Monday, November 23, 2009

good news - bad news (thoughts on knitting)

The good news is: I found the mistake in my current knitting project, which is the re-knit of a circular woolen shawl I started 4 or 5 years ago.

The bad news? It was a major mistake, some 20 rows earlier. It was not something I could just fix-and-go, or adapt the pattern on the fly. It needed to be ripped out, and re-done. Thank you Elizabeth Zimmerman, EZ to her many 'friends' in the knitting world, for the confidence to do this! Ever since I read her book Knitting Without Tears I have manfully knit on (UNknitting where required) "through all crises" as she was wont to say.

And so it was today.

Before I could stop myself, I pulled the circular knitting needle out of the work and set the stitches free! Just as Elizabeth said, 'dropped' stitches don't run off. The worst they will do is to "slither down one or two rows, and cling there, moaning piteously, and waiting to be picked up."* See? Knit stitches, off knitting needles, holding perfectly still for their close-up.

There's more good news. Having been pulled off the circular knitting needle, I could lay the the shawl still-in-progress out flat and actually see the pattern I have been taking on faith for so long! I could also see immediately that I'd gone wrong because until I ripped out the offending 20 rows, the shawl wouldn't lie flat. Instead of increasing 4 stitches every other stitch (which is where those big holes are towards the top), I'd only increased 2. . . .

Alright. So I was traveling - heading to Corpus Christi to teach - I was coming to an "easy" bit of straight knitting, and as a result I only took a copy of the bit of the chart that I was immediately working on with me. This was a bad thing. I'm working from an old pattern, and the charting system can be confusing and even misleading. . . . Unfortunately, I never even caught my mistake until the pattern got complicated again, requiring me to really pay attention once more!

This is such a parallel to life. When things are tough, I pay close attention to everything so that I don't step wrong or head off in the wrong direction. As a result, I'm probably going to stay on track, even though [and maybe because] things are so hard and/or going so "badly". I relax when all is well. But it's when I'm on an easy stretch that I can find myself having gone terribly astray! More good news, though, at least when I'm unravelling 'easy' knitting, it's easy to pick up the stitches again to re-do. It really is hard to pick up stitches in complicated lace knitting. . . . I think that must be the same, too, in trying to correct missteps during the hard times of life.

Well, here we go, picking up the stitches. And here you can see the shawl, back on the circular needle, all bunched up and hard to see again. That's what it will look like until it comes off the needles - hopefully when the shawl is finally finished and not before!

And yes, I think my life is a lot like that, too. I can't always see clearly the design that is being worked into it. I have to trust that the instructions I have are good ones, that I understand them, that I'm working them out correctly, and that the small bit I can see right now is indicative of a larger more comprehensive pattern that will become plain [and which is beautiful] when it has been finished. There are these rare times when I might be given a glimpse of the larger picture, but it is usually as the result of a major set-back, requiring a do-over.

The longer I work on this project, the more incredulous I am at those who purport to work without a pattern in mind, without reference to a much larger picture than they will ever see. By that, of course, I mean not only this shawl, but also my life.

"Knit on with confidence and hope, through all crises."
Elizabeth Zimmerman (1910-1999)

*Elizabeth Zimmerman, Knitting Without Tears (New York: Simon and Schuster 1971) p. 41.

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