The price we pay

I started to write a blog entry which would show a graph of your guesses to the contest, and the next thing I know, all this stuff I’ve been meaning to say just started to flow out. These thoughts, these feelings, these explanations.

The graph will wait. For now, I decided that I would risk receiving only a few comments in favor of letting it all out. As always, I thank you for your audience.

I really want to address the question, why did I continue knitting this shawl even after it was clear that the pattern is a disaster?

Well, the shawl is beautiful in a way that my grandma will surely love, that’s an obvious answer. But there are many other shawls out there which are equally beautiful and grandma-appropriate.

The real reason why I didn’t give up is because I love a challenge – if I don’t have to scratch my head over a pattern at least once, it becomes very boring to me, blah-bidy blah blah. Just follow the instructions, join balls carefully, and make sure to slant your decreases into the seam. Blah. BLAH! If I were cut from a different material, I would abandon these projects each and every time as soon as I their boring status became apparent; then I would cast-on some new, exciting thing that promised to be more challenging. But I’m not like that, and instead I plow on ahead and finish these boring knits in, like, 4 days. Out of sight, out of mind, the next thing will surely be more complicated!

So, although it really sucked that my introduction to shawl construction was akin to being unexpectedly pushed into a cold swimming pool, at least it kept my brain buzzing! I love that!

This aspect of my personality is evident in other areas, too. Yarn Harlot’s Olympics? Yeah, what do you call what I do every single day, on every single project? Okay, maybe not every project, but I strive for each to test the limits of my knitting abilities (just wait till you see one of the projects I have planned for the near future). The only difference is the additional time constraint, and since I typically don’t have completion issues, it seems a bit artificial.

My reluctance to knit very popular patterns? Some erroneously think that the reason I have yet to jump on (let’s say) the Clapotis bandwagon is because so many knitters have knit one, and therefore I’m bound to run into another knitter wearing one sooner or later, resulting in total embarrassment. That’s a bunch of bullshit! If I had a Clapotis, and while wearing it ran into someone else wearing a Clapotis, I would tell her, “You have great taste.”

The reason I will not knit a Clapotis or other overly-popular patterns is because I’ve seen it all – I’ve seen the cast-on, I’ve seen the stage when the second corner is defined, I’ve seen the dropped stitches, I’ve seen the bind-off, I’ve seen the blocked and unblocked versions, I’ve read the good, the bad, the lukewarm… To me, knitting something that promises zero challenge and discovery is… not going to happen.

But there’s a price to pay for this attitude: if you insist on knitting esoteric projects that no one has knit before in order to satisfy some demonic thirst for knitting adventure, you risk crashing and burning. Adrienne Vittadini sweater – check. Curlicue – check. Misty Morning Shawl – conditional check (at least I’ll finish).

I’m learning that there’s a balance, that there are challenging, unique knits out there which can provide a sense of discovery without making me insane. I know I’ll deviate from this rule (I’m BAD), but I will try to only knit things that have already been knit by others from now on. Maybe not a gazillion times like the Clapotis, but at least once ;).


56 thoughts on “The price we pay

  1. minnie

    or the jaywalker socks, lol? btw, i love the pattern, and am enjoying the hell out of my first pair of socks. (real socks, the last two pairs were in worsted and bulky) the scary part for me was the itty bitty needles! thanks again, dear, your patterns are great. i understand the challenge aspect of knitting. i’m continually amazed that the more complicated pattern i take on, i plug through, and have minimal difficulties. i don’t know if it’s because i’ve knit so long that it’s second nature to yo, and k2togtb, but i love it. can’t wait to cast on my next challenge (the peacock shawl)

  2. jess

    Kathy, I love how you describe this! You are inspiring and I want you to know that! I can’t wait to see the shawl. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I get bored so easily and am happiest when I am doing something new to me and if there is a lot of math involved (a girl and her engineering background are not easily parted). Yet I also feel the need to finish more than I do, so I try to balance something new to me out with something mindless I can work on…

    thank you for sharing !

  3. Amy

    “knit things that have only been knit by others from now on”? Say it isn’t so! Your designs are wonderful. And I have taken inspiration from your “redesigns” of published patterns (the Curlicue epic). Before I started visiting your site, I figured any problems I had with patterns reflected the deficiency of my own skills. Now I know that sometimes designers forget to count or worse. I don’t know that I could have survived something like your shawl “adventure” without curling up into the fetal position. But, I do have a number of patterns now that have markings all over them because I had the confidence to trust my instincts about a pattern.

