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A lovely young man came into the shop with his mum the other day. He was a first year uni student dabbling in the art of knitting as a recreational and calming pursuit in his otherwise busy and stressful schedule. He reported that he was very pleased with his knit and purl progress to date and had completed a number of scarfs and felt that he was ready to move on in his creative journey with something a little more challenging. We spent a lovely half hour or so chilling around my big table discussing how to move on and what he might try next: he had his eye on my many pairs of socks dangling around but we agreed that he wanted his knitting to be a calming aside to his busy studies and not something that would require full-on concentration at this early stage.
Bingo – a simple pompom hat. I showed him that by combining the knit and purl that he was already proficient in he would produce rib, he could then do several inches of familiar stocking stitch for the body before bringing it all home with some simple decreases and a pompom – easy. It was all going so well, he appreciated the fact that with just his beginner’s knowledge he could begin to move on to incrementally more challenging projects and rewarding results and he was very happy with that. But… when I decided to appeal to the engineer in him and mentioned the fact that he would see his decreases lining up beautifully but not to get too stressed if they didn’t on his first attempt – I could see his inner perfectionist wringing its hands and grinding its teeth. The fact that I had said out loud that maybe mistakes could be tolerated and even celebrated as a sign of a forward step in his knitting journey was clearly causing some angst. I further pointed out that, being 6’3, the chances of anyone looking down on his potentially less than perfect decreases either physically or metaphorically were slim, and that my advice was to keep calm and carry on and enjoy his next steps on the learning curve – but he was unconvinced!
Why do we all do this? Why do we value perfection over pleasure and often ruin what was a joyful afternoon of crafting by ripping out the barely noticeable split thread or missing m1r two inches back? Is it fear of being judged by other makers if some tiny blip is noticed or have we simply set ourselves to such high and pompous standards that we can’t allow the slightest mistake to pass? Personally, I’m a lot more forgiving of myself recently. As my slip-ups are more likely to occur on top down jumper raglan increases or sock increases and are, to all intents and purposes, easily fudgable and entirely indetectable, I can pause, breathe, huff a bit and press on. I have enough stress in my life without causing myself any more for such ridiculous reasons and, being middle aged, I’m 100% guaranteed to have forgotten what I did wrong within 24 hours. Also, I’m entirely comfortable in my crafting prowess to say this loud and proud: I don’t give a **** and when Judgement Day finally comes, I hope to pass or fail on something rather more seismic than a missed ssk.
Let’s finish off with a favourite family story that we all remember well. We were on one of our beloved Center Parcs holidays in France. We were sitting in the pizza restaurant when a lovely French family walked past our table on the way to their own and greeted us with a friendly ‘Bon soir’ as they passed. It was only when they were seated with the lady having her back to us that we got a really good look at her hand knitted cable cardigan that I’d clocked on the way past. I use the term cable in the loosest possible sense because they were more forgotten than they were ‘crossed’ – one missed out here, another crossed the wrong way there, a bit of interesting texture further up ….. you get the idea. It was a car crash of a cardi, a truly unique and marvellous creation and I sat in utter admiration that she would wear it out. She was clearly an experienced knitter as demonstrated by the neatness of her work and apparently didn’t give two hoots that her woolly was absolutely full of howlers. Was her interesting and unique approach to cables spoiling her family evening out? – no. Was she warm? – seemingly. Did it give me something to write about that still makes me chuckle probably 10 years later? – most assuredly.
So I now channel my inner French lady and allow myself to be less than perfect (if perfection even exists) and I encourage you to do the same. Also, next time you slip-up try to remember to count to 10 before deciding if you’re going for the nuclear option or you’ll be terribly grown up about it and press on. You may be surprised and perhaps delighted to know that mistakes are, certainly in my case, caused by my mind wandering to lovely things, or because I’m getting involved in family banter or, most often, because I have achieved that sought after meditative state that all the spa days and meditation podcasts in the world can never quite reach. Mission accomplished.