Dear Clara: I’m a Horrible Knitter

November 4, 2016
Want to see some imperfection? Like, seriously human imperfection?

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40 Comments
  • Dear Clara, Such sound advice! Oh, if only you were running for president.
    I have a question about knitting etiquette… Should you point out to the recipient of a knitted gift, if they choose to wear the gift inside out? I made a cabled hat for a friend, and she posted a lovely picture of it being worn to instagram, but it’s inside out. If feel it would somehow be unkind to point it out, but at the same time, it’s inside out! What would you do?

    • tell her it isn’t it great that it is reversible, too!

      • You win the Internet for today! That’s the best answer!

  • You asked, “When was the last time you basked in the glory of knowing you’d done something perfectly? And how long did it last?” Well, just last night my cousin was wearing a sweater I knitted for her three years ago. It was outside my comfort zone when I made it and the lace sleeves made me nuts. But the thing is, that sweater fit perfectly when it was finished, and it still does, and when she turned around to show the back to her friend, and I saw that perfect waist shaping, I “basked in glory” and for a while (never mind how long) I didn’t even think about how many times I ripped out those sleeves and how the cuffs are still not perfect. So, it can be done. We just need to focus on the parts that worked and forgive ourselves for the ones that didn’t. This is a great article and I will re-read it the next time something’s not perfect. And the next time.

  • Lovely, just lovely, and not just for the knitterly parts of life. Thank you. On a separate topic, you sent me on a brief trip down memory lane. Growing up, we had the exact same plastic covered couch that was in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I always just assumed that having your bare legs get stuck to the couch in summer was normal! Now that I am an adult with two children, three dogs, and a cat, I have washable slipcovers so I understand where my mother was coming from but still…

  • Great way to start my day…your inspiration…and coffee, of course! Thank You!

  • Thank you for this wonderful advise, I knit really slow and really bad and love it,laugh and think how did that happen; other times I feel down how did that happen, but this article truly helps to know we not so nifty knitters are together with the spectacular knitters. Thanks!

  • Dear Clara
    Thank you so much ! Boy does the Frog Queen sound like me! I am beginning to think that frogging is the only knitting I do! Do I knit , oh no, I tink!
    I will take your advise and keep loving this knit until it is done !
    Then I will go back to ALL my projects on my needles and finish them! Knit on!

  • This is fabulously inspirational. Thank you!

  • Clara, this is brilliant and funny and kind.

  • Such a good thing to remember! One day last fall, we were walking through a glorious flaming New England forest. Every leaf was the most gorgeous red or gold, and I decided I needed a perfect one to take home for inspiration. Guess what? There were NO PERFECT LEAVES, every single one I touched had a flaw, but taken together they were perfect. So I took that knowledge home with me, for my inspiration and it has helped me love and enjoy my not perfect, but lovely, knitting.

    Barbara M. In NH

  • Excellent advise. For years I thought I was a horrible knitter but still couldn’t stop. Everyone got simple mittens, hats and scarves. Then one day I read about the difference between project and process knitters. Knitting is my zen. I’ll never be project knitter but I’m a very happy process knitter. Now, when I look at a pattern I ask myself if it will make me feel bad when I don’t finish it or make me feel good because it feeds the process knitter in me.

  • Teacher here: My advice is, you’re trying to be perfect at the wrong thing! In my classroom we practiced something called growth mindset. You can either have a growth mindset or a fixed mind set. A fixed mind set says, “I can’t”, “I don’t know how”, “it’s too hard”, “I’m not good enough”. A growth mindset says, “I can’t do it, YET!”. “I don’t know how, but I can LEARN!”. “If I practice I can get BETTER!”, “I’ve learned lots of other things and if I TRY I can learn this too!”. A fix mindset closes you off to options and tells your brain to shut down. A growth mindset uses those wonder words, “Yet. Learn. Better. Try” to keep your mind and your options open. For a person operating from a fixed mindset, a mistake is a failure. For a person with a growth mindset, a mistake is an opportunity to learn. Our brains are built to learn from mistakes. Mistakes are its nutrition food! If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not growing. Of course we all operate out of both mindsets at different times. In my class, the good readers have growth mindsets about reading and will take on any challenge because they’ve easily experienced success. However, they may be poor in math or writing and in that area they operate with a fixed mindset. But when they learn to identify where they are being fixed, they can change “I can’t” into “I can’t yet”, and “I was smart enough to learn to read, I’m smart enough to learn math if I try!” It’s amazing what a difference this makes to students at all levels of ability.

    I’m thinking that the example of a top athlete given in the article isn’t so much evidence of perfection as it is evidence of a growth mindset. If a person gets to the top of their game, it’s not just or mainly because of perfectionism. If it were, the least mistake, would stop them going farther. Instead, their growth mindset is telling them that if they analyse, practice, look for good teachers, and keep trying, they will eventually get to where they want to be.

