else’s benefit.

    2. ferrina*

      I love this. It’s also the nature of this type of crafts- it keeps your hands busy but your mind is free to wander or converse. It’s the perfect way to do the rhythmic tasks, and it’s the perfect way to stimulate the mind while listening. This is literally how humans absorbed information for centuries- they weren’t just sitting around telling stories, they were telling stories while doing the essential tasks of spinning/weaving/sewing/beading/whittling/etc.

    3. yala*

      I’ll take a council member knitting during a meeting than one that keeps checking his phone and texting during the public comments where folks wait for an hour+ to speak to their council members…

    4. Silver Robin*

      Doodling looks like taking notes, which is why it is a common work around. Silly, but so much of human social norms are silly.

      Totally agreed on letting people keep their hands busy as long is it is not disruptive to the overall flow/goal of the meeting. I, for example, keep dropping my needles on the floor at home when I do needlepoint, so I would not bring it to work to do during a meeting because hunting for a small silver needle is disruptive. But I assume Jane is not so butterfingered as I am!

    5. Middle of HR*

      Several years ago (so hopefully no longer relevant) a staff member raged after a board meeting that one of the boardmembers dared to disrespectfully doodle during a presentation. I wish I’d spoken up at the time, but felt awkward.
      I’ve always doodled (and now work remotely and knit) discreetly during large meetings, and wish it were normalized.

  8. bamcheeks*

    I’m in awe of Jane! Normalise using crafts to focus in meetings!

    LW, if you are a straitlaced and traditional industry where appearances matter a lot, it might be fair to push back on Jane about this. However, if your company has any diversity drives, or aspirations to be a cool “bring your whole self to work” type company, or has any techy “beer fridge & Xbox” vibes, you should absolutely champion Jane’s embroidery.

    1. GreyjoyGardens*

      I agree with this comment. Some industries are stodgy and have a great deal of emphasis on “looking professional.” Others are more freewheeling. If you’re in a freewheeling industry, let Jane do her needlepoint. But if you’re in one of those “look professional” industries *or* if the Big Boss(es) are micromanagers or stick in the muds – if there are going to be Consequences – then speak up and tell Jane no needlepoint.

    2. Ann Nonymous*

      But how about when someone doing crafts is actually distracting others? Who gets priority here? For me, it’s hard to ignore someone else’s hands moving or creating something that I can see. That removes my attention to the presenter/meeting/others.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        This is why I sit at the front of the room and why we have a culture of turning our cameras off in virtual meetings if we’re going to be eating lunch or doing something else that will potentially be a distracting amount of movement.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I don’t know, tbh. I wonder whether it would be less distracting if it was more regular and whether it would just fade into the background, like some one doodling. And sometimes a very quick flash of, “oh, it’s a sleeve!” or “it’s flowers— for my mum’s birthday!” is all it takes to satisfy someone’s curiosity. I also think it might be helpful to frame it as a better alternative to someone clicking a pen, or folding up the frilly bits of paper leftover in a ring bound notebook, or pulling a hairband until it snaps (all things I do in meetings if I don’t have something more structured to do!)

        But if you know all that and it’s still distracting— I don’t know!

        (I think the next letter is the perfect companion piece to this!)

  9. Snake Boots*

    I am also a person who does embroidery during meetings. At my last multi-day training on “operational leadership,” I told the one facilitator that I could either do embroidery and listen, or I could look at him and be completely lost the whole time. I interacted more than almost anyone else at the training.

    I sometimes get pushback from people who think that I am not focused because my hands are busy. However, after addressing their misconceptions, most of my coworkers have realized that they were holding to an outdated view of productivity.

  10. Richard Hershberger*

    The question for those who consider the needlework unprofessional is whether it is more important that she stay focused in meetings, or that she looks like she is focused in meetings? If the latter, this merits serious pondering.

  11. Needled*

    This is funny because I literally do embroidery to help me focus in zoom meetings. Now that I’m on a new team and not working from home I don’t anymore, because of the optics, but i also don’t focus anywhere as well in meetings except for the ones that I spend making origami cranes below camera level…

    1. Jojo*

      Needled, I’ll sometimes grab graph paper and work out some Sashiko designs during meetings. Nobody tell my coworkers.

  12. Rainbow*

    I pretty much never disagree with the responses :) except for LW3, who wants to contact the person in the role they’re looking at!

    I’m in a niche field, and I’ve had people do this to me at least three times. I love chatting with them, I’ll be more honest than my company would like me to be, and I want to get to know them anyway because I want to know everybody in my field. It’s a win for them, a win for me, and if my company is behaving appropriately I’ll say good things about them too. We would typically be “2nd level” LinkedIn connections already, because probably practically everyone in my line of work is.

  13. The Person from the Resume*

    For the employee who is late, 100% make it about her getting herself to work on time.

    As her friend, I’d tell her to just leave him when he’s making her late (assuming she’s driving her car) and he should learn his lesson. Or she changes her start time and doesn’t tell him so he still thinks she has the previous start time and his start time stays the same.

    But it doesn’t matter why/who is making her late. The employee is in a job where being on time matters and staying late doesn’t actually make up the missed time because her daily deadlines are already past. You need to implement consquences if she is continuing to be consistantly late to work up to firing if she can’t manage it.

    1. Also cute and fluffy!*

      +1 – make it about getting herself to work on time.

