My name is Jeni, and I am a perfectionist.
I don’t say that like it’s a good thing, because it isn’t a good thing.
Ask anyone who has parented me (my mom had to literally teach me how to jump in mud puddles because I didn’t want to get dirty), worked with me (“Jeni, the world won’t stop turning just because there’s a comma missing”), or been in a relationship with me (HAHAHA they can get their own blogs and tell those stories).
It’s not a good thing because, like a five-year plan, it’s limiting. The need to get things perfect – to be perfect – is stultifying. It’s comfortable, but it keeps you stuck. Afraid to make mistakes, you refuse to take action. Stuck, stuck, stuck.
So it was with a surprisingly elevated sense of anxiety, combined with can’t-help-myself perfect penpersonship, that I wrote this:
Writing that line about mediocre things made my stomach churn. It felt like a lie even as I wrote it. But I also knew that buried in that uncomfortable line was a much bigger truth: that if I didn’t start to get messy, if I didn’t cast off this lifelong need to be perfect (which clearly isn’t universally applied judging by my pant size), then I’d stay stuck.
And stuck is … exhausting.
So I decided that like my pants, I was going to stretch a little, and combine something I’m already pretty good at (knitting) with something I’ve always wanted to try (pattern creation) and see where it took me.
In a SHOCKING turn of events, I was pretty sure Version 1.0 was going to be perfect. Knit in red and pink, combining a couple of classic motifs, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
I found a free pattern that I could use as a starting point, because sizing depends on a lot of the choices you make right off the bat: type of yarn, needle size, gauge (how tightly or loosely you knit), how many stitches you cast on, etc.
I triple-checked all of those things and thought I was good to go. All I had to do was swap out snowflakes for hearts – easy peasy.
Except that I didn’t have that heart pattern anywhere except in my head.
I tried to write it out on graph paper. In ink. Abandoned that dumb plan after three rows.
I tried to use Excel to create “cheat sheet” graph paper that I could fill in electronically. That was worse than doing it by hand.
Then I remembered that a pattern that is worked in the round (eg: around the circumference of a hat) usually repeats at some point, and that the number of stitches you start off with need to be perfectly divisible by the number of stitches in the repeated section (ie: so that the repeated pattern doesn’t overlap or get cut off in a weird way).
This is usually the part in any creative process where my frustration takes hold just long enough to throw money at the problem.
In this case it was a whopping $4.00 for a monthly subscription to a website that lets you chart out your design in full, in colour, with repeats, so you can see how it should look when you’re done.
PRETTY COOL RIGHT?!
All that was left to do was knit it, which is my favourite part.
Fast forward a couple of nights. Kids are with their dad, Mark’s upstairs, I’m watching a midnight repeat of Three’s Company, pattern’s done and it’s time to start the decrease rounds that help to shape the top of the hat.
Even in my lap, it’s starting to look a little bigger than I expected. I’ve probably knit 100+ hats in the last 20+ years, so I have a sense of what the scale should be.
I grabbed a hat I wear every day, whose proportions I was hoping to replicate, and laid it on top of the hat I was working on.
Then I put it on to make sure I wasn’t imagining that I’d totally screwed it up.
And that’s when the miracle happened.
Even just a few months ago, this unquestionable #makefail would have prompted me to get off the couch, storm into the kitchen, pitch the ENTIRE thing into the garbage (note: we’re talking about $40 worth of wool, plus the $15 needles I’d have been too angry to remove), slam the cupboard door (waking up anyone who was asleep) and cut loose with some language I’d later live to regret.
But instead, I started to laugh. Like, out loud, startle-the-dog, can’t-stop-giggling laugh.
Because if I was sincere in my intention, if I was seeking permission to make mediocre, imperfect things, well … MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
I looked at this floopy, floppy half-baked hat and said to myself: failure is feedback.
Failure is feedback.
This hat has a lot of feedback.
- The ribbing on the brim (the stitches that help to fit it snugly to your head) are wrong. Not a true mistake, but the design would work better with K1, P1 instead of K2, P1.
- The skulls turned out okay, but the vertical line on the bones is a bit long. I’d drop those stitches.
- The hearts are perfect! Perfect perfect. Nothing to change there.
- The sizing is way off. Either the needle sizing is too large (mmm, don’t think that’s it) or there were too many stitches cast on at the very beginning. A bit of subsequent research revealed that I could drop an entire repeat (from four to three), thereby dropping 28 stitches from the pattern, and be closer to what I was aiming for.
- I just got the numbers wrong. The original pattern had a snowflake design that was 32 rows deep. The one I made up was 37 (!!!) rows. That’s an extra inch! Even if everything else had been perfect, following my own pattern as written would have introduced a pretty significant mistake. YEAH OOPS.
- The repeating pattern itself was was too busy. All the rows at top and bottom can go. The skull and hearts get lost in the rest of the visual noise.
- My tension wasn’t great. The vertical “dimples” you can see are from me not carrying the yarn loosely enough on the wrong side of the fabric. Now that I see it, I know how to fix it.
- And not visible from these photos, but I didn’t like how the decrease was (not) shaping up. There are a few different ways to close off the top of a hat, and I’ll chose a different one next time.
But there was one more interesting bit of feedback that I wasn’t able to come up with on my own, that came from the people who saw the failed version: just drop the decreasing entirely, bind it off at the top, TA-DA: neck warmer. So what if it was supposed to be hat.
This project, which, again, WAS supposed to be a hat, was a failure.
And not my first one, either – not in knitting and not in life.
I’m a better writer for all the mistakes I’ve made.
I’m definitely a better parent.
I’m probably a better partner – or at least I hope that I am, because I’ve had lots of failure feedback over the years, from people who loved me and people who, as it turned out, didn’t.
I’m hatless and mildly annoyed at my inability to count, but also grateful that this week I gave myself the chance to hold in my hands proof – actual, physical proof – that failure is feedback.
Unlike perfectionism, that really is a good thing.