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Ripping Back

May 30, 2013

Mistakes happen. Mistakes happen a lot. Even though we can try our best and have the noblest of intentions, we are bound to mess up. Some of the mistakes we make are little: a misspoken word here, a forgotten phone call there, a failure to write down a number correctly. These are mistakes that, while we can’t go back and undo them, are easily correctible. An apology, an excuse, a rewrite. There are also the mistakes that are not easily repaired. These are the big ones. These are the ones that lead to permanent scars, to broken hearts, to destroyed lives. We all, each and every one of us, bear the marks of some of our mistakes. Some we carry on the outside, scars to show what we have been through, while some are worn on the inside, known only to us, but no less painful. Our mistakes define us, drive us, make us who we are.

In life, you can never undo something that you have done. You can’t go back in time and change things that have already come to pass. You can spend your future trying to right the wrongs and never make the same mistakes again but you can never erase the ones that have already happened. Life moves only one way. There are no directions, no road maps, no GPS. You are on your own to navigate your way though your life and try not to mess things up too much.

This isn’t the case with knitting. It’s one of the reasons I love knitting so much.

When you knit, you start with two very basic things. Sticks and string. They might be $200 silver tip Signature needles and qiviut, but in the end, its only sticks and string. We use those sticks and string to create something. Usually there is a pattern to follow. Our path is laid out before us and all we have to do it follow it. Some patterns will give you a basic guideline of what you are making and some give you stitch by stich instructions for the entire thing. Your entire way is spelled out for you and all you have to do is follow it.

Even with the careful instructions, sometimes you still make a mistake. A symbol is misread, a stitch is missed. In knitting, it doesn’t matter. Everything is correctable. If you made a mistake a few stitches before and have caught it quickly, all that is needed is for a few stitches to be carefully tinked back. (TINK is KNIT, backwards. Awesome, right?) Did you mis-cross a cable three rows before? No worries, you can drop down those stitches and carefully work them back up in the correct direction. Drop a stitch? Grab your crochet needle and pick the stitch back up. Forget the waist decreases? You can pull the needles out of the knitting, rip back to the row before the decreases were supposed to have started, rethread your needles and away you go. Easy peasy. In knitting you can even have a contingency plan just IN CASE a mistake should be made. You can thread a life line, whether it be a spare piece of yarn or a spare needle through a row that you know is correct and should you make a mistake later on, you can rip back to that line and not lose any more of you knitting than you absolutely have to.

Even if you make a mistake and don’t catch it until you are finished with the project, you can still fix it. Forgot to switch a color on some colorwork? A simple duplicate stitch over the offending area will take care of that. Cables can be stitched up to look like they are in the correct direction, holes can be cinched up, even the most unevenly knit items can undergo miracle transformations thanks to a good blocking.

What do you do when you have messed up something so bad that there is no way it is going to end up being what you want? What if, despite your best efforts, there is no way to easily save that sweater? While painful, the answer is simple. You take the needles out and you unravel then entire thing. You frog that project and reclaim the yarn. Once you have rewashed and reskeined your yarn, it is like the project never even existed. All that is left are two sticks and some string. All your mistakes have been washed clean and you have fresh start. Yes, you have lost time and perhaps some hair if you knit like I do, but what is that compared to the promise of a brand new start?

Life doesn’t offer you a guaranteed fresh start, but knitting does. Knitting lets you find out what you can and cannot accept. I have frogged countless projects throughout the years. Some have been because my gauge has been completely off, some because I couldn’t get the hang of the pattern, some because I didn’t like how the yarn knit up in the project, some I just got tired of. None of those mistakes affected me personally. It was just yarn. It can be started again.

Sometimes though . . . sometimes I leave the mistakes where they are. I am not perfect. I have made a lot mistakes in my life. I bear the scars of those mistakes. Why should my knitting be any different? Most of the mistakes that I leave in are so small that only I am going to know that they are there. In the end, I still have something beautiful, useful and made by hand. The only people that are going to see where I have messed up are other knitters. If these knitters are anything like me, I think that they will understand. We all make mistakes. Yarn forgives them all. If only life worked like knitting does.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 3, 2013 7:15 am

    Is self-forgiveness like frogging, washing and reskeining? Maybe the yarn is improved by having been worked, released and cleaned up, ready from that experience for a new vision, project. OMG – just noticed your KnitMeter!! Gotta have that!
    Loved this post, Julie.

    • June 3, 2013 7:43 am

      It absolutely is. And rather cathartic as well. I know I could certainly benefit from becoming a little more like a 4 ply wool and a little less like a sticky mohair. That stuff doesn’t forgive at all. It is great. My family doesn’t get it when I say I’ve knit 800 grams of lace weight yarn into a shawl but they definitely have a little more respect when I can say I’ve knit 12 football fields worth of yarn. 😉

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