I struggle with staying focused during lectures. However, while listening to online lectures, I started sewing and it has made life so much easier. I am able to listen and follow along. When the time comes to do practice questions, I do a lot better than I usually do.

So the problem is, I cant take my needle and thread into an in-person lecture. Are there any alternatives that I can try? Or should I just talk to my professor and see if I can sit in the back of the class and sew? I don't want to seem disrespectful, but I've tried so much to improve and this has been the most effective thing by far.

Taking notes doesn't usually help. I get so caught up in taking notes that I miss the material. If I just try to listen, I zone out.

Edit regarding duplication: I saw a similar question someone posted asking how to focus in class. I found the way to do that. My question is more like, "What is an alternative I can do that won't make my professor think I'm being disrespectful? (Looking for something that is academically acceptable) " Or is it appropriate to go to my professor, explain the situation, and ask to do what helps me?


11 Answers 11


If sewing helps you learn, consider bringing it to an in-person lecture.

  • In a large lecture hall, I seriously doubt anyone will notice/care
  • In a more intimate class, it could be worth asking the professor if they mind.

While you might have a bad experience with a grouchy professor, I think the vast majority will either understand or not care, particularly if you are clearly engaging. Personally, I would rather have a student paying attention while sewing than on their phone.

  • 8
    I would also add to this that you should really not put any consideration into how you are perceived by your classmates for sewing - although I’d be mindful of how distracting it could be, so choose your seat with that in mind as well. It’s unorthodox, admittedly, but you are paying for your education and if it helps you learn then try it out - if it doesn’t work in a bigger setting, then now you know. Jun 3, 2020 at 23:45
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    One tip based on what I've heard/seen before -- it may come across better if you phrase it as "I focus better if I have something to do with my hands". That is, you're not paying attention to it (instead of the lecture), and you're not doing it because you're trying to multitask -- you're using it as kind of accommodation. I think this sort of thing more generally is pretty common (someone mentioned knitting below, which I think is not unusual, but there are other things people do. I am a doodler, myself, which conveniently looks a lot like notetaking so it tends to pass unremarked.) Jun 4, 2020 at 4:25
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    I've known several people who would sew or knit in class. Never seemed to bother anyone. Jun 4, 2020 at 4:31
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    @UuDdLrLrSs: Students being paying customers is only true in some countries; but, regardless, thinking of yourself as a paying customer is a guaranteed way to get the worst out of university. Jun 4, 2020 at 16:40
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    @JackAidley education is paid for regardless; if its paid for in taxes that just means the "customer" is something like the whole society who pays for it on the student's behalf. So while the student then has a different moral burden, nonetheless the university still owes them a quality service, and you could even argue that this obligation is even more important in that circumstance. As to acting like a paying customer - based on my own personal experience I have to disagree. Jun 4, 2020 at 17:15

My wife knits in faculty and committee meetings. She can do that without looking at the needles, and so can look at whoever is speaking. I suspect you can't do that with sewing, so maybe that solves your problem.

  • 21
    I feel uncomfortable maintaining a deep conversation with a person knitting. Similar to a person chewing a gum, listening to music through one earpod, or writing messages on a smartphone. Perhaps, they are 100% in the conversation, but to me it feels that they are not fully interested. Jun 4, 2020 at 9:53
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    @DmitrySavostyanov Not all of these activities take the same amount or kind of attention. Activities like crocheting or knitting, which don't involve language processing, can help someone keep more focus on the conversation and keep attention from wandering off.
    – Kathy
    Jun 4, 2020 at 14:17
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    @DmitrySavostyanov Obviously she stops moving her hands when she actually says something. But listening to a seminar or the department head appears to be something that she can proficiently do without being distracted while knitting. Others are reading their phones, and that's definitely distracting. Jun 4, 2020 at 14:19
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    @WolfgangBangerth Not trying to justify the behaviour of others or teach anyone how to behave. Just sharing my own feelings. I might be wrong and all. Jun 4, 2020 at 15:56
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    As a lecturer I think I'd be okay with a student knitting in class. I believe it's less distracting than laptop and cell phone screens, which probably half of the rest of the class are looking at. (I assume you're not doing both.) Sewing seems like it would require moving your materials around periodically, whereas knitting is kind of a steady process.
    – workerjoe
    Jun 4, 2020 at 18:08

