Righting wrongs, in knitting & life

by Kristin on October 15, 2012

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by tsuacctnt

It began the way these things do: with a flicker of inspiration, a sweet sense of promise, and a surge of motivation.

Knitting season had arrived, and I knew exactly what I was going to make. I found the perfect pattern. I bought the yarn and tested the gauge. My needles were packed, and a weekend at a friend’s cottage in Wisconsin was right around the corner. I could already see the chocolate brown cardigan on me. In my mind, I tried it on with my orange cords, then with my lime green skirt. I imagined the sweater feeling like a hug as I walked the dog on a perfect fall day. As my mind wandered, I may or may not have even practiced a few different ways of responding to people who might ask about the sweater (after all, the right balance of humility and healthy pride is tricky).

In other words, I got a little bit ahead of myself.

Two days later, not long after successfully knitting the collar and making the first buttonhole, I was cursing it all—the dark yarn, the dim cottage lights, the 3G network that wouldn’t let me look up videos of complicated knitting instructions on my phone, and the funny feeling I had that what I thought seemed right, in a maybe-sorta way, wasn’t right at all.

But I brushed those thoughts aside, surging ahead in the determined way that is more about lunacy than bravery. I told myself that no one would notice that huge knotted tangle of attempted increase-stitches sitting right on my shoulder when the sweater was done. I told myself it is good to not be a perfectionist. I told myself that mistakes add charm—if I wanted a perfect sweater, I’d buy one at J. Crew, made by a machine.

And I kept knitting and knitting away, feeling somewhat thankful now for the dim lighting and the distractions of Jason and his buddy playing some wild card game that involved lots of slapping, agony and verbal strutting. Sometimes I am hopeful this way—I think messes will magically right themselves, that the faster I surge ahead, into the future, the faster I’ll leave the mistakes in the past.

The problem is, knitting is a lot like life. Yes, there are little flaws that can be charming, or maybe they can even be fixed down the road with an extra stitch or two, and some skilled blocking. But sometimes there are big problems, of a different species. These are the type of messes that love to reproduce, multiplying and growing before your eyes. They don’t go away. No matter how hard you try, you can’t avoid that thing you were doing wrong, and the way it keeps popping up in your life so you have to keep doing it again and again, still wrong each time. You can’t later enjoy the satisfaction and warmth of a finished product if it reminds you, each time you pull it out, of the mess you never fixed.

I wasn’t exactly thinking all of this when I finally admitted yesterday what I knew in my heart: I had to tear out all the stitches I had made on Saturday, all the way back to that initial three centimeters of properly-knitted ribbed collar with its single buttonhole. What I was thinking is that if I didn’t go back and make it right, I would continue to stumble and fight this project every step of the way. I was putting in place my own booby-traps, that would continue to trip me up. Ridiculous! Especially when I considered that the whole point of this activity was to bring peace and satisfaction, and eventually a sense of accomplishment and some warmth. Why would I sabotage myself in such a way?

And yet we do—in small and big ways all the time. We give in to bad habits. We surrender to mediocrity. We silently exchange our dreams and visions for sorry substitutes that don’t satisfy or bring joy, and then we carry the weight of those poor decisions forward.

I hope you will hear what I’m trying to say. This isn’t a post about being perfect. It isn’t a post about holding out for only the biggest and best dreams, refusing to take joy in the small, simpler things. It isn’t a post about beating ourselves up, either, or getting bogged down in regret.

It’s a post about this: knowing what is possible, and what we are capable of—knowing the way things work and feel when everything is right within us. It’s about understanding that being the best version of yourself often means moving backwards, and doing the hard work of righting the wrongs before we move forward again. It’s about looking for the long view, and not rushing things that matter. And sometimes it’s about turning down smaller gains that tempt us in the moment, and choosing, instead, to focus our hope on that “something better” we’ve gotten glimpses of along the way.