      In high school, I had a choice of leaving the house at 6:45 am to catch the bus or getting a ride with my older brother leaving the house by 7:45 to be on time to school. Trouble was, he was often late leaving. So I ended up in the vice principal’s office, and blaming my brother only got me “You’re still responsible for getting yourself to school on time.”

  14. Problem!*

    I am one of many many people who needs to have something to do with their hands while they’re thinking. I was the kid who always got in trouble for doodling or playing with my hair in school. If it’s not disruptive who cares?

    I’ve worked in both creative and rigid STEM fields and seems like STEM people have a much harder time realizing different peoples’ brains work differently and what’s “normal” for one person isn’t for another.

    1. Kit Kendrick*

      I had a professor get quietly annoyed with my for filling my notebook margins with elaborate scrollwork during lectures. She’d constantly stop mid-lecture and ask me a pointed question, which I’d answer correctly, because I was listening. I finally figured out what was wrong and explained to her that not fidgeting at all was impossible and if I tried to take real-time notes I’d get lost in the notes and lose the lecture. At the end of each class, on my own time, I’d do a quick dump of the key points onto the blank part of the page like ‘normal’ notes. (This was in the 1990’s when there was far less awareness of ADHD coping mechanisms.)

      1. Middle of HR*

        No in school gave me guff about my doodles, thankfully, but it probably helped that I quickly developed a reputation in most classes for being a reliable person to call on when no one volunteered an answer. Yup, paying attention, just need to keep moving somehow.

    2. tangerineRose*

      When I majored in Computer Science, I found that doodling on the margins in between taking notes really helped me relax and focus better. No one gave me a hard time about it, but I was paying attention in class and contributing enough that they probably figured it wasn’t a big deal.

      And it was better than what I did in high school, which was to read a fun book during class.

  15. Minimal Pear*

    Every time I see a question like the first one, it reminds me I really need to get back into doing embroidery or sewing (small, hand-held mending) or knitting or SOMETHING during meetings. I’ve been having such a hard time focusing lately and I know doing something with my hands helps. I just always forget to have something ready to go for when I need it.

  16. Silicon Valley Girl*

    At least now, for virtual meetings, doing needlework is mostly a non-issue — either you have your camera off or you can position it so your hands aren’t visible (and looking down could be looking at your keyboard, which ppl do all the time). But even in-office, it seems silly to make a big deal of it as long as the person is participating in the meeting & getting their work done.

  17. Frank Doyle*

    I would just like to say that I love Alison’s suggestion of establishing a throuple as a possible solution to the boyfriend problem. Always thinking outside the box!

  18. AnonMurphy*

    I so much second the ADHD focus issue. Crochet helped me get through college lectures and even now I sometimes crochet during Zoom meetings.

    From the manager perspective I would also add that the type of meeting does matter. An internal technical meeting vs a client proposal or assessment, it’s not a good look in the latter. If Jane shows good judgment about it I’d go to bat for it!

  19. Eldritch Office Worker*

    Needlepoint is probably more professional that my current go-to of picking at my nail polish….

  20. Enginerd*

    You might recommend something less obvious for meetings. I use a fidget cube for meetings as people, especially clients and senior leadership, want to see your focus entirely on the meeting, at least for in person meetings. Engineering is oddly conservative with office culture most of the time. We’ve had company wide emails go out from the CEO asking people to refrain from checking their phone during meetings as it looks like the client/project does not have your full attention. Every one of us has our work emails and teams accounts on our phones so its typically work related its just the perception that it creates

    1. Frank Doyle*

      But even if it’s work-related, it’s still distracting you from the topic at hand.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        It’s probably not though. A lot of people find it easier to concentrate when they are fidgeting. It’s when they are not fidgeting that they are being distracted from the topic at hand.

    2. Morning Coffee*

      Good recommendation and might work for Jane, but I personally would end up tossing it from hand to hand without noticing.

  21. Marketing Ninja Unicorn*

    I am a knitter and a crocheter, and I 100% do this in meetings (Board meetings where I’m on the Board, work meetings, etc.)

    I usually bring a very simple project (dishcloths are a favorite! They work up quickly and I don’t need to think or count, it’s all muscle memory now) and save my complicated projects that involve counting and following a pattern for home.

    I actually have a basket in my office of ‘meeting projects’ that are dishcloths or granny-square coasters or small lap blankets or scarves that I have made that are free for people to take. Sometimes people offer me money for them, to cover the cost of yarn, but sometimes they don’t. I don’t much mind either way, because the work keeps my brain focused and happy and I enjoy the creative process.

    I am fortunate enough to work in an organization that is rife with neuro-divergent people and many people have similar fidgets so we all just agree to have quiet fidgets.

  22. Keyboard Cowboy*

    I love all the comments about people using crafting as a focus/fiddle. The tone in the comments today seems pretty different from the recent one where someone get told off for knitting during a training (even though the trainer was fine with it)…

  23. Lorac*

    I knew someone who used to play Hearthstone during company meetings because they claimed it helped them concentrate. It’s a card fighting game, similar to Magic The Gathering. They’d just have it out on their laptop screen while other people were presenting or talking.

    Their manager told them to knock it off and they were shocked it was an issue.

    1. LimeRoos*

      Lol wow. That really isn’t something to do during meetings. Great game and super fun, but definitely distracting.

