Yarn Along: Progress Not Perfection

Well, it’s a start.

So I went ahead and picked up my knitting needles again. They’d been gathering dust, along with colorful skeins of yarn, in a basket in the corner of my closet for months and months.

I used to knit fairly often but never very well.

When I was pregnant with my first and working as a full-time journalist, I was assigned to write an article on the knitting trend and how a renaissance was underway for handiwork. In the community my husband and I were living in at the time, casting on was all the rage for the younger generation. I interviewed the owner of a local yarn shop to figure out why an “old-fashioned” hobby like knitting was becoming so popular. She said something about how women of all ages were longing to slow down. Life was busy; they wanted something that would make them pause but still allow them to have something to show for their time – like a scarf or a dish towel.

I remember her also telling me there was no knitting stereotype. It’s true. Women who knit are soccer moms, career executives, college students, and bohemian wanderers. What all these women have in common is the desire to create. The repetitive movement of knitting is soothing, and the yarns are beautiful. I remember standing in my interviewee’s knitting shop, which was stacked wall-to-wall with balls of yarn that came in myriad textures – from silky, eggplant purple or lime green threads to varicolored fabrics recycled from Nepalese saris. The yarns appealed to my senses. And the idea that my two hands coupled with a pair of needles could turn these yarns into something beautiful and maybe even useful lured me in.

I’d always wanted to sew, but I’d been a complete failure at it. My mom, who is a quite talented seamstress, tried to teach me several times, but she finally said I might not have the patience for it. I wanted to skip the learning and get straight to the making of stylish garments with perfect seams.

I wondered if knitting might be a better fit for me. No machine was required. Just my hands and a couple of needles, a skein of colorful yarn, and a little creativity. Plus, my mother-in-law knits and crochets, so she was able to to help me along the way. I also took a few lessons from the owner at the local yarn store.

I had all these plans to knit beautiful baby blankets and rainbow scarves for friends. I did knit quite a few basic scarves and even finished one beautiful corner of the baby blanket I had planned on giving to my firstborn. (It remains tucked away in my closet and would make a nice hankie.)

After Madeline – the baby who never slept and was happy nursing constantly – was born, my time was in short supply, and I chose to fill my limited free hours minutes with writing, reading, or exercising, and knitting fell by the wayside. At least that’s what I used as my excuse. Who had time to knit when faced with the all-consuming nature of caring for an alert, little one?

I did briefly return to knitting when my husband’s hours during residency were particularly bad and when most of my evenings were spent alone after I’d gotten all of the girls to sleep. Then I gave up on it again.

I can’t completely blame the busyness of my life with littles for my decisions to keep hiding my knitting gear away.  The truth is, I never really excelled at knitting. My hands were not all that nimble. It took a lot of concentration for me to do anything other than a basic knit stitch, and I’d sometimes mess up my rows and couldn’t bear the thought of having to unravel all that work to fix my mistakes. Yet, I didn’t like the glaring imperfections in my handiwork either.  I couldn’t win, so I gave up knitting and assumed it just wasn’t for me (like sewing, like anything I’ve ever attempted that I wasn’t a natural at).

Lately, I’ve been seeing all the Yarn Along posts inspired by Ginny. I saw that Elizabeth decided to put her own hands to work and to create. She seemed to so quickly pick up on the skill. She’s making shawls and sweaters; I never could get past the most basic scarf. But every time I walked into my closet and  caught a glimpse of my old knitting supplies, I wondered why I was so afraid of failure or even just plain mediocrity. I don’t need to knit Fair Isle sweaters to find enjoyment in the rhythmic repetition of my smooth Bamboo needles sliding against each other as I performed the most basic knit stitch. All those interlocking loops were making something whole, if not perfect.

So often in life my desire to excel and to produce only flawless results has had a way of pushing me to quit a new endeavor unless I’m a standout superstar at it right away. Since becoming a mom, I’ve been working hard on overcoming this trait of mine because I don’t want my children to sit on the sidelines of any activity in life just because they’re not the best at it or because they have to work harder at it. And also because motherhood has a way of humbling you. I work so hard to create, to gestate, to mold children and love them well, but just like their mother, they are not flawless. I have to accept them and myself with all of our faults and quirks and loose stitches.

Mediocrity used to terrify me; now it humbles me. This has been a year of focusing on progress instead of perfection, and what better way to embrace that than to give knitting a try again?

So I did. I was surprised that my mind knew what to tell my hands and that I hadn’t forgotten how to cast on. I decided to just stick with the basic knit stitch.

Now every day, at least for a few minutes, my hands create as I quiet myself so a baby can be more carefully knit inside of me.  It’s nothing spectacular – yet another simple scarf I’ll add to my collection or maybe share with one of my daughters. But the progress, the growing rows, the repetitiveness, the recognition that just because a knitting project is uncomplicated and imperfect doesn’t mean it’s going to unravel – these have been soothing and satisfying.

I hope this time I won’t cast off too soon and that I’ll stick with it celebrating my effort and my progress.

Please stop by Ginny’s place and see the yarns others are spinning. Her weekly Yarn Along posts share not only knitting projects and books we’re reading, but also the wisdom we glean from the acts of slowing down, pacing ourselves, and giving ourselves the time to create and/or savor the words of others.