When I was a kid, my dad would obsess about house projects. If he planned to build a deck in the summer, he'd spend all winter reading books about deck-building, making notes in the margins, and drawing little schematics on graph paper.
I asked him once why he did this. He said he needed to completely visualize the whole project before he could start. He also said that his dad, a wheat farmer who also raised a small herd of beef cattle, would spend all winter--AKA "the slow time"--planning for the spring/summer/harvest ahead--reading, charting, naming calves, and this habit of overplanning trickled down to him.
The Brannan planning gene manifests itself in my obsessive reading of knitting books. I don't just like flipping through and admiring the pretty pictures, although that'll do in a pinch--I love reading the pattern directions (Yes! Reading! The! Line! By! Line! Directions!) and imagining the garment in its finished glory. If a technique doesn't make sense to me, I go over and over it in my mind until I can see the logic and mathematics behind it. Sometimes I even swatch to try something out, e.g. bobbles.
I now have a name for this obsession (er) habit, thanks to Alice Starmore: LOOK-THINK-KNIT. (I guess Dad's is LOOK-THINK-BUILD and Grandpa's is LOOK-THINK-FARM.) On page 46 of Aran Knitting, she says:
"Observation has always been a key ingredient in all knitting traditions. I call it the LOOK-THINK-KNIT approach. Instead of blindly following instructions, traditional knitters study any patterns that they come across, and create a mental picture which they transcribe into their own work....The greatest advantage of all is that with practice, the knitter quickly develops a complete understanding of the structure of the patterns and is then free to experiment with new ideas."
She's talking, of course, about memorizing Aran stitch patterns, but I think it can apply to the craft/art of knitting in general, or any task that requires both creative (mind) and skillful (hand) energies.
In the same way that mental understanding of grammatical structures leads to more skillful creative writing, even if one "breaks" the rules (think e.e. cummings or Hemingway), reading and absorbing knitting techniques and garment designs means that the hands execute more cleverly and the mind is free to create.
I won't say much more about Aran Knitting, because it's clearly a classic in the field--why else would it be going for literally hundreds of dollars on eBay? (Thank goodness my library has a copy.) Its combination of history, instruction, and patterns makes it invaluable. Next time I have an extra $250 lying around (ha!) I'm bidding on this one.