    2. Also-ADHD*

      That’s the kind of thing I’d do WFH, and it does help me concentrate if it’s a meeting I’m mostly listening in (like department etc). I’m happy to present etc but if I’m not actively doing something in my screen I need a low focus task (a small game that’s turn need could be good like an RTS). I can watch something better when playing games so frequently watch movies and TV while playing a game on the other TV. But of course you can’t do that in public, though I’ve seen knitting accepted in many places and even been an official accommodation.

  24. PrgrmMngr*

    I’ve taken up crafts during meetings and trainings when I work from home – I have a crochet blanket I’ve been working on, and today I’m working on a bargello needlecraft kit. if my hands aren’t occupied, it’s to easy to start checking email and trying to poorly multitask on work items.

  25. Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom*

    I always ask the presenter or the people who are attending the meetings/events along with me to check that I can do my cross stitch. I often get a lot of good questions, and never any weirdness. In fact, I’ve had presenters and colleagues follow up with me on my projects long after the meeting. But I would always ask first. I’m so glad that this question came up!

  26. 123*

    Just tell Sarah she needs to be at work on time period. If she doesn’t follow through write her up. It’s unfortunate that it might impact her relationship but that really isn’t any of the companies business. If for example it was a sick child, or something like that then I’d give more leeway but her boyfriend making her late really isn’t an excuse.

    1. Random Dice*

      Yeah but… does she actually need to be there on time? She’s getting all her work done.

  27. AMarie*

    I crochet to manage anxiety during the workday. I have a lot of random, odd crochet projects on my desk at home.

  28. learnedthehardway*

    I unfortunately can’t craft during meetings because I have ZERO memory, and need to take copious and detailed notes. Also, being client-facing means that appearances totally matter, and I can’t get away with it.

    But I would absolutely love to do so, and I actually remember and focus better when my hands are occupied. I am far more engaged if I’m occupying the ADHD part of my brain with something else AS LONG AS that something else doesn’t use the same brain cells. eg. doing a craft while talking – great. looking at pictures while talking – better than zoning out. reading something while talking / listening – cannot even hear what you are saying to me.

    The only problem is that I have to have my notes for months later, when I have totally forgotten about what was said, otherwise. So I really have to take notes instead of craft….

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I can so relate to this! I can’t listen to something and read, but I can listen and paint or draw or make things. I remember so much better that way.

      I can’t listen and do nothing if I’m and to focused at all.

  29. AAManagerSuperfan*

    In my experience, it’s mostly weird for the first person who does it. A few years ago we had one staff member who knitted during meetings and now we have many! As a manager, I’m fine with whatever helps people focus as long as it doesn’t impose on others (blasting loud music, burning stinky candles…)

  30. Allura*

    I started stitching during meetings when working from home. I use a really easy design and it occupies the part of my brain that gets easily sidetracked. Now that we’re back in person partially, I keep thinking about it but mostly I just play on my phone. But even in the office, most meetings are on Teams, so I might bring some in. In person meetings tend to be very active or very formal, though, so not really a good fit there.

  31. CLC*

    As a person with ADHD it makes me absolutely FUME when people say doing totally harmless things you need to do to do your job and keep your sanity is “unprofessional.” I got this a LOT 15-25 years ago at various jobs and it really derailed my career not to mention made me feel like crap especially when I was undiagnosed. I was told it was unprofessional to take notes all through a meeting, to use colored ink and/or for my own personal notes, to listen to music in headphones while doing head-down work independently, etc. In my current job I’ve had for about a decade I haven’t really experienced this, maybe at least partly because I’m older and people don’t feel the need to tell me what is and isn’t “professional” *as much.* Still, working from home has made me so much less self conscious about this kind of thing. I can listen to music, surround myself with stimulating scents and colors, and if I’m not on camera during a call I will absolutely play a time wasting game on my phone that stimulates a dopamine response and keeps me way more focused and engaged on a call. People with ADHD and other ND and executive function difference spend most of our lives seeking mechanisms that help us live and function. When you find one like doing needlepoint in a meeting it is wonderful. If you are person judging others for this type of behavior I urge you to rethink and ask yourself exactly why you find it distasteful.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Yeah that shocked me…notes is the THING TO DO. People are regularly coached to doodle in their notebooks because that looks like taking notes, so will not cause as much disruption. Being told not to is…wow.

        Also, color coded notes are great. Boo to whoever told you not to do that.

    1. Orange You Glad*

      I always listen to music or podcasts while working (headphones & streaming from my phone). I work in an open-concept cube farm so it often gets noisy with other people’s conversations and phone calls which distract me when I have analytical work to complete.

      At first, my boss had an issue with it but when I asked what other solutions he had, he couldn’t come up with anything and let me continue. After a few years, he got it in his head that it’s impossible for anyone to concentrate if they are listening to a podcast so music is ok but no podcasts. I actually prefer podcasts since they are longer format and help me pace my time when I’m reviewing a very large data set. I also haven’t received any comments or negative feedback about my work. I figure he can’t see what I’m playing on my phone so I’ve just kept doing what I’m doing and now I work from home most days anyway where it’s much easier to concentrate.

    2. tangerineRose*

      I work from home and usually have jazz music on in the background. It helps me focus better.

  32. HR Friend*

    I see lots of comments expressing that knitting or similar helps them focus in meetings. That’s great for the person doing the knitting, but doesn’t take other people into account.

