Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Does it have to be perfect?

I took up knitting again just after Christmas because I find it soothing. I made a couple of mistakes in the first few rows, but decided to carry on regardless and make the hat (nice pattern from Woman’s Weekly) and hope no one else noticed.

I can hear my mum’s voice at this point when I tried on a jumper she’d just made me. “Take it off!” She’d spotted a tiny mistake in the complex pattern on the back and wanted it back. She wanted to unpick it and do the back again. The thought of undoing all that work gave me the horrors. I said it didn’t matter, I hadn’t noticed and to be honest I couldn’t see what she meant and I didn’t think anyone else would either. “But I would,” she said. And so she had it back and redid it.

The mistakes I’d made in the hat bugged me despite telling myself it gave the thing character and I knew that practice or not, I’d always hate the finished article. Then I dropped a stitch. I can’t pick up dropped stitches. I’ve never been able to. So I had no choice but to unravel the lot and start again.

Sometimes we have to do that with our writing. We know something is wrong way back at the beginning, but starting over again is such a pain and hard work. Worth it though. All that knitting I did before I had to start again was practice, getting back into the hang of it, getting the tension right.

That is why it’s good to write regularly, so you stay in the swing of it and it becomes easier to pick up and put down.

My mum was an expert knitter. She always said she wasn’t at all creative or artistic, but I would tell her what sort of jumper I wanted and she would adapt a pattern or not use one at all and produce exactly what I’d asked for. And my dad, who couldn’t read music, played the piano beautifully – with both hands I might add, something that I never managed (except for the one my dad called The Monkey’s Wedding*). The words “You hum it, son, and I’ll play it,” could have been spoken by my dad, if I’d been a son and inclined to hum.

A knitting pattern or a piece of music is like a plot isn’t it? It’s all there, the beginning, middle and end and it all hangs together nicely – as long as we put it all together properly. There should be no holes in the knitting, no missed notes in the music.

Anyway I finished the hat. I made the bobble far too big – perhaps I should have used a flattened cigarette packet like my mum used to for the pom-pom template instead of a flattened mince pie box (well to be fair I didn’t use the whole box!). I’m not happy with it. If it was a story it would have been deleted.

I’ve put it down to experience and hope that the next thing I knit will be better. Same with writing. Always strive to be better even if it means going back and starting all over again.

So does it have to be perfect? As perfect as you can make it, yes. My hat has received compliments, but that is people being polite, trying to spare my feelings. My mum would have been honest. So be careful who you ask to give an opinion on your writing. Don’t ask someone who will tell you what they think you want to hear.

Which is of course another subject altogether – showing your work to other people. I’ll shut up now.

*The Monkey’s Wedding. I have no idea what the proper name for this is and I’ve tried Googling it with no joy. I can’t even hum it to you. All I know is that it isnt the tune that goes with a song I've found on You Tube called The Monkey's Wedding. So if anyone out there knows what I’m talking about……


  1. Ooh, I thought - a knitting post! And then it was a writing post AND a musical post. Brilliant.

    Knitting: Our mothers were taught knitting by women who made them unravel the whole thing if they made a single mistake. I CAN pick up dropped stitches, although not with a crochet hook like my grandma did. But I learned so I wouldn't have to unravel the whole thing. I'm bone idle, you see. I'm knitting again too. I'm in the middle of an Aran.

    Music: My uncle couldn't read a note of music but he could pick up almost any instrument and play it by ear. My dad's piano party piece was "The Most Wonderful Night of the Year" (the waltz they play on carousels). My party piece is "Chopsticks". We can all play musical instruments in our family, apart from my mom. Who can knit. Brilliantly and without any mistakes.

    Writing: If I'm not happy with it, no-one sees it. Unless I can't for the life of me work out where the dropped stitch is, and then I get someone I trust to tell me the truth and what they really think.

  2. What a lovely analogy - yes writing is like knitting. Aren't we lucky that we can go back and sort out all the glitches before we have to show it to the world?

    Keep knitting and definitely writing!


  3. My mum and gran were perfectionists with their knitting too and taught me when I was young that a dropped stitch here and there simply wasn't good enough! I haven't done any for ages, but this post has reminded me how much I used to enjoy it.

    Good writing analogy too - if I know a story needs reworking I put it away for a while until I can face it, and rewrite it until it feels 'perfect' - to me at least :o)

    I can't help with The Monkey's Wedding I'm afraid!