  4. twig

    I’m sorta the same way. I say “sorta” because I would have shredded the shawl pattern and burned the designer in effigy, but I still try not to jump on bandwagons. For me, it’s if I can find the answer too easily, it doesn’t hold my attention as well. As a new knitter, I seldom ever have a pattern that I don’t get to a point that I want to pull out my hair at least once.

  5. Cara

    I generally try to challenge myself in my knits. I take the philosophy that if it doesn’t work out – I’ve probably learned something from it and no one gets hurt if a knit project doesn’t work out. It’s the perfect place to take risks! That said, lately I can see the attraction of simple(r) knits – like my favorite – jaywalkers. I never intended to keep knitting these socks over and over, but I can’t stop. They are the perfect antidote to knitting frustration when it hits.

    Again, I applaud your perseverance in these challenges. More so I applaud your ability to give it up when it’s clear it’s not going to work (curlicue.)

  6. yahaira

    This may seem odd, but earlier today I was thinking about why you keep going and I came up with the same answer you gave. The challenge! It’s usually worth it in some way by the end, be it a new skill, a new appreciation for patterns, an amazing fo, or hell knowing what designers/patterns to stay away from.

  7. Kim

    I don’t believe that you’re going to stand by knitting something someone else has knit first.. I just don’t think you’ll be able to help yourself : P

    I see no harm in knitting what you like.. and liking the challenge… I don’t think it’s a problem unless it’s affecting you in ways that you don’t like (you saying insanity leads me to believe there are limits) Everyone knits for their own reasons.. and if your reason is enjoying the challenge.. why not?

    Great entry though.. and hey.. no pictures! hehe : )

  8. marie in florida

    mistakes are for learning from and YOU are learning from someone else’s careless mistakes. it was callous and careless of the designer to allow that pattern to go out untested, it was reasonable for you to believe that someone HAD test knitted the pattern. that’s why we knit, because we like a challenge

  9. Silke

    My english is just not good enough to write the essay I have in mind about enabling things, the way, men keep trying things and the world keeps turning… blah.

    Itยดs really great to see how you donยดt get discouraged by something like a bad-written pattern. You donยดt blame yourself and lack of skills (like I would…) but keep going and youยดre alsways the winner in the end – if not because having finished the item youยดve always learned a lot!

    Although I knit for over 20(!) years, I learned a lot by reading your blog – and not just about knitting (see hymn above ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    Thank you very much! Go on, youยดre just right!

  10. Isela

    Thus the reason why I love reading your blog. It is inspirational, original, fresh with ideas.

    We must all knit what makes us happy–even if they are “esoteric” designs–I love how you word these challenging designs, lol. An inspiration to me always ๐Ÿ™‚ as I am one whom feels challenged by just trying to figure out a ribbing for a sweater with an uneven number of stitches.

  11. CatBookMom

    Above, Amy wrote this: “Before I started visiting your site, I figured any problems I had with patterns reflected the deficiency of my own skills. Now I know that sometimes designers forget to count or worse.”

    You inspire a lot of knitters. Last year, you inspired me to learn to knit continental (I’m still working on the ‘combined’ purl). Now you inspire me to try, try again, with patterns that I think are “too hard” – well, let’s leave laceweight yarn issues out of this for now! lol! – to give them a try in the first place.

    With your educational background, your approaches to knitting patterns are more analytical than many knitters, but that’s a lot of the charm of your blog. Over on the Elann site, there are several gorgeous, lacy patterns written by a very talented knitter, but her patterns essentially give help only for how to determine the outline of the project. There are no row-by-row instructions. I gather that hers is a style somewhat like that which was favored by Elizabeth Zimmerman. I’m approaching the end of a project from one of these designs, and I *know* that it has really stretched my knitting skills.

    If I didn’t read your blog, I might not have tried to tackle this project. I can’t quite imagine you keeping yourself only to patterns that have been tried (and edited!) by others. Consider how many KALs your patterns – the Picovoli, the Jaywalker, the new Odessa – have inspired. Consider that you have helped so many other knitters to challenge themselves to cope with a badly written pattern, whether just a few rows or much more than that.

    You help other knitters to challenge themselves. And that is a huge contribution to the Knitting Universe.

