Monday, November 12, 2007

My Friend Failure

So Lotus Knits is having a really neat contest, where each Monday she posts a question and all you have to do is post your answer in her comments to enter. If you win, you really win, because she is a really talented yarn dyer, and the prize is a skein of her beatuiful work. Now, that's my kind of contest, because any contest that actually expects me to know something or *gasp* do anything isn't going to go well for me and, well, I like yarn.

This week, she asked a very intriguing question regarding how we approach our knitting, and asked us to explain a bit about ourselves and our processes. As I wrote my answer, it occured to me that I would really love exploring this idea further, so I decided to expand a bit on my entry.

I am very gonzo in my knitting. Of course, over the years I have seen the Dale patterns and some of the Starmore designs and complex lace as being beyond my abilities, but I have always known it is just a matter of time. From the start, unless I was obviously outclassed, I have always jumped in with both feet. Sometimes that has caused me to frog, but never has it caused me to regret trying.

I realized that the best gauge for how my knitting skills are progressing is to find that project that brings me to a failure point. It usually identifies the areas I have to work on. In the beginning, it was "Branching Out" and "Forbes Forest" that utterly destroyed me, now I fail at much more ambitious projects, like "Cromarty" and "Ingeborg".

Now, I know this sounds like a really negative way of approaching this, but really it is making lemonade from the lemons of knitting. And we all have them. Whether I am learning that I am not quite ready for lace patterning on every row or that a particular yarn substitution really wasn't suitable, or that I lack the Clapotis appreciation gene, I am learning.

Knitting does not come naturally to me. Along with a whole new set of physical skills are an entire panoply of concepts which have to be intellectually assimilated or else, while knitting might be achieved, it will not be understood. I don't want to be forever a slave to patterns as written - in all my work I greatly prefer to be a more active participant, putting a bit if myself into the project. By internalizing the techniques I become more flexible and can develop some refinement of skill and knowledge. But that doesn't mean what I try always works, whether I am slavishly adhering to a pattern for the purpose of learning a new skill or pushing the limits of my knowledge by kitbashing a pattern to get something different out of it.

Now, admittedly, I am still very much in the learning phase of my knitting life. I am more often adhering to the pattern, but I am more likely now to seek a pattern for my next project that will allow me to explore a different aspect of the craft than to repeat known techniques over and over. And glorious failure is often my companion. But what's the worst that can happen? I have to rip? It (generally) doesn't hurt the yarn. It doesn't waste time, because I have identified a problem, an opportunity for growth, even if I haven't yet identified the solution.

Too often I see other people learning to knit and they are fighting it for all they are worth. I have to wonder if they really want to be doing this, they seem so unhappy. Don't get me wrong, I curse my knitting regularly, but I do not approach it either defensively or offensively. I don't feel my knitting is a kill or be killed sort of thing. I look at every new project as a meeting of equals, and even though I am sometimes overly optimistic I am never unhappy, even if the project fails. It only fails for the moment. And, it is a shared experience between myself, the yarn and the pattern, so no one aspect is regularly to blame, which is very freeing.

Then there are those who, whether they mean to or not, infect others with their anxieties and dislikes. I don't need to tell you about steeking, do I? I have read so many accounts of steeking that read like they came from Stephen King's Handbook of Knitting Horrors that it was all I could do to remind myself that without the internet and with basic instructions I would probably succeed at cutting a steek with little to no fuss at all. Tie knots in your yarn when you could use the erudite fad join of the week? The knitting police will surely be busting my door down any minute now. Not that there isn't a time and a place for nearly every technique, even if it is only in the interest of studying the history or anthropology of knitting, but there is never a time or a place for snobbery for the sake of snobbery. Not in my world at least.

So there, that is my several cents worth. No knitting scares me. I don't have to like all of it. I may not be ready for all of it, but I suspect when I know it all, there will be little of knitting I am left to be interested in. As there is so much to learn (remarkably, for a craft that anyone can do) I seriously doubt I will ever get tired of knitting. And failure will be my fast friend for many happy years to come.


LotusKnits said...

What a great post! Thanks for exploring that further. I especially love this line:

"And, it is a shared experience between myself, the yarn and the pattern, so no one aspect is regularly to blame, which is very freeing."

And I love your approach: Balls out knitting. Pun intended.

Hockey Mom said...

Very well written. While I love the comfort of a simple sock, I too find myself drawn towards patterns and techniques more demanding of my own meager skills.

That said, I shouldn't read your blog before I've had my morning coffee! ;-)

Debbie said...

Excellent post and now you have me thinking. I lean more towards simplicity when I knit. Find knitting calming but structured in a Zen like way for me.

Recently taught two people to knit and was amazed how different they both were in how they approached knitting and how incredibly different their relationship was with their knitting. My second pupil is going to need a knitting related marriage counsel I fear.

unadventurous said...

Very inspiring! I love it.