  4. I don't know The Monkey's Wedding - but I'd love to see that hat! The only kind of knitting I enjoy is cables. I'm hopeless with fancy, lacy patterns or Fair Isle. Cables are more forgiving, I find.

    Plots and patterns are quite similar aren't they. But what's perfection? Stories I had published a few years ago were as good as I could make them at the time, but when I look at them now, I find things I would change. Partly I have perhaps improved (very slightly!) as a writer, but also it's about having a different perspective now from that of 4 or 5 years ago. We're always learning, whether it's writing, knitting or music.

  5. That's a brilliant analogy. It reminds me that I'm quite good at knitting, but hopeless at sewing the garments up at the end - which may well reveal something about my writing as well! I'm off to polish a story now and make it as perfect as it can be before I send it off.

  6. This makes me so glad of computers - if I realise I should have mentioned something at the beginning, I can just scroll up and put it in.

    I wonder if knitting machines let people go back and put in stitches missing from the first few rows?

    I agree with Joanne - show us the hat!

  7. Yes writing is very like knitting. I've just hit one of those mistakes and have to go back to the beginning, but as you say it will be perfect next time- well as perfect as I can get it.

  8. Lovely post Teresa. I've been thinking of investing in wool and needles but don't know what to knit. Perhaps some little dolls like the ones on the front of Fiction Feast that feature in a story by someone not too far away.

  9. I can’t pick up stitches if my life depended on it, Diane. Once they’re dropped, that’s it, I’m finished. Am I too old to learn?
    Music – well I’m quite good at listening to it ;-)

    Thank you, Linda. Yes, we are lucky. I’d never really thought about it before, but it’s nice to know that no one will ever see some of the stuff I’ve produced. Actually very nice to know – phew!

    Thanks, Karen. I’ve even tapped the Monkey’s Wedding in to Songtapper which is supposed to identify tunes from the rhythm and it comes up with Afternoon Delight by Gordon Lightfoot, Mozart’s Turkish March and I Like Traffic Lights by Monty Python and it doesn’t sound like any of those! Maybe I’m just no good at tapping.

    I’ve never done a cable, Joanne. If it isn’t straight forward knit and pearl with two needles I’m lost. Ooh I do that with old stories too – I wouldn’t write them the same now.

    Oh Helen, that made me smile because I can’t sew knitted things up either. My mum used to do the sewing up bit for me. I’m fine sewing anything else, just not knitteds.

    Word has certainly made life easier, Patsy. I do have a photo of the hat, but… I also have my pride :-)

    I’ve done that this week, Carol. Gone right back to the beginning and started all over again and that wasn’t with the knitting.

    I loved that story, Lynne – by one of my favourite writers! I’ve been thinking about knitting myself an Indiana Jones doll, but the way I knit it’d probably end up looking like Corporal Jones :-)

  10. Well I think it's fabulous that you've made a hat!
    I think that's a great analogy, I can knit a scarf, I can't follow a pattern and when I come to cast off I can't figure out how to do it so it all stays on the needles...Come to think of it, that sums up my writing brilliantly. Unfortunately.

  11. I wonder if that song might be Mairi's Wedding (aka The Lewis Bridal Song)? 'Step we gaily on we go, heel for heel and toe for toe, arm in arm and row on row, all for Mairi's Wedding.'


  12. Hearing 'My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean' again in 'The Sinking of The Laconia' reminds me that I thought the song too sad when I was 5 or 6 and so wrote a final verse where My Bonnie was brought back. LOL.

  13. My mum was an expert knitter, too, and also sewed all our clothes until we were big teenagers insisting we wanted something 'new, from the shops', which broke her heart. She could read music and played Chopin so well it brought tears to your eyes (I started playing at the age of 3), and my dad, like yours, could play anything by ear. I love your analogy between knitting and writing. If only I could get started...

  14. Penandpaints, this explains it better than I can http://www.theknittingsite.com/cast-off.htm Go on, have a go - then do the same with your writing :-)

    Ooh I remember that, Jacula - we used to dance to that at school. Sadly that's not it. I still haven't watched the Sinking of the Laconia! What a lovely thing to do - bring Bonnie back :-)See you were a writer even then!

    Hydra, that reminds me how I begged my mum to let me have "bought" school jumpers like everyone else. It must have hurt. I did appreciate her knitting when I got older though!

  15. I'm sure the hat's gorgeous.

    I used to knit - and do embroidery - but these days I have little patience and even less talent for it.


  16. I do find knitting calms me, Suzanne - except when I'm dropping stitches or finding I've got an extra one somewhere along the line. Then the patience snaps!