Calling oneself a perfectionist sounds suspiciously like a humble brag—like when someone in a job interview asks, “What’s your biggest flaw?” and you say, “I care too much.”
But I’ve been wrestling with my own perfectionist demons for a long time now. A lot of it is cultural: I’m a white lady of a certain age who grew up in an upper middle-class family in a wealthy community. I’m a high achiever- I got the grades and went to the right kind of college, followed all the rules.
And then, after years of doing all the things I was supposed to do and ending up totally miserable, I chucked it all in. (That is a story for another day).
For the most part, my new life feels like life. I cannot overstate how much I love this work: how it has changed my entire worldview, how deeply satisfying it is to actually have my work produce something, how I get to play with color, and best of all, how I get to put beauty and kindness in the world.
I’m sleeping better, eating better, breathing more deeply. I feel like myself for the first time in years.
But driving out our demons isn’t an immediate process (unless there is a herd of swine and a cliff and Jesus nearby). The jerks are nefarious, and just when you think you have made some kind of peace with them, there they are.
This perfectionist demon and I have had kind of a rough week. Because in addition to being a perfectionist, I’m apparently something of a masochist.
This thing I’ve fallen into, this yarn dyeing, this artsy stuff? It is actually incompatible with perfectionism. Which makes me think that it is precisely what I need to be doing.
Now, to be clear, there is a method to good dyeing .I have scales and formulas and I precisely measure a lot of things. I learned fairly early on that by following certain steps I could repeat colorways. And since I also knew fairly early on that I wanted to dye yarn professionally, this was important.
But at the end of the day, even with of my tools and notes and exacting nature, I can’t exactly predict what’s going to happen in those dyepots. Different fibers take dye differently (cashmere is insanely thirsty), and I’m also a human being, not a machine, so one day I may sprinkle pink on first and another day it may be purple. I may have a tiny bit more water in the pot on one day and less on another, and these things, these tiny variations?
They lead to imperfection.
I’m writing this while looking at 28 skeins of imperfect yarn. Never mind that the red orange looks like fall threw up on it, all deep oranges and reds and yellows. Never mind that the green is lovely and tonal and I can’t wait to knit it up into a pair of Christmas socks.
All I can see is that the reds aren’t purple enough and the greens aren’t blue enough. And then, of course, I start to panic.
I don’t just dye yarn for my own amusement, after all. These 28 skeins that don’t perfectly match the picture I put up on Instagram are destined for a trunk show, and all I can think of is, “WHAT IF NOBODY BUYS THEM BECAUSE THEY AREN’T PERFECT?”
I have lots of grace for other people’s hand-dyed yarn: for bleeding and for variations and for pooling. I know that Malabrigo’s dyelots are a crap shoot and that you really do need to alternate skeins of hand-dyed yarn in sweaters and that you don’t let stuff knit out of hand-dyed yarn soak forever when you block it. I haven’t once sworn off a hand-dyed yarn because it does what hand-dyed yarn does—behave differently than commercially-dyed yarn. If I want predictability, I’ll use the commercial stuff. And sometimes I do. But more often than not, I want the yarn that has been dyed by another real-life human being.
And I know this about myself, but I assume that everyone else is a thousand times pickier and more unreasonable than I am.
I don’t know why I assume everyone who buys my yarn is a mean white woman with a haircut that says, “I want to speak to your manager.” For one thing, I don’t have a manager. I manage my own damn self. And for another, the yarn people I have met have been diverse and lovely and not heifers. It is not a leap to think that the lovely people who support Republica Unicornia understand how yarn works.
I wonder what it would be like to extend grace to ourselves: to know, deep down inside, that we are not machines. So often we treat ourselves like this—like our failure to perfectly produce somehow represents a fixable glitch in the system. Maybe if we try harder, order our time better, eat better, pull ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps—our work would be free from error or variation. We would be perfect parents or employees or yarn dyers.
If we were better we would do better.
But this is a lie.
We are, after all, only human: a collection of our childhood baggage and our fears and our aches and pains and our tendency to overdo it on the purple dye.
To expect calibrated results from ourselves is dumb as shit.
I’m still looking at my 28 skeins of yarn. And I am half thinking of the ways to fix it. But it is awfully lovely as is.