  12. betty

    i don’t believe you! i now you will challenge yourself again! (and the neverending history of the curlicue was fun indeed!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. Janine

    I like a challenge too but you go way further than me ๐Ÿ™‚ I have a habit of taking someones pattern and tweaking it either by changing the gauge ( Kepler) or the yarn ( Blaze) or leaving bits out or adding bits – I’ve even fiddled with your Jaywalker pattern oops!

  14. Carole

    I admire your courage and perserverance to expand your skills and continually challenge yourself. Me, I’m a slacker knitter. I like to knit patterns more than once because it’s easier on my lazy-ass self. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  15. Manda

    I really tip my hat off to you for your perseverance. It’s good to challenge yourself. I myself look for a new technique to try with every project I take on. That said, correcting errors in a published pattern gives me the heebie jeebies. I can forgive a few typos in a free pattern, but I expect better from purchased patterns. Had I been in your shoes I probably would have demanded my money back.

  16. Lisa

    Last night I started to cast on for the jaywalker socks, and as I did, thought “everyone is knitting these..this is something Grumperina would NEVER knit.” Isn’t it ironic???

  17. Kati

    I no longer remember how I first ran across your blog, but I will say it has been a big part of my evolution as a knitter. I learned to knit when I tore all the ligaments in my knee skiing and was laid up for a while. I taught myself and did not exactly have a community of knitters to help me through the problems. Reading about your adventures has helped me expand my horizons, because it made me realize there can be more than just a hobby aspect to this craft. You inspired me to learn combination knitting, which has really helped me understand the construction of a project.

    This Christmas, I learned the difference between being a product knitter and a process knitter when I tried to make gifts for everyone on my list. I survived, but only by doing a lot of boring knitting that I hated. My 2006 resolution was to only do projects that intersted me and helped me grow, either creatively or technically. Most of all I want to knit what makes me happy (which at times will also make me frustrated and irritated etc. But that is what wine is for).

    Keep up your great work. I really admire the work that goes into this blog and I always save it for last when it pops up of my RSS feed. Rock on (after all, you are the reason there are 2000 pearl colored seed beeds rolling around my living room right now.)

  18. Holly

    The world is an interesting place and people are fascinating. People like me need people like you. To be able to do what you do with knitting requires an exceptional head for mathematics and spacial relationships. I would say that most people don’t have that ability. In fact I am at the opposite end of the spectrum. If the directions are not written perfectly, forget it. I’m lost and I don’t care to procede only to crash and burn. So keep on doing what you’re doing. It makes the world an easier place for me to have people like you figuring everything out!

  19. Nancy J

    Knitting only that which has been knit before — in the sense of Elizabeth Zimmermann, I trust, who unvented because she felt nothing was truly ‘new under the sun’and her humility prevented her from taking the credit for something she was sure that someone had done before with sticks and string.

  20. Judy

    I agree with the others above — the reason so many of us click on YOUR blog before anyone else’s is that you work through these issues, confident that it’s something you can figure out, while the rest of us might just stick the thing in a closet and try to forget it. Many of us are less critical of our skills and more willing to tackle difficult projects because of you!

  21. Lee Ann

    I can’t remember if you decided to let that Adrienne Vittadini sweater totally crash and burn…I’d wanted to make that but then read a bit of your cautionary tale. Any ideas about how to make that one work?

  22. Mary K. in Rockport

    I’ve been cogitating on what makes your blog and your designs so interesting. First, the creative/scientific cast of mind – here is this pattern, but “what would happen if’? Second, your mathematical/spatial ability. Third, persistence to the nth degree. Fourth, perfectionism – your designs are the best. Fifth, your ability to describe the process with clarity and humor and to illustrate with fetching photos. Sixth, the energy you seem to possess to keep the various facets of your life functioning simultaneously including updating your knitting blog so there’s usually something fun for the rest of us to read. Seventh, I probably should add good taste, at least taste that coincides with mine….. Don’t change now!

  23. Mary K. in Rockport

    I forgot to add – one of the best things about knitting, to me, as opposed to life in general is its “do-overability,” its capacity for letting you make time run backward until you can make the story come out right. Your knitting sagas highlight that quality which makes them very appealing.

  24. Liz in Nowhere PA

    I work at a small Liberal Arts college. DH is the chair of Psych. We both agree after reading your blog that we would hire you in an instant. You need to figure out a way to include mention of your blog on your CV (if you haven’t already).

