Last winter I knitted a Harry Potter house sweater for my nephew. He loves it. But his standards are far too low. I told him not to tell anyone I knitted it, because the sleeves were askew, and the supposed roll collar was more of a cowl.
I had used a free pattern from some Canadian magazine. Canadians. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the neck when it came time to piece it together and so I was left sort of making it up as I went along. I took it apart once before sending it to see if I could make it less odd. It didn’t really work.
All winter it bothered me. All through the summer I worried. I had made and sent an imperfect gift to someone I love. When my sister told me that he wore it for school photos, I couldn’t stand it anymore.
I ripped apart an identical sweater I had made for my daughter and I began knitting a brand new, not weird sweater for my nephew. Except. The second free pattern,I used from another resource had flaws. Many, many flaws. The raglan sleeve count was somehow off. The sweater turned out off kilter. Four. Times.
My sister tried to put me off. She said it was fine. She reminded me how he adored it. But. If I was going to make him something, I was going to do it right. So I bought a pattern, one with sensical instructions and accurate sleeve directions. As I was about to finish the sweater, I found a new obsession.
When I saw the photo, I clicked the link. When I clicked the link I was sold.
As I finished the ribbed neckline of the perfect sweater for my perfect nephew, I had two glorious skeins of Ballet Pink winking at me from my knitting basket. I never splurge on yarn for myself, for the very reason above. I don’t want to waste time and money on myself when I know the potential for mistakes is so great. It doesn’t seem worth it to me to spend thirty of forty bucks a SKEIN to knit something that may not turn out.
So when I started knitting up my luscious Line Weight Brioche scarf, I took my time. I practiced the stitch on waste yarn. I counted and recounted. I studied the pattern, that added a selvage edge to a simple yarn over stitch. I was ready.
I was not ready to fail miserably roughly twenty times. I pulled out the first 20 rows at least that many times. I’d get past the basic stitch at the beginning and then when I got to the selvage, something always happened. I couldn’t figure it out. So I gave up and decided to stitch it without the stupid selvage. I’ll teach that yarn a thing or two.
Except then, in my haste for a pretty scarf, I dropped stitch after stitch. This left holes in my otherwise lined and lovely textile. As soon as I recognized a dropped stitch, I”d pick it up and add it in. But the result was a twisted sort of cable-y thing smack in the middle of a knitted plane where no cables belonged. I kept knitting, churning out row after row, until the scarf was about 5 feet long. And that’s when I decided to yank those stitches out and start all over, since the brioche stitch does not lend itself to simply deconstructing just to the point of the first mistake.
I tweeted a question: “Would you rip out and start again?” Only one person said yes. Everyone else seemed to think that flaws meant character, or that the handmade love was visible. But it was too late. I had already begun ripping out loops and rewinding tons of yarn.
I knew that the holes and twists and cables would bother me every time I wore the sweater, so that eventually I’d not choose to wear it anymore.
It’s not so much that I want to make it perfect. I hardly care about that. What I wanted was to get my money’s worth. If I was going to make it, I was going to make it right. I splurged on the yarn, and I had planned the garment. To spend time doing something has to be worth my while. I wanted to end with a well made scarf.
And so I started again. My sister rolled her eyes at me. I know that the scarf will have flaws, and I’m not against that. I know I will not start the scarf again. There seems to be a line between obsession and the pursuit of excellence. Excellence is different than perfection. It is what I expect of myself; put out the best effort.
There is also a time to be okay with flaws. To understand that excellence may mean wiggly lines when straight are what’s required. It may mean typos or inadequate metaphors, or half baked prayers that seem to be thrown at the ceiling.