At least it’s a direction

Yesterday I had a day that basically amounted to this:

Jan20-Rrrrrip

I started the day with a project on the needles, and ended the day with nothing but a length of yarn and a cast-on row. You might think that this means that between starting with a project in progress and ending with a length of yarn, I just got to a point where I decided I didn’t like it or it needed fixing, and I ripped it out. The thing is, I did this not just once, but three times. And it’s all in the name of making it better (in this case for a design – the last time it was in the name of getting something that fits me), and I’ve gotten a lot of practice at it over time (ripping and re-knitting, that is), but still. After you’ve begun knitting the same length of yarn for the 4th time (or 5th, or 6th, for that matter) you do start to wonder if there is someone standing around with a hidden camera waiting to reveal the ploy to you.

But of course, there IS no ploy in moments like these, just your own knitterly conscience saying, “uh, you know, you might want to stop and take a better look at that. Maybe from the beginning.” And I’m here to break it to you that, just in case you were assuming that these moments become fewer as you get to be a more experienced knitter – you are completely and entirely wrong. Experienced knitters still have moments like these, in fact some days we have them twice before breakfast and another three over cocktails, all in the same day.

I joked on Twitter about this, that all I had to show for my day was a pile of ripped out yarn, and some other knitters chimed in and said, “you know, I’d take a class in that. Un-knitting. I’d be a braver knitter as a result!” And then I actually started wondering what a class like that would look like.

Jan20-ScratchThat

This is my class in un-knitting. You can take it from anywhere, bring your own materials. Ready? Here goes:

Step 1: Start with a quantity of yarn.

Step 2: Start knitting something. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that it’s a project that you selected with yarn you like. Knit away on it for a period of time.

Step 3: Develop a niggling feeling that Something Is Not Right. This is unfortunately not something that you can schedule or plan ahead for. But don’t worry, it’ll be along eventually, quite possibly at the least opportune moment. Pause. Listen to the niggling.

Step 3b (Optional): Develop a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, possibly also accompanied by feelings of a) stupidity, b) despair, c) denial, d) self-loathing, e) anger, f) bargaining. (Choose any of the above that apply.)

Step 4: Come to the conclusion that you would rather re-knit the thing that gave you the niggling feeling, than continue knitting while accompanied by the niggling feeling.

Step 5: Remove the knitting from the needles, and return the knitting to its original state (a length of yarn).

Repeat Steps 1-5 as frequently as desired. (More frequent repetition often unlocks Step 6: Locate alcohol and/or chocolate.)

On the one hand, this isn’t hard. Ask your nearest 4-year-old if pulling apart knitting is hard, and I’m betting the answer won’t be “yes.” On the other hand, it is actually very, VERY hard. Ask your nearest adult knitter who is casting on the same project for the 4th time if pulling apart knitting is hard, and I’m betting the answer won’t be “no.”

I think this is true about a lot aspects of our craft. Most things about knitting aren’t actually hard in a skill sense. Working the knit or purl stitch, pulling out a project to re-do it, executing many cable twists once you’ve learned how to do that 1st cable twist…These are all things that an objective knitter would not qualify as “hard.” It’s what happens when you combine all of these things and many more with the emotional and intellectual exercise of producing a garment that you care about, while still carrying on the normal requirements of your daily life, that makes knitting challenging. It’s also what makes it so worthwhile.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I cast on this same length of yarn for the 4th time. It sounds much more poetic that way.

May you have a worthwhile weekend of knitting, dear knitting friends. Catch you next week!
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42 Comments

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42 responses to “At least it’s a direction

  1. Oh, I’ve had those days…

  2. Maya

    thanks for this. lately, I feel as though I’m beginning four or five projects for each one that gets finished. I suspect that I’m overreaching my abilities; I’m crossing my fingers that eventually, this will pay off. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in my endless unknitting!

  3. good luck. i hate unknitting…

  4. It’s worse with things you’re designing, because there aren’t any patterns or other FO’s to show you what is SUPPOSED to be right. Then you feel guilty, because you want everyone to see your best work. And before you know it, you’ve ripped the whole thing and started over.