    I attended a professional conference recently, and a few people were knitting at the table in front of me during the presentations. The constant repetitive movement and the crafts themselves were really distracting. If crafting in a meeting isn’t a disability accommodation, why would their preference to have busy hands trump my preference for basic quiet/stillness? And I’m not talking about perfect stillness and quiet, just the levels expected in a meeting.

    1. anonymoose*

      I bet everyone could be accommodated simultaneously with good seating arrangements

    2. metadata minion*

      Can you bring it up with the organizers? Having a specific table/row for crafters so that people distracted by them can sit elsewhere might be a good way to accommodate both of you.

      1. Silver Robin*

        Yeah, have the busy hands towards the back and the folks who find that distracting sit in front. Low noise options also exist to address clacking needles (bamboo, I think?) and then everyone has what they need.

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          Metal needles are the real problem. Wood & bamboo needles rock.

    3. Orange You Glad*

      I was thinking about this too. The only time I’ve ever run into someone knitting/crafting in a meeting was last week. We were on a large teams call and the person who volunteered to share her screen (so her video was moved to the front) was also knitting on camera. I couldn’t stop staring at what she was doing with her hands instead of listening to the presenter. If she had just dropped her hands out of frame, I doubt I would have noticed.

  33. Hosta*

    Maria Klawe (President Emeritus of Harvey Mudd College) is known for doing watercolor in meetings to help her focus.

    I’m one of those folks who does better if I keep my hands busy during a meeting. It both helps me focus and also prevents me from dominating the conversation. My preference would be to knit, but I acknowledge that it is both seen as unprofessional and can also be a distraction. So I limit my knitting to large meetings where mostly I just need to listen and I take projects that are small, don’t require any extra gear (not even scissors), and that I don’t need to look at except once every few minutes. And I sit in the back when I’m knitting so I don’t distract the presenter or other attendees.

    When I can’t knit I use other, more subtle ways to keep my hands busy. My current favorite is a small ball of sticky tack that I can keep in my hand or in a pocket. It makes no noise if I drop it on accident and if someone sees it, it is just an office supply. It annoys me that it isn’t useful the way knitting is, but sometimes I have to “play the part” at work.

    I recommend sitting down with Jane and helping her figure

    1. judyjudyjudy*

      There is an optics issue here, even though it’s totally unfair. It’s a little different when you are probably one of the top brass in the meeting. Who would tell Maria Klawe no?

      The LW will have to think carefully about what, if anything, to say to Jane, who is newer in her male-dominated field.

      Also, were you a Mudd alum?

  34. Anonymous Demi ISFJ*

    This headline gave me a bit of a shock since I was working on a needlepoint project in a meeting this morning! Now that I think of it, I probably wouldn’t do it in a meeting with the biggest of the bigwigs, but nobody seems to mind in a weekly staff meeting.

    Depends on the project – I can practically make a coaster in my sleep at this point, so that leaves plenty of brain cells for listening to the meeting. Cross-stitch is harder for me since you have to be referencing the pattern all the time!

    In any case, when I’m not needlepointing in meetings, I’m usually fidgeting with something else (worry stones or Speks) since my default fidgeting activity is to pick at and tear the skin around my fingernails…

  35. Post Morbus*

    Are we not going to talk about how weird it is that someone went to HR to tattle on Jane and not speak with her the OP/her manager first?

  36. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (needlepoint) – “I talked with Jane to let her know that the comment was made and, while professional appearance is important, I was pleased with her performance and felt no need to restrict the craft activity.”

    I have to wonder what OP expects Jane to do with this information. “You should know that people are saying this about you, but actually it doesn’t bother me so you don’t need to change it”- hmm. Actually I wonder what HR expected OP to do with the information.

    1. Samwise*

      I personally find it helpful to know that there’s a busybody/pot stirrer out there. I’m alerted…

      Some years ago I kept getting “reported” by one such coworker. Almost all of it nitpicky stuff, none of it brought directly to me, but once I’d made a real error in judgment. Before I could say anything to the boss myself, it was “reported.” Boss would not say who, just that “someone you think is a friend, is not a friend.”

      I figured it out, and made sure that from that point I interacted with The Snake as little as possible. The number of “reports” went way down

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      Besides what Samwise said, Jane could decide to cut back if depending upon if and how she wanted her career to progress.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        Yup exactly. How much capital does Jane have? How much does she want to expend on this craft? Maybe plenty and its fine, or maybe she’s looking for a promotion and doesn’t want to hurt her chances. Maybe she will curtail it only to certain meetings/places, or maybe not. Its still useful information.

      2. Silver Robin*

        +1; Jane gets to decide how much she cares about optics and knows that the manager is fine either way.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      The point is that Jane doesn’t *have* to do anything with the information, but may decide that she *wants* to. She may decide she doesn’t want to become known as The Needlepointer so she might choose to stop if she knows it’s something people are talking about. Or she may decide the benefits she gets from it outweigh those people’s opinions and keep going. Now that she has all the information it is her choice.

  37. M*

    I really bristled at “don’t do this because it’s female-coded”. Normalize being a woman and doing things associated with women as a competent person. Bring out your inner Elle Woods, people will still be sexist regardless, so may as well fight the sexism.

    1. Countess of Shrewsbury*

      Me too. I get that the world is patriarchal but I don’t think the solution to that is to actively discourage things that are considered “feminine” because they’re too “girly” for an office. There’s nothing wrong with being “feminine” or doing “feminine” things — to say anything else is just misogyny in a different outfit.