    You wanna work in the middle of nowhere without a LYS? Yeah, probably not.

  25. Monica

    Mary K above me puts it well. You allow us to get into your process and journey with you, often beyond the point we would have continued on our own. ๐Ÿ™‚ We get to share in the rewards, learn along the way, and get inspired to push our own limits and try something new or challenging.

    I’m glad (and maybe relieved?) that you enjoyed the challenge of this shawl; knowing you need the challenge puts the experience in a different perspective for me. Knit on!

  26. mollysusie

    I think you’re just a born test knitter…

    Or should be because while you can figure these things out so, so, so many of us can’t.

  27. Cindy

    I want to jump on this bandwagon and tell you I have learned so much from your blog. I had been told it was ‘wrong’ to purl in the combined way, so I tried to correct it and I had gauge problems. Thanks to you I now love knitting AND purling. I have now cabled several projects without cable needles (thanks to you)and think that the shawl I made up several years ago is even cooler now, because I turned my border corner with short rows and didn’t even recognize that I had done something really neat! I hope you never feel the need to appease readers or anyone else with what you chose to knit or post or even do in your life. The way I see it is if we stop trying to push ourselves and grow in some area of our lives, we might as well give it all up and die. Thanks for all the help and encouragement you give just by sharing what you like and what you do.

  28. Rise

    I’m anxiously awaiting this mystery project you alluded to. I know it will be something fabulous.

    Your Grandmother is going to love this shawl that you have poured so much of yourself into. Kudos for your willingness to stick it out with such a poorly written pattern.

  29. Gale

    Your persistance in getting through this particular work is amazing. While I like a challenge as well, and have learned some knitting tricks along this knitterly path, I would have sent this beauty to the frog pond long ago. Congratulations – it’s reall beautiful!

  30. Stephanie

    Have I told you lately that I think you’re great? No? Well I do. I’m not as brave as you, but I like challenging knits. That’s why I decided to knit the Chalet socks for my sock pal – a challenge and something I haven’t tried. That said, sometimes a nice mindless project is just the thing for my tired brain. I always enjoy your projects and your blogging about them. Keep up the interesting work.

  31. Susan

    Your desire for challenging knits is inspiring. That’s what makes knitting fun for me, too. Getting the synapses firing!

    Of course, I find the mindless stuff equally enjoyable, in a different way. Depends on mood and timing, as do many things in life.

    Some day, ya really oughta consider a book (writing, not reading ;-). Maybe after a few more patterns on this site, or sooner than that, a publisher will approach you.

    Who knows? It’s happened to other bloggers with less challenging patterns, if any at all.

  32. Angela

    I will try to only knit things that have already been knit by others from now on.

    Ha! As if. I’ve only recently started reading your blog and already I know that for you, this is a rule made to be broken. (And that’s a good thing.)

  33. Emily

    I totally agree with you about liking a challenge. Don’t knit patterns that have never been knit before, design your own instead. You don’t need the patterns anyway. Pretty soon you’ll be able to just look at the finished product and know how it was made.

  34. Laura

    “I will try to only knit things that have already been knit by others from now on.”

    You have a talent for design, as said earlier. Why push yourself into a box you don’t need to fit? I understand your desire to bust through the limits of your skills, there’s always an easy and a tough knit project in my bag. You’re good at being a pattern trailblazer. Why stop now?

  35. Lolly

    Great post, Kathy. I think it is so interesting to learn what people’s knitting philosophies are – and why they choose the projects they do. I tend not to take a huge amount of challenges on at this point in my life. I prefer the “knitting for relaxation” bit at this point in my life, and there is really nothing I enjoy more than stockinette. I realize that may be boring to some, but that is what makes this community so unique, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Take care~

  36. Lorna

    Well said. I was a research scientist before I took up being a hotelier, and finding a challenge in my knitting is often what keeps me sane.

    It’s been wonderful watching you work your way through this pattern. Wonderful and inspiring, because I simply don’t have the time right now to tackle something that big.

    I have, however, been inspired by your hat adventures. I promise I’ll have piccies up on my blog soon.

  37. Norah

    You are such an inspiration! I can’t imagine that you will only stick to patterns that others have knit from now on–maybe you’ll do one, and then you’ll go back to the challenge again.