  5. melanie

    For some reason, I forget that I’m not the only knitter who makes serial mistakes… Thanks for this!

  6. Arlene

    I feel so much better after reading your post. I came to the conclusion last night that a sweater I’ve been knitting for the past 2 weeks just wasn’t “right” – I had a niggling feeling but chose to ignore it for a few more rows, then decided I couldn’t carry on with this “feeling” following me. I haven’t ripped out yet, but will and now I feel better about doing that. My husband just looks at me and shakes his head.

  7. Sigh, I’ve learned to listen to the niggling feeling, too. If I have my doubts early on, it’s better than when I’m half done, right?

  8. Susan713

    I just finished the reknit of a pair of sleeves. I think I unknit more as an experienced knitter than I did as a beginner or intermediate because I have higher expectations, choose more complicated projects, and design more. Sometimes I think casting on the same yarn a second or third time takes a lot of courage, much more than the first cast on when I have that open-hearted enthusiasm. Sometimes grit (and chocolate) is all that keeps me going.

  9. FoFo

    You are not alone in this. I have done this very thing so many times. I tear it out try a different pattern, tear it out get different needles, tear it out and change to crochet. You name it, I’ve done it. (((HUGS))) I know you will make something beautiful!!!

  10. Judy

    OMG it’s like you’re talking about me. im doing a sweater and had only the last sleeve left. tried it on, didn’t like the fit and hated several things i’d done. ripped the whole thing back into little balls of yarn, and am now part way through round 2. although i feel bad for you, i am happy that other knitters go through the same angst! best of luck on attempt no. 4.

  11. Ness

    I just started knitting around Christmas and all I’ve done is knit, unwind, ball yarn, start over. I’ve even forgot how to crochet in the process. My husband hasn’t sad a word, he just watches in fascination.

  12. Cara

    Add me to the list of unknitters. I finished a sleeve last night and transferred it to a holder but I know in the pit of my stomach that it isn’t right. I’m staying in denial about needing to rip it until I finish the other sleeve. At least this way I can work out the issues before I give in and reknit the first sleeve.

  13. Your post hits it right on the head! People ask me if knitting is hard. I find it difficult to find a straight forward answer, so I usually stick to, “Nah…not once you get it.” However, deep down inside I feel that that response is deceiving. Sure it’s hard, and for all of the reasons you mention here. It’s a psychological thing. Skill has very little to do with the difficulty after a while. Very well said and right on the money! ( I love how I started and ended my comment with a cliche. )

  14. Pamela Langford

    Know this well, so good to read about other’s niggles.

  15. Katharine

    LOL! So true! I think you could also add step 4b: Throw knitting in corner and leave it there until you get enough gumption and/or soothing glasses of alcoholic beverage in you to actually accomplish step 5.

    Sorry you had that kind of day. I did it once to a whole vest that was actually finished, but it was worth it in the long run. I never would have worn the thing.

  16. i could say i’m a ‘professional frogr’!!! just kidding! i’m more of a perfectionist. i guess my music training background developed in me the sense that no one wants to listen to wrong notes!! i taught beginning band students for 33 yrs so had to figure out how to teach them to read/play music accurately… which means ‘the right note at the right time’!!! so no one wants to look at or receive a knitted item with mistakes in it either!! just another way to think of un-knitting…think of a 5th grader playing a wrong note and having to go back and practice it again to get it right!!
    ‘as you practice, so shall you play’

  17. Jaynicknitknacks

    Eugh I hate that feeling . My latest post was a ‘look at how much I’ve undone’ type post. :(
    The only comfort is that it will look better in the end and therefore isn’t wasting the yarn. Annoying tho. :(

  18. I’ve often seen my mom un-knitting and then, be so happy about making it the way she wanted it to be! I do exactly the same thing! My friends are often teasing me about this: “Did you unknit it?” ;-) I like the knitting process, so re-doing a part that I think can be done better (or correct a mistake) isn’t really a problem for me and I’m so happy after!