    2. Yeah...*


      Also, I’ve also not done certain things in my work environment because “female-coded” was not something I wanted to deal with.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      Alison didn’t say “don’t do this because it’s female-coded”. She said to be aware of how it can be viewed.

      It’s one of the things I like about this blog, quite often the advice is along the lines of “this is how people will see it, it’s up to you if you consider that a problem or not.” Some people want to challenge norms, some people just want things to go smoothly. Both a valid choices, but it’s best to make the choice after being fully informed.

      1. Elle Manager*

        There’s also nothing wrong that pointing out that women are very often encouraged to “lean in” and be as masculine as possible to “earn respect” from workplace chauvinists and to push back on the idea that one should be careful about being openly feminine in an office.

    4. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      The actual quote:
      “Needlepoint is also a very female-coded activity, and if you’re in a male-dominated environment, it might mean people take her less seriously. That’s is obviously ridiculous and sexist, but it happens.”

  38. Modesty Poncho*

    Just gonna shout out the delightful option of polyamory so they can get another car into the relationship. Never change, Alison. (Meant sincerely! From someone in a polyam relationship)

  39. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I look at the wide array of fidget gadgets that my college kid uses and realize how much I would have benefitted from that. I was a compulsive doodler. I think the number of people who focus better when their hands are occupied are greatly underestimated.

    Is it professional by current norms, probably not. Should norms change- definitely

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this. I was also a doodler in junior high and high school, particularly in classes where the teacher basically went through the same material that was in the textbook. I made some notes, but very rarely referred to them later. And I’m NT, AFAIK.

  40. Iworktheretoo*

    Knitting during a meeting is unprofessional. it’s as unprofessional as if someone were rolling cigars, building a ship model or curling 10 lb weights. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make a sound. It does mean you’re doing something else during the meeting and you’re probably distracting others.

    1. LawBee*

      Eh, I can knit under the table and you’d never notice. It’s entirely different than your examples.

    2. raktajino*

      Taking notes during a meeting is unprofessional. If you were truly paying attention, you wouldn’t need to write anything down. You’d just be able to memorize it. Writing or typing means you’re doing something else during the meeting and you’re probably distracting others.

      1. ZincMink*

        I agree with raktajino.

        On a more serious note, neurotypicals fascinate me. Why does everyone have to adapt to you and your preferences, especially when what they’re doing enables them to participate and concentrate?

        1. GythaOgden*

          Actually a number of us neurodivergent also find it annoying and distracting and have come up with less obtrusive things to help focus our attention. Being neurodivergent does not give you a total right to distract other people on the spectrum.

          1. raktajino*

            Do you really think that someone comparing knitting in a meeting to doing bicep curls in a meeting would also be okay with a fidget spinner or thinking putty? There are professionalism sticklers that won’t even let retail employees sit down. You know whatever “less obtrusive” thing you’re using wouldn’t fly in such a strict environment.

            I’m honestly kind of amazed that the discussions are so heated. If something’s distracting in real life, just ask them kindly to stop? Or maybe in some situations, moving yourself to a different seat would be an easier solution. I hope the actual discussions in the office don’t get this defensive (and if they do, uh, read more AAM I guess, because someone’s going about it wrong)

        2. Professional Staff*

          I know you’re being sarcastic, but I literally had to talk someone out of this mindset in a meeting yesterday.

        3. ina*

          I dislike people who think that being neurodivergenced only looks one way and if you don’t do it like you then you’re not neurodivergent at all. These kinds of repetitive actions out the corner of ones eyes are very distracting to some of us & make it so we can’t focus – your comfort doesn’t trump mine and there should be a middle ground. Yes, people taking frequent notes also is distracting but taking notes is a necessary work task.

          Seriously. Neurodivergents like you fascinate me.

        1. raktajino*

          Respect and professionalism are culturally and regionally specific. Good thing too, because I would hate to wear nylons and skirt suit all day, or call all men Mr but women get first names.

  41. KT*

    I had a classmate in college who knitted socks in discussion groups. We were in same field so we had a number of different classes together. She’d always say on the first day of class that she needed to keep her hands busy, and she’d be very active in discussions, which demonstrated she was paying attention. It doesn’t always help with random passersby, but just stating it matter of fact up front and not drawing attention to it again caused the rest of us to not even notice by semester’s end.

  42. LawBee*

    I knit, spin, weave, embroider, cross-stitch—basically if it has to do with a stick and string, I’ve at least poked at it. I also have ADHD and space out in meetings regularly, and have used crafting to help focus.

    Needlepoint is not the craft I would have chosen though. I suspect part of the issue was that she’s likely looking down a lot. I would have also wondered if she was paying attention, even though I have the same issue and coping mechanism. Dishcloth knitting, crocheting a scarf, anything that can be done without looking would track better.

    1. Sequoia*

      Now I’m getting a mental image of you sitting in a meeting with a full-sized spinning wheel going full tilt. That might be a bit distracting!

  43. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    I had a co-worker almost 20 years ago with, I believe, Tourette’s Syndrome, which caused him to make rather loud, inadvertent vocal noises. He would knit during meetings because it was something that prevented the sounds. Nobody thought anything of it. I can’t believe, nearly two decades later, that some innocuous activity that helps people concentrate in meetings would be an issue.

