Rip It, Rip It Good

IMG_1139So yesterday morning, I did a thing I almost never do.

I’m not a monogamous knitter, exactly, but I do get a little twitchy if the WIP (work in progress) count gets above three or so. Too many things left undone get to me in some deeply existential way, so I usually keep one more complicated project, a pair of go-anywhere socks, and a cotton dishcloth (for when the knitting needs to be truly mindless) on the needles at all times. I feel like it is always manageable, and the fact that my attention isn’t spread around too much means that I finish projects in a reasonable time.

This is how I like my life.

But I have stalled out, rather spectacularly, on the sleeves of my gorgeous Zweig sweater. Sleeves are a pain in the ass at the best of times, and 18 inches of sleeve with a slightly fiddly cable pattern is not the best of times. The sweater is a stunner, and I keep saying, “Heirloom knit, heirloom knit, heirloom knit” to myself, knowing full well that even the most gorgeous handknit is ephemeral, in the grand scheme of things. (I’m super fun at parties, y’all.)

Anyway, I stalled out.

So I cast on another sweater, this time the Hiro by Julia-Farwell Clay. I’ve been dying to make a proper colorwork yoke sweater, and this one ticked a lot of my boxes. Interesting colorplay? Yes please. Worsted weight? Oh dear God, yes. The time that lapsed between me reading about this pattern and me rustling through my stash of worsted-weight yarn was precisely the time it took me to walk from the living room to my craft studio. I have a ton of worsted-weight Cascade 220* and the like kicking around my stash from when I first started knitting, and using it up in a sweater seemed both fun and virtuous.

The pattern calls for a provisional cast on (which I hate), so you can make a folded hem, and then you knit a couple of inches in ribbing and a couple in stockinette, then you fold the thing and knit the provisional stitches and the, um, not provisional stitches together.

A folded hem is lovely and squishy and makes everything feel like super high quality, but not if your name is Kathleen Royston and you totally cock up the provisional cast on, spend two hours trying to unpick it, and realize that somehow you are 27 stitches short on your cast-on edge. And of course, you have spent quite a few episodes of Downton Abbey knitting this thing and fussing with the provisional cast on, and it’s a sweater, not a sock, so chucking it all in doesn’t feel like an option.

I was determined to make it work. I kept going at the screwed up edge, convinced I could make it work if only I thought about it harder or tried a little more. Finally, at about 11:00 last night, I put it in a project bag and went to bed.

I woke up thinking about it. This also happens to me more than I’d care to admit—if something isn’t right with my knitting, my brain will kick into high problem-solving gear and it will launch me out of bed at some ungodly hour.

And when I picked up my sweater this morning, I realized that there was no hope. So I ripped it all out and started all over again.

“Ripping it out and starting all over again” is more of a theme in my life than I’d like it to be. I was taught that stability and staying the course were the ultimate good—that we all had to do things we didn’t like to do and we kept our commitments, no matter what. If you made your bed, you should lie in it. I learned Winston Churchill’s “KBO” (Keep Buggering On) later in life, but that might well have been the Royston family motto.

And so I have pushed through some major life things I knew, fairly early on, were not a good fit- because dammit, I was going to stay the course.

But staying the course on things that were cocked up from the beginning inevitably led to heartbreak and weeping and having to restart something that I had put time, energy, and myself into. I take Ron Swanson’s advice and I whole-ass one thing. And sometimes that one thing falls apart.

Ripping out knitting that has gone awry isn’t fun, exactly, but there is a kind of satisfaction in it. Each stitch that gets undone is an opportunity to start over and to do things right the next go round. It is destructive and hopeful all at once and out of the kinky mess of yarn that’s left, you get to start over.

Always we begin again, goes the Rule of St. Benedict, which seems to be a much better life motto than Churchill’s. Creation and destruction, death and rebirth, losing and finding. And always, always, we begin again.

So I did with the sweater—as I am doing, right now, with my whole freaking life. I cast on again, this time with a twisted German cast on and I’m ditching the folded hem. It’s not what I set out to do, but it feels right.


*Even though I make fancy-ass hand-dyed yarn that I sell for a living, I enjoy knitting with less fancy yarn. It is a joy not to have to alternate skeins or be too precious about yarn, especially when knitting a larger garment. I want my sweaters to be bulletproof.



5 thoughts on “Rip It, Rip It Good”

  1. Great advice! I have another gem my little brother is fond of “Practice makes permanent” – just continuing to do something doesn’t make it the right thing. Best of luck with Hiro take 2!


  2. I am so here with you today. Today, I got a nibble on a non-academic job that I had applied for weeks ago, and I have such complicated feelings about it. Thanks for posting this.


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