  19. I laughed out loud!!!! I actually became an Un-Knitter long before I became a Knitter! I think it’s a qualification that every would-be knitter should aspire to before they ever aspire to finishing a project!!! I’m currently doing the Great American Aran Afghan and have started one particular block 4 times now…! My mom takes the prize tho – she actually knitted, completed and sewed up the same jersey 3 times before she was happy with it!!! Have a fab day! lol x

  20. Hi Glenna, I’ve been reading your blog for a good few weeks, but have been too shy to say hello until now. So, hello! (Finally.) :)
    Yesterday evening, I cast on the stitches of the sleeve I’m knitting right now for the… third time I think and I feel so much better. It might actually fit this time! *g* I spent a good time calculating everything and I must have made some mistake or other on the way and I knitted and knitted – and un-knitted in the end. I think un-knitting is a wonderful thing. Not only does it get rid of the niggling feeling you described so wonderfully above, but also it makes me value the process of knitting even more. I enjoy knitting more than the holding the finished object in my hands. And while it is sometimes hard to pull the string and see the whole thing unravel, it is also very liberating. If I don’t want to carry on doing something I feel uncomfortable with, I can just stop, undo and redo it. For me, that’s on of the greatest things about our craft. :)

  21. Your idea of an unknitting class is actually a great idea. Think of the power it provides to new knitters about the methods of how to fix what they may feel is unfixable. Instead of never wearing/using an item, they can go back and try again to get it right.

  22. Sarah @ Knit York City

    Amazing post! So many times I’ve been frogging and cryin quietly to myself. But I think that starting over is what makes us good knitters. If we didn’t have that instinct, well, I’d have some pretty awful and misshapen FOs. Keep on casting on!

  23. Amazing post! So many times I’ve been frogging and crying quietly to myself. But I think that starting over is what makes us good knitters. If we didn’t have that instinct, well, I’d have some pretty awful and misshapen FOs. Keep on casting on!

  24. I woke up this morning with a (small) cloud over my head because in my heart, I knew that I would be frogging back a project that I’ve been knitting all week. Try as I might, my optimism just can’t override the fact that this project doesn’t work and the 8 skeins can be better used for a different pattern. So, thank you for this post … the cloud just drifted away.

  25. Jeannine

    I actually had one of those moments a month or so ago, in the middle of knitting a hat in a beautiful blue yarn. I managed to ignore it and convince myself that my (self-designed) pattern was just fine. After getting it done, I had another of those feelings, which I decided could be remedied by blocking… but now I have a hat that is not what I intended, and if I had listened earlier I wouldn’t have to re-knit an entire hat….

  26. Well I did he same thing with a scarf. A scarf for crying out loud. It took me about six trys to understand the lace patterns I wrote. Sigh… I understand what you are saying. It does feel better when you finally get it the way you like it.

  27. I just ripped out my sweater for the SECOND time. Started an Aran sweater, did one front and had “that feeling”. Finally got the courage to rip it out. Picked out another aran pattern, did a whole front and part of the second but still had the “feeling”. Have now ripped it all out again. I think my problem is that the yarn is too soft (not enough twist) and it just makes the aran look limp if that makes sense. Am now looking for a different pattern more suited to the yarn and will start again (and will keep ripping until I get it right). I am so glad to see that I am not the only one who has to do this …..

  28. Yep. What perfect timing for this post. I’m starting a hat for the 3rd time after making it too large 2 other times before. It’s just a ribbed pattern–nothing fancy. I’d pretty much made the entire 2nd one before saying it wasn’t right. It broke my heart a little, but it’s going much better now.

  29. I had the same experience this weekend. I feel your pain. Unfortunately I had to console myself with a piece of ribbon candy left over from christmas.

  30. Kate Stavisky

    I love this SO much. Thanks for writing this! I shared it on twitter for all my knitting friends to see.

  31. Susan

    My granddaughter is 8. 8 1/2 yrs ago, knit a luscious receiving blankie from some absolutely sinful 4 ply fingering I ordered from the UK. on 2.75 needles… Knit in evening while watching TV. 30 rows from the end, as I was folding up for the night, found SIX places where cabling was out of alignment. Could not bring myself to frog, so I knit ANOTHER one! The stepchild sat in a drawer for 5 years, Took it out, did some duplicate stitch and embroidery (viney things and blooms)…asked my best friend who WILL tell you the absolute truth when forced to, to check it. “Beautiful!” So I gifted it. HOWEVER, I KNOW IT’S OUT THERE SOMEWHERE. SHOULD HAVE UNKNIT.

