I often dive into projects, and knitting was no exception–I decided that nothing in particular was stopping me from knitting sweaters, and went for it. I made one very plain sweater, and then knit a complicated multi-color pattern, entering my second sweater into the state fair and winning second place in the Fair Isle knitting category, a very proud moment. Fast forward a few years, and my third sweater, another Fair Isle design by the marvelous Alice Starmore, is a couple of steps away from being done. And has been since 2017.
I didn’t get it, at all. Yes, I was down to the tedious parts–tucking in hundreds of loose strands of yarn, knitting a band and adding buttons. But why wasn’t I just doing it? It would occasionally bother me, so I’d pick up the sweater, work on it for a few hours here and there, and eventually set it back down for a few more months.
A couple of days ago I got it back out, tried it on, and realized something: I didn’t like it. This beautiful pattern that I had put hours and hours into, this beast of a sweater that had a body and arms and was about 98% finished? It wasn’t working. I finally recognized that that’s why I was so reluctant to work on it. Rather than allowing myself to see the mistakes I had made, the work that needed to happen, I set it aside.
I got a little more objective. Do I scrap a 98% finished sweater? Grit my teeth and finish it off, and let it sit in a box after wearing it once or twice? Give it to someone else? What precisely isn’t working?
Could the problems be fixed?
The main issue was the length–Tan France recently taught me (and thousands of other people) about the importance of proportion, and he would not have approved of how weirdly long this sweater was. Now, that’s a fixable problem, but it’s intimidating. I needed to separate the main part of the sweater from the bottom, remove four inches from the body, and then reattach those two separated pieces. It involves scissors. (Yikes.) It involves unraveling, pulling off rows and rows of stitches until your knitting dissolves into a pile of ramen-noodle looking yarn. It involves holding hundreds of tiny stitches on knitting needles and hoping that they don’t slip off and cause bigger problems. And then, rather than knitting the top and bottom pieces back together, you sew them together using a special four step stitch.
And so I began this daunting process. Spoiler alert–it’s coming along ok, slowly and steadily stitching back together the two pieces, with lots of mumbling to myself about which part of the four step stitch I’m on so I don’t lose my place. But I’m excited to be working on it again. For the first time in a long time I actually want to give this project some attention and energy. And now that I can see it a little more clearly, the work I need to do isn’t so intimidating.
Sometimes we sit with something that we know just isn’t quite right. We grit our teeth and work through it, or ignore it. Perhaps we don’t even realize we’re neglecting to acknowledge it. It can be challenging or feel scary to recognize that something is off, and to acknowledge the work that might be required to set things right again. We might be willing to do the emotional equivalent of pushing through and stuffing a finished but not great sweater into a box and leaving it be, rather than asking what work needs to be put in for us to really feel good about things. I see many parallels with this metaphor and mental health–the desire to push through and ignore problems, the challenge of recognizing something that could benefit from change, and the riskiness of taking the steps that are required for change. Sitting with those loose stitches waiting to be sewn back together, hoping they don’t slip off. Being ok with re-working or even taking away something that seems perfectly fine at first glance, but isn’t working where it is–accepting that that yarn is better unraveled than left in place, ignored.
Sometimes we have to step back until we can really, honestly, find the answer about what’s not working. Sometimes we need to wait until we can make the decision to do that unraveling and mending instead of just pushing through it to the (unsatisfying) finish line. And sometimes we need tools to help us–someone to help us hold those loose ends, someone to help us keep the different colors sorted out instead of tangling again, someone to help us see how great it’s looking as it comes along, to help us keep our eye on the finish line. If you are ready to undertake any project that involves the work of evaluating and re-working, support yourself. Use the right tools. Take it at the pace you need. Get the support that will make the process less intimidating.
It takes courage to take that step back and ask what could change, but sometimes that’s what we need to do to create something we can feel truly proud of.