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  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com/ Jennifer Luitwieler

    When I was learning to sew, I thought I could just make it up as I went along. But a thousands hours with a seamripper taught me that it really is best to follow the pattern, and to iron the fabric and the seams, to measure the hem. The best results come from doing all the work, not only the fun parts, like shopping for fabric (or yarn) and getting cozy in a comfortable place.

    Which brings me to this. If I am making something for myself, I often let the little mistakes go. But I NEVER do that when I’m making for someone else. Weird, right? Why am I worth less the effort?

    Your post of course speaks to the bigger things, the life decisions we compromise to and then regret. The mistakes we haven’t yet made right. Sometimes, pulling it all apart and starting over isn’t an option, but sometimes, it is.

    • Kristin T.

      Oh yes—don’t get me started on the ironing/pinning parts of sewing. I
      always wanted to cut corners (the few times I did, when I wasn’t under
      my mom’s watchful eye, I really regretted it). And you’re right about
      the fact that “pulling it all apart and starting over” isn’t always an
      option in life—at least not in a comprehensive sense. For instance, I
      can’t really go back and fix my first marriage, but I can work at making
      something else right, like my relationship with my ex, and my marriage with Jason. So maybe we need to define what “fixing” really means…?

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston Yancey

    Some of your best, some of your most needed words.

    • Kristin T.

      Thank you, friend. I’m curious—are you a knitter? (I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you are! But I was also hoping non-knitters would be able to dig into the knitting metaphor, even if it didn’t seem to initially apply to them.)

      • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston Yancey

        I’m not, but I was definitely following you. The rhythm, particularly, I understand.

  • http://twitter.com/paulmerrill Paul Merrill

    Love this post, Kristin. The work of fixing something before it gets much worse is painful. I touched on a different angle of this: http://ow.ly/euX18

    • http://twitter.com/kt_writes Kristin T.

      It’s painful and then freeing too, I think. Because at some point the pain of NOT fixing something becomes heavier than the pain of fixing it. (Thanks for the link to your post—I’ll check it out!)

  • http://annieathome.com Annie | annieathome.com

    I know this feeling, too. I feel like this is one of those things that my critical eye can see so clearly in others, but I cannot always detect in myself. I suppose that’s what pushes me into honest community and, ironically also points to my need for silence and solitude.

    • http://twitter.com/kt_writes Kristin T.

      It’s so interesting that this whole issue led you down a path to thinking about community. I need more of that level of “honest community” in my life, I think.

  • http://twitter.com/lje2me Lorna

    “It’s about understanding that being the best version of yourself
    often means moving backwards, and doing the hard work of righting the
    wrongs before we move forward again.”
    This reminds me of therapy. You often have to dig back into the messy past before you can take those steps toward a more fulfilling future. A good reminder.

    • http://twitter.com/kt_writes Kristin T.

      Yes! It is a lot like therapy. One thing I’ve discovered about therapy along the way is that all the digging back is important, but you can’t get so addicted to that process that you fail to move forward. There’s learning and healing in the moving forward, too, and at some point we have to be brave enough to do that.

  • http://twitter.com/katiengibson Katie Noah Gibson

    This just happened to me with a hat I was knitting – I had to rip it back to the band and start over. Argh. But I’m much happier with version 2.0 than I would have been with the original.

    We are so forward-oriented in this culture; it’s tough to move backwards or even stay still. But sometimes we really need to do that. Great post, Kristin.

    • http://twitter.com/kt_writes Kristin T.

      Argh indeed! I hate to even report this, but last night I tore out everything back to the collar again. I thought I had figured out what I needed to get it right, but there was one more thing I had to address. I’m just hoping I still think this project is fun and satisfying down the road!

  • Margaret

    I bet your sweater will turn out much better (the second time around) than any J.Crew version. Who knows? Maybe a rep will spot YOU on the street and wonder where you got your sweater! Hope you post a pic of the finished product!

  • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

    This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks lady.

  • themoderngal

    Great post. I think it’s easy for us to overlook that the way to growth is to go back and learn from our mistakes. Learning often requires facing those mistakes down, over and over again.

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