  32. Amanda

    I’m glad to hear it’s not just me. I wanted to design my own sweater and after re-working it 3 times I got it right. Then about half way through I realized that when I added the neck ribbing it would be too small. Even though I measured it ten times when I worked it. I spent last night pulling back for the fourth time. I have been working on it for two weeks and now all I have to show for it is a tangled up mess. (The skill of ripping out is generally not hard to master, unless you have connected multiple pieces and weaved in the ends as you went to get a better feel for how it would look.) I’m sure there are plenty of other frogging stories out there, and I doubt mine is the best by far, but it is nice to write about it and know that someone who understands will read it, if nothing else. Because I am really getting tired of trying to explain to my husband why this really sucks so he can sympathize. He just doesn’t get it.

  33. I know what you mean! I unknit more now that I’m trying to take my knitting to the next level and design my own garments. One thing I’ve learned is that you still have something to show for your day, however frustrated you feel. You have notes and you now know how it won’t work. You have a deeper understanding of our craft as a result. That intellectual work and testing your ideas are just as important, perhaps even more so. A house isn’t built without blueprints. You are creating your blueprint right now. :)

  34. Thanks for this story, because my Sunday was a lot like that. The reason I kept screwing up is mainly because, well, I have children, and I have to stop and clothe, feed, initiate activities, etc. Important things like that,when I’d rather SIT AND KNIT and complete something.

  35. Carla

    I deal with this by putting it aside for a while. I’ve learned not to start a new project when I’m tired or stressed.

    What dismays me is “the funky stitch”, always found many rows back. Maybe it’s a twisted stitch or a split stitch, or just one that’s loose. It seems to leap out at me. I’m positive everyone will notice it. Time to rip out. :(

  36. Pamela Langford

    I know this and have done it over and over, but I still start projects when I’m tired and stressed, It’s such a comfort thing isn’t it? I’m now 68 so I guess I’ll never learn properly.

  37. Deanne L

    Oh do I know this one. As a matter of fact, just before I turned on my computer, I did this very thing. I laugh because my own 3 yo wanted to help me, this is the only part she is able to do and loves being a part of “unknitting”.

  38. At least you seem to be working with a yarn that can take the abuse! Pity the poor yarn that can’t stand up to a good frogging.

    I’ve been un-knitting a lot, lately. Designing my own means a lot of trial and error sometimes. I like to say, “I make all the mistakes so you don’t have to!”

    Knit on, and know you’re not alone…

  39. Buffy Ramm

    I just stumbled upon your blog and I just love it! This recent post sounds to me like my entire last month of knitting! I love your open candour and honesty!
    I always assumed experienced knitters just sat down and magically knew exactly what to do!! Presto a beautiful 50 cable sweater!
    I am currently working on the art of ‘unknitting’, both the unraveled kind (usually done with some cursing over a glass of wine) and the unstitching kind, which I try to avoid at all costs but am learning is an important skill to acquire.

  40. Bronwyn

    A knitter only knows how to truely appreciate something they have finished when they have had to unknit. I find a glass of wine at the beginning of that feeling helps with brave decison making and patience.

  41. John D

    Thank for so much for posting this. I’ve been knitting for a good three weeks now, though I know my mother previously showed me the basics way back in the 70s. She’s been knitting since 1950 and seems to have stopped making mistakes decades ago.

    I took it into my head to make myself a scarf (she offered, I declined). Since then, I’ve been knitting, unknitting, and frogging (and learning the terminology). Frogging is fast but oh so risky. Unknitting is slow, difficult, and certainly a skill I want to master.

    It’s great to read that as I knit, unknit, and frog, I’m engaging in an experience shared by others. The scarf isn’t perfect (my mother could do a better job), but I’m learning as I knit it. And there are already people wondering if I’ll knit a scarves for them.

  42. charles

    Thank you for your blog. Enjoyed it very much. I’m sitting here while my girlfriend knits a cardigan. Your blog has helped me understand why she is always starting new projects before anything is finished!