    I suggest you think of something you do well and that gives you pleasure: baking, gardening, laying bricks, playing an instrument, whatever, and think about how you were at the beginning. Probably not perfect, In that situation for whatever reason you were using a growth mindset. Plug that feeling into your knitting. If you want to be a better knitter and enjoy knitting more, don’t aim for a perfect product, aim for a growth mindset! Make a mistake and think “Ah! A chance to get better!”; find videos for helping with new techniques, or a local knitting shop, or a knitting friend. Finish a piece and give yourself a pat on the back and think, “That’s not so bad and I learned something I can use next time!” If you’re not a great knitter now (I’m not a great knitter now and my best friend is a genius knitter-talk about pressure!) that’s okay because you’re going to get better! Step back from frustration and feed your mind on those great mistakes!

    • I would love to connect with you about your teaching! Would you please message me? jcwellesATgmailDOTcom. And I’ll look for you on Ravelry, too.

  • Several years ago I was lucky enough to be taking a class on Rossitud knitting (inlay patterning) with the Kelbourne Woolens folks. Barbara Walker had been the keynote speaker at this event and, twenty minutes after class had started, she came in and asked to be part of the class. After Courtney and Kate brought Barbara up to speed, we all kept working. After a few minutes the silence was broken. “Oh, no! I’ve been knitting with the tail!” Yes, Barbara Walker, one of the wise women of knitting, was knitting with the tail. If that can happen to her, then mistakes can happen to any of us. At any time. Mistakes happen. Embrace them. Learn to fix them. Knit on!

    • I find it interesting – and inspiring in a way – that some mistakes and misunderstandings have turned into new ways to do something. Cast on, bind off, stitches, etc. and I wonder how many great inventions evolved from ‘mistakes’ as well. Life holds so many surprises.

  • Oh, these wise words! I taught home economics back in the day when home ec teachers seemed to make their mission to teach students to hate sewing. Because that pitiful first sewing project (usually an apron which by then no one ever wore anyway) had to be ripped out and redone until it was perfect. Who gets something perfect on the first try??? I graded first sewing projects differently. It was considered a success if it didn’t fall off. That was enough for the first time. Then we moved on the the next project and worked on improving skills along the way. Knitting is the same. We all get better as we go along. Still making mistakes, but hopefully fewer of them. I think it’s about giving ourselves permission to learn which includes having permission to not be perfect.

  • I thought for a moment I had written that letter. Honestly, I could be The Frog Lady. I am just now trying to finish the second sock of a Cat Bordhi pattern on two circular needles (a first for me). I sailed through the first sock, loved the two circs technique, and now cannot finish the second! Frogged twice. When something goes wrong I freeze and frog! As much as I want those socks, I want to cast on something else.

    Your advice is perfect timing for me, and I am going to knit on, with notes and confidence, and finish that sock (such a small thing).

    Thank you Clara! Yes, I am voting for you for president.

  • Wonderful, wonderful!

  • Dear Horrible Knitter, first, I suggest you drop the “horrible” title. Simply label yourself “a knitter.” We all make mistakes. Some deserve to be frogged and others don’t. A purl stitch instead of a knit stitch, hidden in an armpit–just leave it. A purl stitch instead of a knit stitch at your nipple level, perhaps you correct it. Some mistakes, made three times, can become a motif.
    Set yourself up for success. Use lots of tools such as markers, lifelines, row counters, etc. Do your complicated knitting at home, when the house is quiet. Save the mindless (garter stitch, for example) knitting for a basketball game on TV or reruns of The Sopranos.
    The Knitting Police do not exist! Enjoy the process and you will be okay.

    • Thank you for the encoragement! Good stuff and wise words!

  • Thanks for your great response to perfectionism. I,too, have been paralyzed most of my life because of “perfectionism”. I haven’t given myself leeway to learn new tricks because I’m sure I can’t get it absolutely right the first time.
    I’m in the process of knitting the Hei Snood using MDK’s Appalachian Trail Rifkin as my simple project that I’m going to finish. It’s going well and I should have it finished within a week.
    Again, thanks for your insightful words!

  • I just wanted to say thanks for such a kind, encouraging, thoughtful, and positive article!

  • loved this!
    we all feel this way sometime
    excellent answer to her
    ty from all of us

  • This is a beautiful article!! Now I’m dying to pick up my needles again!

  • Greetings All. Frog Lady here.

    Thank you Clara for your heart-warming and take-a-long-hard-look response. I read it this morning very very early and it made me cry and laugh. I do appreciate the advice and the encouragement. I knew, deep down, all of the things you said – I just needed someone ELSE to say them to me. To give me permission to be ok with my mistakes. And that creating a flawless piece of art doesn’t make anyone any more of a ‘maker’ than someone with a history of tinks and frogs and twisted stitches.

    We are all makers. And honestly?… that’s all I really want to be.

    Today, I am very proud to say I am 88% through Alicia Plummer’s Campside Shawl. (Bowing down to ChrissyM1981 for that genius spreadsheet!) This baby (my shawl) is flawed on an epic level. But I look at it this afternoon, and I’m still smiling. All because: I created this beautiful piece of fabric out of 2 sticks and some wool. (Paraphrased: I don’t remember who… Sorry)

    It’s remarkable, quite actually.