  38. Christie

    I also get tired of seeing the same pattern over and over [One Skein Wonder] so much so that they will often lose their luster in my eyes [although I did fall victim to the Clapotis 3 times]. I appreciate and admire your ‘go git em’ attutide toward patterns…not being intimidated but instead rising to the challenge and charting your progress so that we may all learn from you. Is it any wonder that not much phases you when it comes to complicated patterns? I hope to one day conquer my fears of short rows and instead of throwing a pattern down because I couldn’t do it the first time, to take a deep breath and try again and again until I get it right. Thanks for exploring all that uncharted knitting territory! We should all be so brave to choose patterns that we love and not patterns that are easy because they are ‘tried and true. Cheers!

  39. Shannon

    Although I do not possess the level of talent you clearly have developed, I agree with your distaste of the “popular” knitted items and your desire to strike out with something a little bit worth the challange, a good knit, something to enjoy doing, and enjoy the product. Always a good read here at your blog. Kudos.

  40. Nicole

    It’s people like you who inspire the rest of us to “keep at it” by showing us that, yes, it can be done. Even if we’re not all as patient and brilliant in our own knitting as you are!

  41. ChelleC

    As everyone else has already said, you inspire me daily with your cleverness, your ability to strike out into the unknown with the confidence that nothing is beyond your ability to figure out! Your designs are phenomenal. I’m almost the opposite kind of knitter than you are. I like trendy patterns that others have knit for the very reason that all the “kinks” have already been worked out and I can benefit from their experience with it. But I also like to expand my skills and I never like to knit a pattern twice because then it is too boring. You have a fascinating mind and I very much enjoy your blog. Chelle

  42. Purly Whites

    Well look at that, a post with no pictures and still 46 comments. Nice work!

    I personally love the way you approach your knitting and your love of a good challenge. It is always inspiring and thought-provoking. And you know, I’m always here when you need to vent about some crap-ass-tacular pattern.

  43. Janet

    Fascinating! Given all this, how is that that your Odessa pattern is so… elegant? Elegant in the sense of a philosophical argument can be elegant – everything you need, nothing you don’t, a simple perfection and eloquence expressed well? I’m challenging myself by trying to finish in 24 hours, despite running a community meeting for 80 people tonight! We all get our yuks somehow, right??

  44. Becky

    I’ll believe your last sentence when I see it. Besides, if you knit already done by others patterns, what will you blog about?

    Speaking of the Curlicue, did you ever receive a response from them on your comments other than that your gauge was off? Did they offer any refunds or additional information?

  45. Janet

    Fascinating! Given all this, how is that that your Odessa pattern is so… elegant? Elegant in the sense of a philosophical argument can be elegant – everything you need, nothing you don’t, a simple perfection and eloquence expressed well? I’m challenging myself by trying to finish in 24 hours, despite running a community meeting for 80 people tonight! We all get our yuks somehow, right??

  46. Susanne

    Well I am with you there and admire your fortitude!! Hey challenges are what keep us moving, going, living, laughing..what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger..I agree with all of the above and you!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  47. Lelah

    I just saw your “Not a Secret Pal” button and had a snorkle. Participating in SP5 was the WORST. IDEA. I EVER. HAD. I gave more than required as well as a pair of handknit socks, and the recipient was so not even enthused. And the person who had me? Didn’t. Send. A. Thing. I actually had to be rescued by a Secret Pal angel!! And I felt terrible about it!

    Worst idea I ever had.

  48. Christina

    You have to create your own things no matter what! That’s the fun of knitting. Making something that no one has made before. Joining a kal and making something that’s been made by every knitter on the planet is all good and well, but knitting an original item designed by you is the piece de resistance! How dull to forever knit from pattern books and pre-printed pages! Please keep creating, you’re an inspiration to all knitters who wish to design their own items! If you quit, who will we look to for encouragement and inspiration? Patternworks? I think not.

    As for SP5, any SP. Oooo…SP is like the country club of knitter’s groups. You know where they are and what they do, but trying to join is a waste of precious knitting time. Keep your SP.

    Can you tell I’ve had a bad experience? ๐Ÿ˜€

    I think we should boycott SP’s. I love your button and will be stealing it to put on my site, if that’s okay with you. I’ll be linking to that particular post of yours, answering SP questions with a fun little snit.

    Kudos, Grumperina.

Comments are closed.