  44. SongbirdT*

    I’m over the moon thrilled that there are so many fellow needlepointers and other stitchers who use it for meeting focus! that’s precisely why I picked it up a few months ago and it’s made such a world of difference. I have a ton of camera-off conference calls in my remote role, and I work on my projects during those. I probably wouldn’t do it in an in-person meeting, but I sure as heck would cheer on someone who was!

    Tangentially… why are needlepoint websites so bleh? And why are needlepoint shops only open during working hours??? And finally, can we get some nerdy needlepoint canvases please? Flowers are lovely but I wanna do a space ship.

    1. Goody*

      A few sites to check out (deliberately not linking full URLs):
      NerdFelt (also carries a wide variety of tea!)

  45. Donkey Hotey*

    Background: I’m a dude who cross stitches. I learned in the 90s when I was in the Navy. Makes for good conversation as it can be an exception to the norm. For me, I can’t do it as a fidget, but I have no problem with people who do, so long as they pay attention and participate.

    Why I’m Actually Writing: Last week, our dryer broke and I had to go to the laundromat. Of course, I brought my current project with me. A woman came up and we talked about it. She said she used to cross stitch in church because it helped her concentrate. She sadly stopped after two other church ladies said something to the priest about it being disrespectful.

    I smiled and said, “Well, I’d take that as a sign… to find a new church!” She was so surprised, she laughed out loud.

  46. Jason*

    Thank you for looking favorably at Jane. There’s no shortage of ADHD and autism-spectrum folks in the engineering profession, so my first thought was “she’s doing this to keep from losing focus on the meeting”. Sure enough, that’s what her manager reported.

    I don’t have a diagnosed condition, but I can’t sit totally idle in a meeting without zoning out. My mind wanders to a subject, jumps down a rabbit hole, and tunes out the conversation around me. I don’t have the artistic skills to doodle on a note pad, so I’ll flip through low-attention things on my phone, bookmarking things I’ll read through later. My manager plays mindless games on his. It works. We stay aware and engaged.

    I would hope that people teaching management and HR will become aware of this and pass it on. Until that time, I appreciate public writers taking note!

  47. Nopity Nope*

    Another reason I wouldn’t contact the person currently in the role I’m interviewing for: It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the person doesn’t know that they are being replaced. Or, if they do, they might not be happy about it. Alison alluded to this in the context of how it would appear to the employer/interviewer, but for my part I would NOT want to get caught in the middle of either of those scenarios, or anything similar, by contacting someone uninvited and out of the blue.

  48. Goody*

    I frequently crochet in meetings where I need to listen and perhaps occasionally contribute. Only simple projects that don’t need constant reference to a written (or digital) pattern, because that would pull me out of the discussion at hand. And I do what I can to keep it out of the direct line of sight of the presenter just so I’m not a distraction to them. I have even refered to it as a low tech fidget spinner when people ask me about my project later.

    Obviously everyone’s abilities are different. I know people who couldn’t manage even this level of parallel processing, and i know people who can work on elaborate projects and still fully absorb their surroundings.

    I find myself wondering about the Nosy Nellie outside of the conference room who felt the need to tattle on Jane.

  49. megan*

    re: the needlepoint letter.

    I had a manager who gave feedback this way. He would say things like, “I’m OK with it, but some people have complained…” I hated that feedback! If you really truly just want her to be aware of the perception, I guess I get it, but the delivery of feedback here feels so wishy-washy.

    I think you, as a manager, have to decide what you want her to do with this feedback. Be aware of perception? What does that awareness look like in action? Do you want her to stop doing it? Or are you writing in because you want permission to tell other people that you’ve said it’s OK?

    If it’s going to come back later that it is a problem…maybe your higher-ups have a problem with it, for instance…just tell her to stop. Otherwise, if you are OK with it, tell the people asking questions that you’ve approved it. Make a decision and take a stand. It’s either OK or it’s not.

  50. Tell me what you want*

    re: the needlepoint letter.

    I had a manager who gave feedback this way. He would say things like, “I’m OK with it, but some people have complained…” I hated that feedback! If you really truly just want her to be aware of the perception, I guess I get it? But the delivery of that feedback feels so wishy-washy.

    If it’s going to come back later that it is a problem…maybe your higher-ups have a problem with it, for instance, just tell her to stop. Otherwise, if you are OK with it, tell the people asking questions that you’ve approved it. Make a decision and take a stand. It’s either OK or it’s not.

  51. Meeting knitter*

    I get bored in meetings when they are several hours long, and tend to check out mentally. HR gave me permission to discreetly knit. I just do simple patterns, but it occupies enough of my mind and hands to allow me to focus.

  52. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    #2 – As others have said, tell the employee she has to get to work on time, end of story. Boyfriend’s sleeping habits are not your concern.

    The thing is, when I hear someone say “I struggle to get out of bed”, I often wonder why they can’t get up at a specific time consistently, but they can get up 20 minutes after that specific time consistently. I also bet they can get to the golf course, etc. early on a Saturday with no issue. Sure, some people have medical issues affecting sleep habits, but I think most “I struggle” people just don’t want to get up to go to work and are procrastinating.

    1. ijustworkhere*

      This. I’ve had employees request an ‘accommodation’ because of their sleep struggles, but then I also hear about them being up at 2 am on a Tuesday night playing video games with their virtual community, or getting up to make a 7 am flight to the Bahamas. Sometimes I wonder…

  53. Youth Librarian*

    I vote that Jane switch to felting. Then stares fixedly at the speaker in meetings whilst repeatedly stabbing her felting needle into the wool.