If you have a disability that impairs your concentration, you can get accommodations that require your professors to allow you to sew during class. Without official accommodations, however, it's within the professor's discretion whether or not to permit this (at least in the US). In that case, you'd probably want to email or talk to them beforehand so they don't perceive it as rude. Most will probably understand, and some may not. Without a documented disability, however, you won't have much recourse if they decline. However, it shouldn't be a problem for most, as long as you explain beforehand.

Disclaimer: I'm not a professor

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    Normal attention span is only a few minutes, so disability is probably not a factor here. Jun 4, 2020 at 6:39
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    reasonable accommodations are covered by regulation in the US - it would be up to the university to determine if this was reasonable. I do agree that if this is due to a documented or suspected disability starting with your Student Union or Adaptive Services or whomever would be the best bet (they may even have a list of options for helping concentration - 2 of the colleges I've worked at have had this for instance)
    – LinkBerest
    Jun 4, 2020 at 15:13

Doodling has already been mentioned in the comments but in particular colouring in the squares in grid paper could be helpful. Or indeed drawing. From a distance it looks very much like note taking and you can add any noted necessary.


It is unusual but it is not noisy and does not distract others or the lecturer (unless you make very wide moves). I don't see a problem with it but make sure you explain the situation first, because it might look rude and out of place to some people. If the lecturer is aware that it helps you concentrate, I doubt there will be a problem.

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    I don't think you can avoid distracting others with sewing. If someone were sewing within my line of sight, I would probably find that quite distracting.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jun 4, 2020 at 7:45
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    @NotThatGuy you mean others will stop looking at their phones :) ? Jun 5, 2020 at 19:23

It's quite simple. You're at a university: the lecturer is there to deliver a lecture to the hall not to teach you. You're not at school anymore, the lecturer isn't going to (or at least shouldn't) tell you off for how much attention (or lack thereof) that they perceive you are paying.

You (or your government) are paying (for you) to be there so as long as you're not disrupting other people, what you do and don't do is entirely up to you. If such an innocuous thing upsets the lecturer, that's on them not on you.

If you're in a more intimate setting like a tutorial where you're actually being taught, just ask the lecturer if they mind.

  • It would be more equivalent to a student being on their phone or engaged in any other activity during lecture. Normally, it would be considered rude, and if nothing else, may affect OP's relationship with their professor. However, if the professor knows that this helps OP pay attention, they wont' be offended and will have a better rapport with her/him.
    – user124395
    Jun 6, 2020 at 8:59

To answer you question: You can tie knots, for example surgical knots like a one-handed knot. This can be done below your desk.


Not to detract from other useful answers, but: Have you considered other instruments which occupy your hands during class, but are less involved/bulky/pointy than sewing?

Some people use fidget spinners, fidget cubes - but apparently, those are noisy. You would need something to manipulate silently. There might be other manufactured "fidget gadget" which are silent, or as @LinkBerest and @Brian suggest, some sort of stone you could use.

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    These seem strictly worse than sewing. Perhaps you could give a reason why you think that this is a better choice? Jun 4, 2020 at 11:20
  • @JackAidley: 1. Sewing is much more visible - the sewing needles, the surface being sewed, the material dangling to the side and possibly other affects. These items are just something which fits in the palm of your hand, or slightly beyond it. 2. Sewing involves sharp objects - needles. This doesn't.
    – einpoklum
    Jun 4, 2020 at 12:17
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    Fidget spinners are fast moving and distracting, the little cube thing makes audible clicks as it is used. Both are substantially more distracting than sewing. I don't really see why the sharpness of needles is particularly relevant; it's not like they're credible weapons or any risk to people nearby? Jun 4, 2020 at 12:28
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    There are silent fidget toys. The simplest is a worry stone.
    – Brian
    Jun 4, 2020 at 14:26
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    Yeah, the cubes are worse than someone clicking their pen over & over. The spinners are worse: louder if spun on a desk - not how they are suppose to be used but if you allow them someone will try, very visually distracting to others (your suggestion leads to emails from other students about people "doing something with their hand in their pocket or under the table), more if you need.... I do like the idea of worry stones & other silent "fidgeter" objects but the spinners and cubes I ban from every class based on experience.
    – LinkBerest
    Jun 4, 2020 at 15:05

