Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Present / Perfect / Tense

It has long been suspected, whispered, nay, occasionally even said aloud, that I have a little problem with perfectionism. I don't know what gives people this idea, of course. All right, so maybe I'm a Virgo copyeditor who enjoys ironing -- but I make mistakes all the time! And I live with them! Okay, so perhaps I grind my teeth a bit over them, but I live with them! Things happen! I'm human! I tend to hate this fact, but it's true! And it's okay. Really. Yes. Deep breath.

(True story: Once I printed out a document at work, made twenty copies of it, and only then noticed an extremely minor typo -- forgetting to cap all the letters in a job title or something like that. I took the copies and walked back to my desk, but once I got there I realized I was saying to myself in my head, "I will not be anal, I will not be anal." Sigh.)

But all that is about to change. I am going to learn to live with my mistakes and love them and go on despite them. And what has worked this miracle, you ask?

I have taken up knitting.

Learning how to knit was one of my New Year's Resolutions. I love to cross-stitch, but there are only so many decorative pillows and wall hangings that one can make, and the appreciative audience for such items among my friends-and-relations was dwindling fast. So I signed up for classes at the Point, a neat little knitting cafe on Bedford Street in the West Village. Last night was the first class. We talked about and felt different varieties of yarn; we discussed weight, gauge, how to hold the needles, casting on, and knitting itself. The instructor (a nice gay man in his 30s) showed us the basic techniques and got us started.

Is anyone surprised that my casting on was held up as an example of extreme tightness? (Note for non-knitters: This is a bad thing.)

** sound of crickets tweetering on a summer night **

I sort of loosened up, or my stitches did anyway, by the end of the evening, when we were assigned to have twelve inches ready for next Monday, twenty-two stitches per row. I continued working on it tonight while I watched "Gilmore Girls," and I'm loving the easy slip-swoop-slide rhythm of the knitting and the smooth scrape of the needles as I pull off a stitch.

But I make mistakes. A row will have twenty-one stitches, but somehow the row after that has twenty-four. The result looks far more rumpled and curlicued than it ought to -- Dale Chihuly as opposed to plate glass. I've unpicked the whole thing and started over four times already. And try as I might, my stitches are still locked up tighter than Fort Knox; I think that's just going to be my personality as a knitter, and I have to live with it.

Because I am not starting over again. I decided that after the fourth time unravelling the damn thing. The fact that my stitches are so small means it will take quite a lot of knitting to make twelve inches, and I need to keep going, not worry over every little error. So that is what I am going to do.

I admit I have to convince myself that this is all right, partly by repeating mantras like "You're only a beginner, it's natural to make mistakes" and "It's okay, it's just a dropped stitch." I admit I don't really believe this. But whether I believe it or not, this is how the knitting -- and life -- goes forward, with letting it be and moving on. So it's okay, really, yes, deep breath.

And I pick up the needles again.


  1. 2.0 is an expert knitter. We have about eight two-thirds completed scarves around the apartment.

  2. Actually I am a terrible knitter... about as bad a knitter as I am a speller. I completely agree, you have to learn to love your mistakes. The first scarf I ever completed (which alas, I lost) I viewed as more of a document of my learning process than an article of clothing. The beginning was full of dropped stitches and uneven tension, but as I went on there would be whole stretches of perfection. I could even guess, to a degree, the corresponding period of time certain passages were made. I loved that scarf all the more for its irregularity. If it had been perfect all of the little nuances I cherished would have been invisible.

  3. I think that the real problem with your tight stitch thingies is that as a descendant of Vikings, you're just too strong for your own good.

  4. Congratulations! You have learned one of the great lessons of life at a relative young age. Now extend it to all facets of your life.

  5. Have you tried using larger needles? I found that using a larger hook than what the pattern recommends when I crochet works better for me and prevents me from pulling stitches too tight.

    The exactness of cross-stitch makes it a great craft for us perfectionists :) If only it didn't take so long to complete a project! Did you ever finish that lantern project (pillow?) for Arthur?

  6. I did! And last year Katy and I made another beautiful pillow for him based on a drawing from "The Mouse and His Child" by David Small (Arthur's favorite book, a new edition of which he edited) . . . Katy free-stitched the illustration and I did the border and lettering. Maybe I'll post the picture sometime.