January’s Project – Levelling Up My Post-Apocalyptic Life Skills

I shamelessly stole the title of this post from this:
Kniting: it's not a hobby, it's a post-apocalyptic life skill.
because I thought it sounded more exciting than “improving my knitting”. I’m not bad at crochet. I am comfortable making amigurumi creatures without any pattern at all. But knitting* – knitting fights me all the way. I suck at it it.

I used to knit when I was plotting, but I’d only knit squares of stuff on big needles with fluffy yarn that hid all the mistakes. If I wanted to allow my mind to wander and sort my story out, I couldn’t be constantly reciting a pattern in my head, or counting stitches. But I’d start with a nice round number, say 30, and every now and again some rows later, I’d check that I still had 30 stitches on the needle. I never did. And I never understood why.

This Christmas, my other half’s mum bought me a lovely kit for knitting a lace pattern scarf with alpaca wool. Now, I know how to do a  knit stitch and a purl stitch. But saying that means I know how to knit is like saying that I know how to play chess because I know the horsey can do L-shaped moves. So, I’ve been practising on some cheaper yarn until I get the hang of it, and thinking about parallels with writing and other creative activities.

Here’s 3 things I believe about making anything:
1. You really make progress when make a mistake and you learn how to fix it.
2. Once you get to a reasonable level of skill, it’s about balancing control and allowing the yarn (story or wool) to do its own thing.
3. Sometimes you have to recognise that a piece may not be perfect, but it’s as good as you can get it right now, and move on.

1. Learn how to fix your mistakes.

When I started this scarf, it kept going horribly wrong, and I’d unravel the whole thing in a bewildered temper, no matter how far I’d got, and I’d start all over again. This is how I used to be with stories, too. I’d write them, I’d get them critiqued, I couldn’t figure out how to fix them and I felt like the whole thing fell apart in my hands. I’d abandon them at that point, and start a new one.  I think it was about the 5th or 6th time that I’d pulled the whole scarf apart that I remembered the sawhorse.

A few years back, I did a basic carpentry and joinery course, and one of the projects was a sawhorse. This was a test of skill, because nothing joins at 90°, the legs are all angled and you need to make precise joints. I’d been doing reasonably well up to that point. I could mark up and produce a decent half  joint with hand tools. But the sawhorse almost broke me. I dropped further and further behind my course mates, and made a total bollox of one of the joints. I’d cut too much out. I went to one of my tutors, trying not to wail too much as I explained what happened. She taught me how to select, cut and shape a small piece of wood to patch a joint so you could barely see it. In the few hours it took me to do it, I felt like I took a giant leap forward. It also freed me from the pressure of having to make a perfect piece, or throw the whole thing away. Now I could fix my mistakes.

So now, when I make a mistake with the knitting or the writing, I’m sticking with it, and trying to fix it as best I can. And if I absolutely can’t fix, I live with it. I’m letting this practice scarf be a record of how I’ve messed up and how I’ve got on.

2. Balance control and happy accidents.

I’m really not at this stage with knitting, because I don’t yet have control. It’ll all be going fine for a while and I’ll be really concentrating, and double-checking every 10 stitches, and I’ll still get to the end of a row and *poomf* there’ll be one stitch too many or too few and I won’t have the slightest clue how it happened.

But I’d like to think that I am at this stage with crochet and writing. Sometimes when you’re trying a new technique, or experimenting, things don’t go the way you planned. You’ve got the skills to fix it, and force it to go your way. When this happens to me, I try to work out whether what I planned was better. Stories in particular, can take on a life of their own, but I’ve had it happen with clay pots/glazes, beading and crochet too.  I’ve turned things upside down, or gone a completely different direction because I’ve been inspired by the mistake. If something you’re making really starts speaking to you (I know it sounds a bit mad, but it happens) , and has its own direction (and personality, yes mad again), I’d go with it to see where it takes me.

3. As good as you can make it is good enough.

Perfection is something to aim at, but it shouldn’t get in the way of creating things. Trying to create something without ever making a mistake acts as  set of creative shackles. If you know how to fix your mistakes, and the thing you’re making is as good as you can get it right now, then it is done. The next thing you make will be even better.  If you try to make it perfect, there probably won’t be a next thing. And trust me, if you like making things (even intangible things like stories) there’s always a next thing.

Here’s my history of knitting mistakes (minus the unravellings) in scarf form:

I suck at knitting.
Behold! The glory of my mad knitting skillz.

February’s project : Raspberry Pi. Build the case,  learn to flash the operating system to the SD card, hook it up to the telly, teach myself Linux and Python. Not started yet due to work getting out of its box and lurgification. There will be much swearing.

*People sometimes ask what the difference between knitting and crochet is. So, for the record, knitting is done with 2 pointy sticks, crochet is done with one hook. They feel different, and they work differently, but to really find out you need to have a go.

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One thought on “January’s Project – Levelling Up My Post-Apocalyptic Life Skills

  1. Nice! Although I must admit I may never learn this particular post-apocalyptic life skill, due to my few attempts at knitting ending in ‘Argh no I can’t I’m rubbish blargle.’ But I really like the idea that mistakes are part of the process with any creative project. (*If* you continue the project instead of deciding it’s hopeless and sticking it in the craft bag to gather dust…)

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