I'm sorry but I would feel uncomfortable if I saw someone knitting in my lecture. It looks like what you are saying is not interesting to the person or the person thinks they can do something else whilst listening to you talk (ie. they can multi-task whilst listening to whatever trivial stuff you are saying). It's eccentric at best and I've never seen anyone do that ever at the math department where I work.

My advice is it's fine but don't sit in the front row where the lecturer can see you doing it as they might get annoyed. In terms of sewing, I doubt you can do that without looking so you are going to get some comments probably. I have had comments before even about having my laptop out even though I was listening to the lecture, I'm just warning you lecturers can be extremely touchy about things like that and might take it half as an insult.

  • This can easily be dealt with in a classroom setting by letting the teacher/professor know about it ahead of time. Talk to them and tell them, "I am able to listen and learn better when I have something to keep my hands occupied". This is not an uncommon practice and if they know to expect it they won't see it as potentially rude. Also if it really does help you learn better the teacher will notice
    – Kevin
    Jun 4, 2020 at 22:28
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    Yes true, OK if you let the lecturer know before hand no problem.
    – Tom
    Jun 4, 2020 at 23:02

Perhaps only slightly more than a comment, or echoing certain other answers: just a few years ago I had a very good student ask me if it was ok if they knitted during my lectures (which had notes available for later, etc., so note-taking was not strictly essential, perhaps), since otherwise their minor narcolepsy would sabotage them.

I was taken aback at the issue (which I'd not really encountered before in that context, although I did have a narcoleptic colleagues some years ago...), but said "Uh, sure".

The student was able to knit (furiously!) while looking at me and the slides, apparently attentively!

Given my own impatience with lectures and such, this made me rethink several things... E.g., how to "sit still" for 50+ minutes? Play along with a regimented agenda? Is this essential to actual learning?

Sure, some people rationalize their disinclinations to engage... but, in my experience (at least with people more mature than the 18-year-old middle-class kids in the U.S. first-time away from home... at college), in the U.S., most students are acting in good faith. Even if misguidedly in some details, at least "good faith" sets a good common basis for discussion about how to accomplish our goals.

Yes, years ago I did believe in a much harsher, conformist picture of "how things should be". Well, years ago, it was hard (in the U.S.) to "succeed" without such conformity, and it would only take more energy to push back. So, as usual, the people who managed (through gender, skin color, socio-economic class) to "succeed" well enough... had no pressing reason to complain or push back.

So, "no knitting or sewing in class". Sure, why not censure things, if you can get away with it?

So, yes, the issue of "what/how to help/allow students to really benefit from interactions" is subtle. The subordinate issue of "what offends the instructor" is also subtle, but subordinate.

More pointedly, if I know the student who needs something to keep their hands busy, etc., and trust in their "good faith" (and blanket respect for me and my attempts at teaching), I have no problem with any such thing.

No, it's not that simple, generally, because in these somewhat-corporatized-education times, we are not reliably put into situation where we can understand all our students as individuals.


I used to have a very quiet 15-puzzle, solving the thing was not the point, it was simply keeping my hands occupied. And this was something very small so less likely to be distracting to others.

I had one civics teacher who if she wanted to have an actual conversation with me would make sure my hands were busy with something, she had a number of small objects for the purpose, mostly puzzles of one form or another. A different 15-puzzle, rubik's cubes and the like.

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