  54. Michael G*

    For me, playing Freecell on my phone helps me focus and not miss anything in the conversation. I actually think it helps keep me awake against the narcotic of some of the presenters.

  55. Gifted+ADD, w good managers*

    Simple hand craft work keeps me quiet in meetings. Without that, my attention is all over the subject being presented, I figure out ninety percent of what’s going to be presented before they get to it, and i’m lost in the need to have the ten percent answered, including the thirty per cent they would never get to at all.

    With hand and eye but not ear or thought craft work to distract me, I can let go long enough to just write down the few questions that don’t get answered before the end of the session, and let the presenter work on in peace. That means it’s so much easier to leave space for all the other attendees, and let the presenter work at the pace they are comfortable with.

    I have had class or session leaders want to call me on it, but the good ones would come over, look over the exercises to see that I was 3 or 4 chapters ahead and just quietly let it go. The bad ones would claim I was not paying attention, at which point I would repeat the last three or four paragraphs back at them verbatim. I made no friends that way but hopefully served their next subjects well.

    Fortunately in IT productivity trumps optics 90% of the time.

  56. GythaOgden*

    Neurodivergence cuts both ways. As autistic, I’m very sensitive to repetitive motion in my peripheral vision. If I’m trying to focus on something, the last thing I need is someone doing something that throws me off my game. There are a lot of activities which can help with focus in a meeting but aren’t as distracting as something like crafting, and I do them for the sake of other people in the room (and because I know my supervisor would not let me knit or cross-stitch at work, which I’m ok with — kind of work stays at work, so home stuff stays at home).

    When this is something to be expected in a particular environment (I took up knitting myself because I saw lots of people doing it during panels at a scifi con, and I was constantly fiddling with my phone, so I realised that to keep my hands busy in a way that was respectful to the speaker it might be a better choice of activity) it’s fine, but when it’s something a bit less ok, it gets awkward.

    What I’d counsel people getting indignant about potential ableism here is: don’t forget that other people have their own issues, and they’ll often include other disabled people, just from the sheer statistical probability of 1 in 5 people in the UK being disabled. Just like autism and ADHD are invisible, you don’t know which of your colleagues is also neurodivergent but has found their own more unobtrusive tools to keep focused and who is struggling to pay attention because of your actions. Splitting hairs over whether or not the needles are silent or not or whether the crafting individual can concentrate or not misses the point — there are bound to be others in the room who are also having to keep themselves focused and some of those would definitely be distracted by the craft.

    The other issue is that whenever I’ve been knitting or cross-stitching in public, I’ve always had lots of people pay attention to it. There have been times that I’ve been paid way more attention and been kept nattering about it than had a chance to actually craft. I still take it with me occasionally, but I can’t control what other people do. Yes, people SHOULD leave me alone. But I can’t MAKE them. And in places where it would be unusual and distracting for me to do something strange, it would be unfair to ask for accommodation without also understanding what other people get distracted by and how, if we’re to operate collaboratively together, it might well be my turn to accommodate them.

    What goes around comes around. If I want something later on from one of them, I need to remember that I need to be a good colleague now. It’s not a transactional thing, but it’s just awkward when you bend over backwards to please someone and they take without giving a bit to you in return.

    So I think that here, just stating that ‘some people need to fidget to focus’ is missing the point. Some people may equally be distracted by the needlepoint and them being told to suck it up is unfair on them in this kind of environment. We’re very keen on accommodating the outliers in this situation, but maybe accommodating the others in the room who are distracted by curiosity at the needlepoint in such an incongruous setting is also a fair thing to ask.

    1. GythaOgden*

      PS — I love crafting. It drives me batty that I have very little active work to do and in lieu of stitching during the day, I’ve downloaded literally thousands of images recently in pursuit of that one unicorn poster that would make a brilliant project. (I love Eastern European art and game screenshots, and actually found an image that looks almost identical to a character on Fortnite, making me think someone at Epic browses the same poster art sites that I do.) I totally get it.

      It’s also thoroughly out of bounds for me at my workplace, into ‘don’t even ASK’ territory. And I found out the hard way with my pencil sketchbooks. (Yeah, maybe bringing in the massive tray of 100 coloured pencils was a big mistake. I got the last laugh though — one of the sketches I did won a prize at the local horticultural show art competition.)

      So I sympathise and empathise with the itchy-fingered crafters here. Maybe in times to come we’ll have hospital facility delivery meetings around a table full of various crafts for everyone and I can bring in my punk cross-stitch picture of a baby being birthed from the Earth, Gaia-style. (I have done a Little Sister Harvest/Rescue screenshot from Bioshock and people at my SF convention were impressed.) But I’m not sure the time is right now.

      We gotta soften them all up first!

  57. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I do a LOT of embroidery. It helps settle my mind down into logical operation mode. I’ve frequently taken a small project that doesn’t need a pattern into areas where I’m not doing the talking providing it only involves one colour.

    What I wouldn’t do is take anything that involves looking at the pattern a lot or changing colours – because that IS a distraction. Also takes up more room. My current project has over 20 different colours and I save it for lunchtime (I don’t eat at work).

    It is hard to explain to others why having my hands do a repeating action stops my mind diverting into anxiety/emotion/random unrelated stress so I just do it.

    Here’s the exception: any meeting I am leading or expected to take a large part in I absolutely do not bring in the sewing. Any meeting with the big boss I don’t. I have a fidget ring.

