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Breathing space

by ysoldateague April 22, 2013


I spent March focusing on teaching my online class on sweater fitting, which was a rather fascinating experience in many ways. Right at the beginning I asked my students to share their motivation for signing up for the class. Many of them mentioned the weight of unfinished or unwearable sweaters that they weren’t wearing but couldn’t bring themselves to rip out.

‘Just do it,’ I responded. ‘Get it over with, it will feel so much better.’

I know that at least some of them followed my advice, but this weekend I finally decided to do so myself. There are so many feelings tied up in old works in progress and somehow, tucking something away in a drawer can put off accepting failure, delay the admission that we wasted all of that time on something that didn’t work out. But the trade off seems to be guilt: those projects become a chore, something we ought to go back to and fix or finish.

There are so many things to feel guilty about, to procrastinate on finishing, to second guess our decisions on. Knitting is one of the few things where you really can destroy everything and start over, without really breaking anything in the end. Try doing that with work, or a relationship.

Of course, there’s the erasure of all of that time you invested, that you can’t get back. I am absolutely not a process knitter, much as I loved and identified with Franklin’s box of swatches that are ‘just swatches’.(Go read that, he’s funnier than I am). Without the motivation of the
finished product I would probably just knit garter stitch to keep my
hands busy in ‘listen and sit still situations’. However, I think those
of us who do care deeply about the finished object can learn something
valuable from process knitters about the benefits of letting go of the
product. Did you enjoy that time spent knitting? Did you learn a new technique? Why didn’t it work out? If it was a mismatch between yarn and pattern, what do you think would be a better use for the yarn? Did the style or fit of the garment fail to flatter? What would be better? And once again, did you enjoy the time you spent knitting? If you did, then it wasn’t a waste of time, since this is something that you do for fun. Anything you learned is a bonus.

Knitting has become a part of my job, and I often have to focus and make a project work out on a tight deadline. But I still knit for pleasure, and knit projects that are somewhat in between work and play as I try out ideas that might become future designs. Trying to strike a balance between knitting for fun and for work 

Oddly, if I’m actively working on a project for a deadline I’m much more accepting of the need to rip back. It’s an integral part of the process. It’s not that ripping out the same yoke for the seventh time due to a silly error isn’t frustrating, but if it needs to be ripped out I’ll do it without a second thought. Cursing like a sailor is important, it helps you to get the stitches back on the needles correctly. 

Projects that are more explorative, that I’m working on for fun, tend to get sidelined by deadline projects, which means that if something doesn’t work out I tend to just set it aside. I wear very few of the samples of my designs, keeping them in good condition for events and photography. However, things I knit in my free time don’t have that distance and I’m more likely to fantasize about wearing them. Somehow, the combination of that fantasising and the fact that these projects tend to pile up when they don’t work out, makes it harder to rip them out.

But I dug everything out, and using the simple rule ‘am I excited about fixing or finishing this andwearing it’, ripped out almost everything.

Since I moved the studio out of my flat, I’ve been slowly trying to regain my home. It’s taken much longer than I would have liked but things are starting to seem organised. Unfinished sweaters don’t really take up any more space than yarn, but it somehow feels tidier. Being able to see what I have is and important part of my creative process, I’m often inspired by a yarn’s texture or colour, but I also struggle with finding visual clutter totally overwhelming. At the studio I have files of shade cards, and drawers full of sample skeins that are easy to pull open and look down on. The stash I keep at home isn’t necessarily ‘not for work’, almost everything I knit has potential to be a design, but it’s mainly yarn from smaller producers that I’ve purchased while travelling. I love these yarns, and I find them inspiring, but having them out on display feels too cluttered and too much like my work is always present. Let’s not even talk about the moth problem in my Victorian building.

To get the kinks out I skeined the unravelled yarn with a niddy noddy, hung the skeins up and sprayed them with water. 

Years behind everyone else, I finally realised the value of entering stash into Ravelry. I don’t know when I’ll next have time to open this box, but now I’ll be able to find what I’m looking for without creating a giant, overwhelming mess. For now, there are a fair few projects that survived the weekend to be getting on with and I’m excited about all of them. That’s better.

Organised and all tucked away. Waiting.


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