So two weeks ago I screwed up some knitting. I knitted this little baby jumper super fast because it was fun - a test knit of the super sweet Iris Pullover by Wiksten - and the speed increased because I was knitting a Stash Less version and I really wanted to see if I could make it work. Joyful knitting - I was fully in the flow of making.
But in knitting it as quickly as I did, and as late at night, I made a mistake. A couple of mistakes actually. Firstly, I forgot the last line of the V pattern on the front of the right shoulder of the sweater. It is more noticeable in real life than it is in the photo. Secondly, I did the decreases backwards around that same shoulder which meant that the nice line you would get around the shoulder looked jagged and not quite so pretty.
It wasn't until I was almost finished, until had sewed the sweater shoulders up, knitted the neckband and had sewn on the sleeve, that I noticed it. That said, I hadn't yet sewn in the ends - but the sweater was pretty much done.
Except that it wasn't.
When I realised, I swore a little, I laughed at myself, I took a photo (to post on instagram :)) and then I quickly pulled it out. Rip the bandaid off goddammit.
What was interesting was when I posted the photo on instagram, the overwhelming reaction I got was to leave it. I reckon it was easily 9 to 1, leave it to fix it.
Everyone was lovely about it, coming up with inventive ways that I could live with my mistake, or cover it up, or creatively embellish it. I wasn't expecting the (lovely caring) response so I almost didn't say that I had already ripped it out.
But I haven't been able to stop thinking about the response ever since.
What is our resistance to going backwards? What is the fear? Or is not that we have to go backwards, but rather that we don't want to admit that we have made a mistake? Do we not want to acknowledge that we have not got it right? Got it wrong even. Are we trying to say "lalala play on! Nothing to see here"?
Or is it the "wasted" time? Are we caught up in the idea we need to be being productive, moving forward, achieving, finishing?
I've come up with a few theories about it, but I would love to understand it better, because I don't think our resistance/fear/or whatever it is, serves us well. Because we do mind when it doesn't turn out how we planned. Even if we embellish it or ignore it. It is (a little) disappointing to not end up where we hoped.
And here is the key - if we are so afraid of going backwards we must be making with fear! Fear of making mistakes, fear of having to go back, fear of living with a mistake. And making with fear must be stealing a little of our making joy.
So chime in and let me know if any of these resonate or maybe you have a different theory? I'd love to hear it.
Is it a lack of experience?
I've written about mistakes before and about ripping for joy. I believe in going back but this is something that I've learnt to do. Going back, ripping out, unpicking are skills I've practiced as part of my making practice. Doing so without any negativity towards myself, or my work, is another layer of that practice.
These days I'm quite good at it. A swear word or two, a glass of wine, a day or three and I can move on without holding on to my mistake. BUT! this wasn't something I could do earlier in my craft career. I suspect there are two reasons why.
Reason 1: Skills
Jenn popped over for a coffee when I was mid-thought about this little sweater, and reminded me that she wouldn't go back because she wouldn't be confident in her ability to fix it. I remember this. I remember not knowing enough about the structure, and not having the skills I needed to redo do something. Actually I probably didn't even have the skills to go backwards in the first place. Play-on was my only option.
This has changed as I have gaine more experience, but I wonder if I would have progressed in my skilling-up faster had I embraced trying to fix my mistakes, rather than avoiding them or pretending they weren't there. Making mistakes and fixing mistakes is the only way to truly understand what it is that you are trying to do.
"A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor" - Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In order to build up our skill set for dealing with big waves we need to practice, first on 1 ft waves, building up to 30ft waves over time. I just wonder if there is a case for throwing ourselves into 10ft waves sometimes for the express purpose of skilling-up? Do we sometimes spend too much time in the 1ft waves cause they feel safe, never gaining the joy and experience of trying something harder because of our fear?
Reason 2: Mindset practice?
At the start of my craft career I didn't have the emotional strength to go back. Finishing something felt like climbing a mountain (more on this in a minute) and so idea that there was still yet another hill to climb was demoralising to the point of me running back down the hill and out of the mountains. With more practice at making we become more emotionally confident about our abilities and more resilient. We have memories to draw on of when we have taken a deep breath and gone backwards, or climbed that extra peak, and how little it actually hurt and how good we felt.
We also come to learn - in the words of EZ - that as we do what we do because we love knitting this (setback) is simply more knitting.
However early on in my knitting career, I think I was also making it mean things like "I'm not very good at...." and "Other people do this beautifully whereas I ...."
Which leads me to some more questions.
Are we making our mistake mean something?
So when I mention my "failures" in a public forum, which I do fairly regularly, I always have some kind people tell me that I'm being a bit harsh to myself. This idea is always interesting to me, because that isn't how I feel about my failures these days. They simply don't feel harsh.
I've again been trying to train my thinking. My mistakes and failures aren't a reflection of me. They are simply mistakes and failures. They are part of the process, and simply means that I am practicing in the gap like we all are, in craft and in life.
The only way to get good at anything is to do lots of work, spend the time, be curious and make mistakes. Without mistakes we can't learn what we need to to get good, as how we look at the thing we are doing is one dimensional. If we always knit to the pattern, and never have to think outside what is written, then we learn a little. If we screw up royally, and drop a cable, and fix said cable, we learn a lot.
The word "failure" doesn't seem harsh to me because it doesn't mean anything more than that I screwed something up. It definitely doesn't mean I'm a failure. It simply means there is more to learn.
Actually in the case of this little sweater - I think the only learning would be to pay a little bit more attention. Or go to bed on time.
Do we think that going back is being pernickety?
Do we think that going back is buying into perfectionism, buying into the idea that we need to do things perfectly to have value? Are we ignoring "perfect is the enemy of good" to our detriment?