    1. Random Dice*

      Throughout high school and college – decades before my ADHD diagnosis – I used to spin a ring that has one side that was heavy, so it spun nicely.

      I never lost it even though my peers teasingly predicted I would. I now realize it was a fidget – before that was a thing – to help me focus.

  58. Rosacoletti*

    I would have thought these sorts of concentration tactics would be rife in engineering firms. Don’t engineers have about the highest rate of people on the spectrum? I’m surprised it’s even commented on these days.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      You’d think IT would have the highest amount of people on the spectrum with their own quirks but got to say here the ‘weirdest’ person is me. Most others can either easily pass for ‘normal’ or don’t have atypical brain wiring.

      (They might have views on their cloak-wearing, cross stitch at lunchtime, won’t make direct eye contact boss but generally I don’t hear it)

  59. ijustworkhere*

    I find other people knitting, crocheting, etc in a meeting where I need to concentrate extremely distracting to me. I appreciate an earlier poster pointing that out–that we have to strike a balance between the needs of the person doing the needlework and the rest of us who are also in the meeting and are expected to concentrate and focus.

    Get a small fidget item that you can keep out of sight.

    It’s no different people who say playing music helps them concentrate–but they aren’t using earphones and instead we all ‘get’ to listen to their music.

  60. ina*

    I know people do this, but I find it really rude and distracting as someone in the meeting. I find the attirude their “it helps ME concentrate” to be so inconsiderate. I love my embroidery – I don’t take it into work with me (also I would never taint my hobby by bringing it to work; I do a puzzle or something to unwind on breaks).

    It being a “productive” thing doesn’t detract from how I feel – I’d feel the same if it was someone playing on their phone or doodling or staring out the window.

  61. Thomas*

    #2, don’t talk to Sarah’s boyfriend, but I wonder if it’s worth talking informally to HIS manager? So that when Sarah does leave her boyfriend behind to get to work on time herself, and he then tries to blame Sarah for his own lateness or absence that day (not mentioning of course that he wasn’t ready to leave on time), his manager knows the situation.

  62. former martian*

    While covid was awful for so many reasons, this was one of the things that was a positive for me. I have ADHD and paying attention in meetings is difficult for me. Sitting up straight, not fidgeting, not biting my nails, not slouching – all the things as an adult you are supposed to do when listening are difficult for me. I do them, but it requires a lot of energy and mental space to mask.

    When Covid hit, and we all got sent home to work, it suddenly wasn’t a big deal if I was slouching or shifting my weight all the time. I could spend less of my energy masking and trying to do all the “right” appropriate things with my body to appear “professional” and put all my energy into my work. I found a coloring app for my phone and while I was on a Zoom or phone call, I could do the coloring on my phone, keeping my hands busy, and keeping the distractable part of my brain occupied, freeing up the rest of my brain to listen and stay engaged with the meeting. I didn’t have to worry that someone was judging me or thinking I wasn’t paying attention and playing on my phone.

    This shift to working from home changed my life. I didn’t realize how much mental energy I was spending on just trying to appear normal, until I didn’t have to do it anymore. Luckily I now work for a company that is 100% remote so I don’t have to worry about this in person stuff anymore, except for a few weeks a year when we get teams together in person.

    I share this all to say, it would be amazing if I could do my coloring app during a meeting in person, but I know that will never happen. People are not ever going to be accepting enough of neurodiversity to think someone coloring on their phone is doing an activity to pay attention, vs. just zoning out and playing on the phone. I wish that wasn’t the case—but it is.

  63. DifferentStrokesForDifferentFolks*

    I need background noise to focus; when it’s working I don’t notice it but I notice its absence. I used to do my homework in front of my dad’s old stereo with a stack of records so it would keep playing for a while (drove my parents batty because they felt I couldn’t really be paying attention through the noise). The instant the last record finished I got pulled out of whatever I was doing. I had a hard time with tests because it was so freaking quiet – it always took me a ton of effort to force myself to focus on the exam (thankfully the material was always easy enough that I still aced everything). I sometimes hum or start singing to myself to break the silence. I always play music through headphones when working in an office. I have the TV on while I work at home.

    It needs to be background noise though. Have a loud phone call at the next desk? I’ll have a paralyzing headache within a minute or two. Start clicking or banging on something? Same. So I’m sympathetic but also one of those folks who says pay attention to the people around you and be considerate.

  64. Managercanuck*

    I was scolded by a coworker for pulling out my knitting during a break in a board meeting (we worked for a non-profit). It was Knit in Public Day. That was 8 years ago, and I haven’t brought knitting to work since, even though she’s no longer on staff.

    But I need something to keep my hands busy. Now I doodle. I only take notes if it’s directly relevant to me. I try not to pick at or nibble on my cuticles and hangnails but fail miserably.

    But I find mid-afternoon the struggle is really hard.

    (ADD runs in my family, and we’re definitely neuroatypical in other ways as well)

    1. I think*

      Go on Amazon, look up “fidgets” and choose what suits your fancy, but preferably something that doesn’t make any noise, like clicking, to be respectful of others.

  65. I think*

    I think working on something that requires its own concentration is not appropriate. I think fidget toys that are more mindless is a better solution. Part of the reason for this is that it can be distracting for others. Take knitting – I would go insane in minutes if my coworker insisted on click clacking during meetings. I personally use fidget toys and find them helpful.

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