Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The sound of one stitch ripping

I have to admit I'm fascinated with ripping out your work, and why some people do it (or don't do it). I'm feeling yappy, so pardon the giant, rambling post.

Someone in knitting circle recently told us a quilting tale. As a display of humility, some Amish women put mistakes in quilts. There was two distinct reactions. Half the room shrugged it off- nothing handmade is perfect, really. The other half seemed a bit mortified that someone would put an error in a piece on purpose. I think this is a telling reaction.

There are people who apparently, can happily rip over and over again until they eventually have a project that is as close to perfect as one can make it. These must be 'process' knitters- who knit for the simple pleasure of making stitches and are less concerned with production. Like how Ghandi discovered spirituality hidden in the economics of spinning- there is something to be learned here.

I however, am a production knitter. While I find knitting and spinning to be relaxing, I want a finished product. To get a finished product, you have to keep rows on your needle. Ripping is the enemy of the production knitter, and we stare agape at the process knitter as she cheerfully undos hours of creative labor.

You can take this too far. The Yarn Harlot tells a story of her friend who stubbornly keeps knitting a sweater that is obviously too large. So large that it fits two people at once comfortably. Sometimes you need to know when to cut your losses, even as a production knitter. If your sock will fit the jolly green giant instead of your own size 8 foot, and you keep going on you merry way, your not going to have much of a finished item. Ripping is, a necessary part of knitting unless making crap gets you off.

So, when I make a mistake (about every 3rd row or so on any given project) I have to decide what is going to make me more unhappy. The mistake or the tears that come with pulling it out. Quality vs. Sanity, if you will. I have come up with a list of 'reality checks' to help me out.

Keep it if:

    1) It's a mistake only another knitter will see. Like one twisted stitch in a sea of stockinette. Be honest- do you even look at your storeboughts THAT closely?

    2) If it can be fudged in some way- like adding or reducing a stitch to get the right count.

    3) It can be repaired with good results. Especially if it's faster then ripping. Can I darn in that slipped stitch 225 rows back, or pick it up again? I have to admit I find great troubleshooting satisfaction fixing/hiding a mistake without resorting ripping. This can bite me in the butt sometime (see number 4 in 'Rip It' below).

    4) It's a charming feature. How many new stitch patterns have been discovered from happy mistakes?

Rip it if:

    1) It is going to influence the integrity of the garment (ex. the giant sweater)

    2) If you are working in a pattern and it's going to mess up the following rows

    3) If it is obvious it just isn't working out (wrong gauge, wrong yarn, etc)

    4) If the fix is worse then the cure

My IS degree is telling me this cries to be a decision tree diagram.

Anyway, there is one more set of guidelines I like to use:

The Happy Production Knitters Guide To Not Screwing Up In the First Place
or... Things I have learned, the hard way, usually several times.

    1) Don't be a lazy ass, and make a swatch. Make one bigger then a postage stamp. Once you start your project, check the gauge again, just in case.

    2) Don't blow off the lifeline. I really don't like taking the time to thread these in, especially through 300 lace stitches and around my stitch markers. I have ignored the little voice that tells me it's time for a lifeline before. It has always resulted on cursing.

    3) Take a minute to read the pattern. Most patterns don't make a lot of sense to me if I read too far ahead. I think that's just lack of experience on my part. However, I generally can read a couple lines ahead so I know what's coming down the bend.

    4) Stop and look every couple rows and make sure your in pattern and everything is going as it should. Better to rip a few rows then 20.

    5) Stitch markers are your friends. It's not macho to use too few of them. My lacework has more jewelry hanging off it then Joan Rivers.

In conclusion (finally) I ripped out four rows in my Lotus Blossom Shawl last night. It was OK, I'm not upset. Even if they where long rows. I was off pattern on one side by 2 stitches so things no longer lined up, and it was too off to repair (Rip It rules 2 and 4). I noticed the mistake pretty quickly because I stopped to check my work (Not Screwing Up rule 4) I had forced myself to put in a frigginfragglin lifeline in at the start of every chart (Not Screwing Up rule 2), so it wasn't hard to start over a couple rows back.

So in the end, it doesn't matter really what you do, production knitter or process knitter. If your knitting makes you happy, your doing everything just right. If it doesn't and you are crying or throwing things in the corner too often, perhaps you need to make some lists (or diagrams) of your own.


At 8:20 PM, Blogger Bezzie said...

I think I'm the same way. I prefer the act of knitting, not necessarily what pops off the needles at the end.

I always think of those Amish quilts when I drop a stitch or something on a piece. My mom used to make tons of Amish quilts in the late 80's when they seemed to be fashionable in the quilting realm (course I'm out of that realm now so I don't know what's cool nowadays). We used to have fun trying to figure out where the mistake was!

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Abigale said...

Thanks for this entry. I've just noticed a mistake in my Icarus shawl. Two of the yo columns aren't lined up quite right about 4 inches back from where I'm at now. I'm so not a perfectionist, and I'm trying to decide if I should rip, or just leave the mistakes in. They're somewhat obvious - but my stitch count is on track to start the fancy lace... So do I leave them in? Or rip? Really not sure. But you've given me a great idea for my next blog entry - so thanks!



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