challenges, Knitting, mental health, Uncategorized

Knitting. Perfectionism. Not Compatible.

Happy New Year!
This year, instead of any New Year Resolutions, I have decided to work on some recurring themes that are causing me problems.  First up; perfectionism, or more accurately, letting go of it.

Perfectionism is not compatible with knitting. This was/is a hard pill for me to swallow, but I am managing to get it down bit by bit and with a great many big glasses of water/disappointing projects.  I have come to believe that perfectionism is in fact compatible with procrastination, self doubt, anxiety and a myriad of other unhelpful things. And not just in knitting, in everything.  In my view, perfectionism isn’t about high standards, striving to achieve, or doing your best, it isn’t a learning curve, or taking lessons from mistakes.  For me, perfectionism is a paralysing force that demands unrealistic standards, allows no room for growth and will prevent me from finishing or even starting anything for fear that it will not look as good as I imagined/ I will discover I don’t have the skill set necessary to execute it/ I will be found out (for what?!)/ no one will like it and it’s not good enough.  All of which ultimately boil down to ‘I’m not good enough’. As a human being.  When you write it out like that, it does seem silly, but it can be a powerful force.  And if you break it down it essentially means I’m saying that if I knit this jumper and it doesn’t come out as planned, it’s irrefutable proof that I have no value as a living creature and no place on this planet.  I am aware that this may sound pretty extreme and is probably not something that everyone struggles with, but it is definitely what goes on for me.

I suppose I used to think that the opposite of  perfectionism was lack of effort or skill, and being willing to accept shoddy results and bodge jobs.  But it meant I never got anything done because it left me unable to continue with projects that had mistakes, and unable to start a new project if I didn’t have exactly the right wool/equipment/skills etc.  I have come to realise that the opposite of perfectionism is actually action; just do something, anything!  Letting go of perfectionism allows me to set achievable realistic goals, appreciate how I have progressed, persevere when I (keep) making mistakes, learn how to correct them, go with the flow if it doesn’t turn out quite how I imagined, accept imperfection and actually finish!  It is better to have an imperfect finished item than a perfect one existing only in my mind.

This isn’t an excuse for churning out sub-par items. In fact it means the more mistakes I make and learn from, the more skills I acquire.  I have recently finished a jumper for my niece.  I designed it, asked her to choose the colour, bought the yarn, took her measurements and began.  The design has a cabled section down the front which involved a few mathematical calculations and I realised I had made a mistake within a few rows of casting on.  Perfectionism would have me a) abandon the project, or b) unravel the project, feel completely inadequate, put it away to do ‘perfectly’ another time and never again let it see the light of day.  What I actually did, was previously unknown option c) work out where I had gone wrong, unravel, cast on, and start again.  I would like to say I got it right second time around, but I didn’t, so I did it again.  I had to continue knitting whilst beating myself up about how much further on I would be if I hadn’t got it wrong in the first place, but the important thing for me is that I kept going.  And the truth is, I learned a lot about working out patterns and really understanding why I need to calculate them in the way I eventually did.  The jumper wasn’t all plain sailing from thereon in however.  It has a raglan sleeve, and because there is nothing worse than a jumper that cuts into your armpit, I added a couple of inches of ease.  But it ended up being more than a couple of inches which didn’t become apparent until the first ‘fitting’.  So, what to do?  At the beginning of the project, it was necessary for me to unravel and start all over because the entire pattern of the jumper wouldn’t work if I didn’t.  But here?  This is an example of where I had to let go and carry on.  The jumper wasn’t exactly as I pictured it, but although the top of the sleeves are pretty roomy, it looked fine and my niece loved it.  So I decided to continue.  The sleeves themselves were the next challenge.  I had knitted one and my niece had tried it on so I knew it was ok.  I continued with the second and when I got down to the cuff, realised that it was going to be a good 3 inches longer than the other sleeve.  This time, it was about working out where I went wrong (I had left too many rounds inbetween decreasing), unraveling and picking it up again.  This isn’t about perfectionism, it is about making something wearable and knitted to the best of my ability (a realistic goal rather than a completely unattainable one).  I have now finished the jumper.  Is it perfect? No.  Is it finished?  YES!!!  Will anyone else notice the bits I am not too happy with?  Probably not.  Is my niece happy with it?  Yes.  Job done.

As cliche as it sounds, the reality is that each failure challenge is an opportunity to learn something.  From this project, aside from the issues above, I learned that need to allow more room on the cuffs, and less on the neck edge.  I know that next time I need to keep much better pattern notes, and may try knitting both sleeves at the same time using the magic loop method to ensure they are both exactly the same.  I wouldn’t have learned any of this if I had allowed perfectionism to persuade me to give up at the first hurdle (or any other hurdle).

I am about to cast on my next project (a cardigan for my other niece), and will hopefully not make the same mistakes I made with this one.  I am sure I will make plenty of new ones instead, but that is how it goes isn’t it (again, not just in knitting).

Every so often however, it is just about cutting your losses; just before Christmas I started knitting a hat as a gift. It came off the needles bearing an alarming resemblance to a German World War 2 helmet and has now been filed under ‘irretrievable’.

Anyway, I’m sure there is an ancient proverb somewhere that sums all this up perfectly, but in the spirit of imperfection I will just say ‘May you carry on knitting, make lots of mistakes, and learn from as many of them as you can’.