Mistakes, Making It Up, Moving Forward

Brachiosaurus hat?
Or lumpy bowl?

My friend’s sister said, “I have no problem ripping a knitting project apart if I’ve made a mistake. After all, it’s knitting I love, so it doesn’t matter if I have to lose a bunch of work and practically start over. It just means more knitting!” A rumbling of assent, like the hubbub at British parliament, reverberated around the dinner table of women crafters who had been meeting weekly for a few decades.

Not I (though there IS something pleasurable about the sound and feel of ripping out rows of knitting, perhaps the vegetarian’s version of ripping flesh off ribs with our teeth).

I’m from the “there’s no going back” school of knitting. Of course, these women are at the college phase of knitting, while I’m in still in the won’t-share-toys-at-preschool stage. If I looked for perfection, I’d never finish anything.

I forge ahead and finish that sucker, warts and all. Eventually.

If I realize I have an extra stitch, I simply knit the next two stitches together, right then and there, to get back to the correct stitch count.

If I’m suddenly short a stitch, I add another one in.

More difficult is when I notice the dreaded “dropped stitch” several rows back. If left untended, the stitch that didn’t get knitted into the whole will “ladder” down the project, becoming an ever-wider hole—a literal run in a stocking. What to do? I not only add in a stitch to return to the correct number of stitches, but also halt further gaping with a safety pin, and at the end of the project, I sew it all in place.

If someone wants to get up close and personal to my cowl and notice the fudged spots, I say they’re not a person worth knowing.

Next time I’ll stick with eating Brioche bread

I sometimes embellish my mistakes, as with the horror of my foray into the Brioche stitch, where mistakes are not only obvious, but doubled, since it’s a “reversible” fabric of straight lines of doubled yarn. Because of its doubled complexity, it’s also twice as difficult to unravel for just a few stitches and to pick up from there to rework it.

So horrible was my first attempt at Brioche that not long into the project I made the rare decision to rip it all out and start over. I abandoned the second attempt for a while; when I tried to resume the project months later, I also had to rip it out, because I could not figure out where I was in the pattern. My third attempt was not bad, and I finished it, but the mistakes—zigs and zags where there should have been straight lines, on both sides!—were unsightly enough to be spotted from the other end of a dark bar, where I wish I could spend more time. I threaded special beads over them and flipped it so that the top was now the bottom.

You might call this hiding or disguising the flaws, but I prefer to think of it as decorating them—flaunting the blunders in plain sight. Enhance them, rather than be embarrassed. (I wish I could feel this way about me in a swimsuit.)

Sometimes this means changing the entire form/function of the finished project.

A felted hat is now a bowl on my coffee table.

A scarf I mistakenly twisted is in the process of becoming a felted purse.

A skirted cover for my yarn-winder is now going to be a bowl. Or a hat. I’m plowing forward without knowing, and eventually the thingamajig will tell me what it wants to be.

Problem projects might have to percolate for a while before a possible solution arrives in my mental inbox. One night, I forced myself to think about my problematical summer cowl instead of obsessing about the latest misdeeds of my juvenile delinquent. The cotton infinity cowl was turning out much too wide for my taste and was taking way too long for a project I wasn’t crazy about—I’d started it with enough time to wear during the summer, and it was now November. It was using up much more expensive yarn than expected: I’d already gone back to the store to buy a second skein, and it looked like I’d have to return for a third, and I was only a third of the way finished.

Should I do the unthinkable and rip it out? Or do my usual and keep on with the pattern?

Finally ready for next summer’s breeze

The three a.m. idea hit: I devised a new concept instead of unraveling it or continuing according to a pattern I wasn’t thrilled with. I bought a half-yard of 50% off batik fabric and used this as the “missing link” section of the scarf. My hand-sewn seams are worse than my knitting, so I flounced up the scarred-looking joins with a ruffle. Instead of 70 more dollars of yarn and months of work, I finished the project with $3 and one long evening of freely exercising my full vocabulary while remembering how much I dislike sewing. I now have a unique scarf I love in a multimedia design I’ve never seen before.

I still lost a night’s sleep, but I ended up with a new scarf instead of a doctor’s appointment to increase my Zoloft prescription.

Some of what I consider my most beautiful projects—the ones recipients tell me receive many compliments—I know are chock full of mistakes. One in particular is so mistake-ridden that the second half of the cowl is pretty much a different pattern from the first. Halfway through, I realized I was knitting it incorrectly, so I simply switched over to the correct stitches. Now who is to say which is the “correct” half?

Knitting is not cooking, an ephemeral craft not meant to last, unless you’re making fruitcake.

First and last perfect fondant roses

This is perhaps why I remained a failure at cake decorating despite a year of trying: why bother? I want something to show for my efforts, like a century from now (if the planet lasts), other than the extra calories that remain on my ass. Who in this life has time to waste on an art form meant to be demolished, whose dirty dishes last longer than the exquisite fondant rose?

I love the act of knitting itself, but I love the finished project even more: the dream image made manifest (though the end result might look nothing like what I set out to create), adorning me or my loved ones or those who have helped my family. This sense of satisfaction is rarely felt in real life, where the To Do list is never finished. Another bill arrives as soon as the last one is paid. Another juvenile court hearing is scheduled as soon as the last one finishes. (On the plus side, I’ve gotten a lot of knitting done in Juvie’s waiting room.)

I want something, anything, to turn out. Something to show for my efforts, to show that I wasn’t wasting my time.

My knitting style reflects my parenting journey: No parent is perfect. I don’t get a do-over. I can’t go back and un-do yesterday’s mistake—mine or my son’s.

I can only forge ahead, hoping that the young adult turns out to be a decent human being, even if he is nothing like what he or anyone else once envisioned. That the missteps will be a building block for kindness and empathy, and not a dropped stitch that keeps growing until the whole mess falls apart.

But only he can decide what he wants to be.

11 thoughts on “Mistakes, Making It Up, Moving Forward

    • Thank you! Hopefully nothing of mine will ever resemble your description of the homemade sweater colors that even horrified your mother when she saw it again years later.

  1. I love the way you moved from knitting to raising a son. Both works in progress.

  2. Perfect timing for me, Jennifer! I recently picked up knitting again after a 12-year hiatus. I know there are only two stitches — K or P — yet mistakes are finding me! I chose a pattern I hope to love and have never before started a sweater from the collar! I’m at a point of deciding whether to “fix my mistakes” or rip them out. I’m now leaning toward moving forward and fixing what I can. Mahalo and Happy knitting!

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