I've thought about this a lot over the years. Being a practicing completionist (ie. recovering perfectionist), I've had to make sure that I am not using fear of judgement as a reason for doing something. But given the strength of the response the other day, and the generosity and concern people exhibited for my well being in the face of going back :), I had another look at whether I was being crazy and buying into the perfectionist narrative. I don't think I am and I'm going to use an analogy to describe why not.
So, say you are climbing a mountain, a small one, but big enough that you are tired and sweaty and hot by the time you see the final peak. You take a moment, have a drink, fiddle with the straps of your pack before tackling that bastard with gumption and resolve. One foot in front of the other to get to the top. You are hot and sweaty and tired but you are also enjoying it. Because you like climbing mountains. that is why you are here; to climb the mountain, see the magnificent sights, feel the breeze and revel in the freedom that comes with being in the great outdoors on a mission. But then this thing happens. Right before you get to the top of the peak, you see in the nearish distance that you actually got it wrong. This peak you saw is not the top of the mountain. Your expectations of being near the finish are dashed, and you feel a little demoralised with a dose of disappointment and exhaustion. And yet, you are here to climb the mountain. You know how glorious it will feel to have achieved what you set out to achieve. And so you take a deep breath, have a sip of water, fiddle with your straps and put one foot in front of the other. To not climb the final peak, because you had to keep going when you thought you were finished, would be to deny yourself the satisfaction of completing your true goal. And who would do that?
I was trying to make a sweet little stash less baby sweater. It was going to be glorious. Yes! I thought I was finished and I was excited, only to discover right before the end that I had a bit more work to do. In this case the work involved back-tracking a little to get on the right track, before climbing the actual peak of the mountain, and the taking a sip of water was actually taking a sip of wine, but the basic story is the same.
By creating the exact sweater I set out to create I get the full satisfaction of getting to enjoy my resolve, my stick-to-it-ness, my dedication and my discipline. I feel like a champ looking at this little sweater. Why would I deny myself the pleasure of achieving what I had set out to achieve just because I had an hour or two's more work to do?
When you are starting out as a mountain climber - like in my example at the top of the post - then there might be a case for running screaming out of the mountains when faced with a new peak when you thought you were done. But I am an experienced climber, with years of walking under my belt and mental practice at making sure my mindset is right. I might need a few swear words, a drink of water (wine!!) and a 5 minute sit-down, but I can totally climb that peak. I know I can. I have practice and experience on my side.
Are we connecting our productivity to our self worth?
Why don't want to go backwards? Why are we worried about spending an extra hour or two on this particular project? If we are going to be making anyway, why not keep making this thing to get it right rather than going onto something else?
I've been wondering if part of it is that we are connecting our productivity to our self worth. Our cultural messaging is strong around this stuff. Culturally, achieving is what we are told we are on this earth to do. Achieve stuff, kick goals, accumulate, step forward, onward into the breach. Find what you are good at, and make money out of it. Improve your results, your grades, your fitness, your skills. Always forward, never back.
We live in a culture where busy is bemoaned and yet celebrated as the only way to be. How are you? "Busy" the only acceptable answer. Busy achieving and being a good citizen, "being productive members of society".
Going backwards or even simply inertia, are not really acceptable ways to be. We don't answer with "ahhh, I'm just wandering through at the moment" or "I'm being pretty lazy, not getting much done". I can't remember anyone giving me an answer anything like that for years.
Our cultural programming is strong.
And so what messages have we taken on from this "acceptable" way to be? Do we hear that we are only worthwhile if we are producing stuff with our time and our effort and our materials? Maybe we have internalised these messages to the degree, that the idea of going back makes us feel uneasy? Is it that we can't go backwards because it would mean that we had "wasted all that time" making the mistake in the first place? Wasting as a sign of a non-busy, non-achieving, non-worthwhile human?
Being wasteful does not have good connotations. And that seems to be a big part of why people are horrified to watch someone like me (a ripper) rip a whole sweater out to resuse the yarn. The horror is that we have wasted. all. that. time.
The bigger question for me is why do we believe that we have wasted all that time when we have made a mistake?
Because we haven't. We have learnt what we needed to learn from that project, and rather than keeping the thing as a monument to that learning (like my little sweater with the mistakes), we have traded the time for learning.
Can we think of our time differently?
Could we think of the time we used to make the mistake (not wasted!), as time spent invested in our learning?
Could we even go so far as to think of the time we spent as time invested in our pleasure, the pleasure we had in that moment simply being with our knitting. Not necessarily achieving anything but simply knitting?
Knitting has joy inherent in the doing. If it did not, I would have gone to the shop and purchased her a baby present. There is the joy of sitting with an idea, of combining colours, of feeling yarn in my fingers, of the tension of the yarn, of the neat stitches all in a row. There is joy in that moment. In that moment, when I was making the little sweater I was simply happy, taking simple joy in the making. Can that not be enough? Does it matter that I spent an extra hour or two on the sweater?
Can we reframe our thinking about mistakes and going back?
Could we be happier in our making with a little bit of reframing of how we think about mistakes and going back. Not because we are looking for perfection, but simply because there is beauty to be found in spending time getting to the top of the mountain. Especially when we reframe our failures as learning, as becoming better sailors, and the time we spend as time we have invested in our craft and in ourselves, in the simple pleasure to be found in a moment of making.
I'm not saying it's not ever painful. I am saying that with a little rethinking and reframing and practice we can make it less painful and make with less fear....
PS. If you are scared of ripping back your knitting then please peruse The Secret To Becoming A Great Knitter. Learning the structure of your knitting is guaranteed to remove some fear.