    I know where my drive and hard-assiness for perfectionism comes from – it’s an old wound – and one that needs desperately to be processed, healed, and put to bed without dinner.

    I’m ready to let it go.

    Thank you again Clara, and to all those that replied with their encouragement too.

    They say awareness is the first step…

    Knit On…
    Deirdre

  • Such beautiful, encouraging advice! The first project I ever knitted was supposed to be a scarf that was 37 stitches wide. Somehow, about halfway through, it mysteriously grew to 75 stitches wide. An experienced knitter took one look at it and told me I should frog it and begin over. Thankfully I didn’t listen to her. I just decided I loved my extra-wide scarf and kept knitting….because I knew that 25 years earlier I had tried to learn to knit and became to anxious over my mistakes I put down my needles. It took me 25 years to gather my courage again…and I wasn’t going to let a little double-wide scarf stop me. Two years later, I’m still knitting and I’ve grown into Fair Isle sweaters….I still make lots of mistakes, but boy do I love knitting and I’m going to make up for 25 years of fear! You go girl!

  • Oh, and P.S. I am mos def going to give your experiment suggestion a whirl. I have a 32 hour road trip (riding shotgun) to Mississippi in my very near future. Primo knit time!

    (I’m thinking Purl Soho’s Mistake Rib Scarf. Hehe. Irony)

  • Please read Elizabeth Gilbert ‘s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. All will be fine.

    • Thank you for the suggestion! Will give it a try!

    • Maryly – I was just going back over these responses and saw yours. I just bought Liz’s book! Came in the mail last night! I can’t wait to dive in. Thank you for your response.

  • Love your answer. I dealt with some of my perfectionism by giving myself PERMISION to make mistakes. It was so freeing!. That was a big step for me and now I view each mistake as a learning experience. Taking notes and using lifelines help too.

  • This is a lovely piece. “Frogging is one of the great things about knitting.” I agree, wholeheartedly. I recently frogged a piece that had 180 cast-on stitches, (luckily just a few rows) as I realized I had cast on way too many stitches. It was for a to-be-felted piece, and I had mixed up my vertical and horizontal calculations…after more than 10 years of successful felted projects! So, I stopped, counted, measured and re-measured, and knew I needed to frog and cast on again with “only” 135 stitches. Ahhh. Better now.

  • Dear Frog Lady,
    Many good suggestions here, and I will take them to heart in my own knitting. I’ve been knitting seriously for about 20 years. I still cannot wrap my brain around the kitchener stitch, and in my frustration I taught myself how to knit socks from the toe up. Two at a time! And I now teach two-at-a-time-toe-up socks. So I know my brain is capable of learning, it just isn’t ready to learn kitchener….yet. Along the way, I’ve learned how to drop down inches in cable work to fix a mis-crossed cable, pick up the right color in a colorwork piece. Or live with a teeny tiny mistake that no one but me will ever see. And the most important thing I’ve learned is to be kind to myself. I’m a recovering perfectionist…
    Knit on!

    • Mary, I have stitches sequences that drive me batty, and you’ve probably already tried this. The tutorial that made my ah-ha light bulb come on with kitchener was Susan B. Anderson’s YouTube video. She has a little ditty she recites while she knits that just worked for me. I now can kitchener.

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  • I’d add to your prescription: having chosen a small project and a nice enough yarn, knit it more than once – say three times. Knit the third one in a special yarn. Give the first two, where you learned the pattern, to charity and keep or gift the third one. Too many knitters I see are wrestling with a pattern for the first time, while their own skills are still insecure.

  • When I make a mistake, I think of the Amish who deliberately make s mistake with their hand made items. They do it because they feel there is only one person, God, who never makes a mistake. Since they are human, there needs to be a mistake in what they do.
    I will go back to fix an incorrect cable turn.
    I did go back to fix a Weasley sweater monogram. I had neglected to take into account that I added 4 inches to sweater length before starting the monogram! The J sat too low. I only reknit the monogram. It took forever and I see where I fixed but dd#3 LOVES the sweater.

  • Wow – this is so very inspiring, both article and comments.

    I was a musician long before I learned to knit, and I remember sitting backstage at a recital waiting for my turn. (I was last, so a long wait.) I spent the first half hour worrying myself sick, then gave myself a stern mental lecture. I decided that letting myself be so nervous would only guarantee that I didn’t play well. I realized that no one in the audience was familiar with the piece I’d be playing. If I made a mistake, no one would know. So that became my new philosophy: it’s only a mistake if I show it on my face. Otherwise, it’s ornamentation.

    It works with knitting, too: if you don’t quite follow the pattern, it’s just your own interpretation. Aren’t you brilliant? And unlike with music, where a sour note can’t be unplayed, you can always rip it out and try again. (Unless it’s mohair, but I suppose you can’t have everything, right?)

  • Clara, Love this response!!! Brought tears of joy to my eyes! Blessings to you and yours.

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