The Mistakes of My Past

Somewhere around 2001 Cassandra and I decided we wanted to learn to knit. I think she had some childhood experience. I had none.We found a local yarn shop that taught beginner classes and we signed up to make a felted tote bag.

Not my actual tote - but the same pattern

This is how little experience I had... I had no idea what the heck felting was. I soon learned that it was the modern equivalent of boiling wool - and I knew about boiled wool, having grown up in a wicked cold climate.

The instructor was very clear about why we were doing this particular pattern:
  • Projects destined for felting have to be made very large (because they shrink - a lot) so you tend to use larger needles which are easier for new knitting hands to handle.
  • Felting hides a million ills. You can make lots mistakes in your knitting and they'll just disappear once you've felted your piece.
I still have my tote bag and often use it as a knitting bag.

My second class was felted slippers, which I've talked about previously. I still wear my original pair all winter long.

FiberTrends awesome Felted Clogs

Starting with felted projects has pros and cons. The pros are obvious - your piece can be less than perfectly knit and it still looks great in the end. This allows you to confidently knit and not worry about a dropped stitch here or there. The con (for me, anyway) was that I became addicted to the freedom to make mistakes. I didn't want to do non-felted projects because I was afraid that my finished project would look bad.

I eventually got over the fear and I knit a bunch of non-felted, smaller projects. In time, my stitches became more even and I learned the little tricks to correct problems along the way. Although, I'll embarrassingly admit that I  only just learned how to pick up a dropped stitch and weave it back into my work - ten years into my knitting.

The best book I've found for general guidance on these issues is called The Knitter's Companion. Good illustrations and simple instructions will get you through most any "mistake" in your work. It also contains instructions for casting on, binding off, increasing, decreasing, various stitch types, and much more. There's even a little needle gauge included in the back. I can't tell you how many times I've referred to this book over the last ten years.

My most common mistakes include dropping stitches, mis-counting, forgetting to do an increase or a decrease (which throws off your stitch count), or losing my place in my pattern. Most of these are easily fixed by becoming a habitual "counter."

Counting stitches, and re-counting stitches, is the best way I've found to ensure that I'm in the right place in my pattern and not missing or adding stitches. I have become an obsessive counter - much to the annoyance of people around me when I'm knitting in public. But, it's worth the side-long glances to know that I haven't totally screwed up a row. In my knitting life, there has been enough "un-knitting" and ripping out of projects in order to correct a mistake that's 10 rows back. I hate re-doing work so I'd rather be the crazy woman in the corner, counting stitches, than the crazy woman tearing her hair out because she has to rip out a couple of days worth of work.

It's important to recognize when it's appropriate to simply adjust your pattern to correct an earlier mistake versus when it's worth ripping the work out and making the correction at the point of the mistake. I often find that no one but me will see the flaw so I eschew perfectionism and accept my piece as being "good enough." 

Recently, a friend's nine-year-old daughter started knitting. My friend doesn't knit so Miss P and I have bonded over our shared love of yarn. The reason I bring this up is because little Miss P is a FEARLESS knitter. In a short forty-eight hours, she was knitting up a storm and, if she happened to drop a stitch while she was working, she'd just pick it up and put it back on her needle. I was aghast and impressed. In my first forty-eight hours, I was obsessing over every stitch and if, god-forbid, I dropped a stitch my entire project came to a screeching halt. We should all strive to have the fearlessness of children, don't you think?

Sally forth and make mistakes. This is how we learn.

- Alex


    1. One of the greatest tips that I received a few months ago was to put in a "lifeline" every 10 rows or wherever makes sense in your pattern. Use a needle and ribbon or different colored thread/yarn and put them through the stitches on your needles. Then, if you make a mistake that you can't recover gracefully from, you can rip out the rows until you hit your lifeline. It has saved me many many times. Just make sure you know which rows you have put the lifeline in.

    2. That's an awesome tip and one that I wish I'd learned earlier in my process. Thanks for mentioning it!