project: knit quite perfect

it turns out that i am terrified of roller skating. a few weeks ago, i met some friends for what should have been a fun night of skating around a renovated church building. instead, i ended up sobbing while mincing my way the rink, smiling at passerby and trying to (unsuccessfully) convince them that i was fine and having a fantastic time.

granted, i have had some pretty poor experiences with roller skating (and ice skating) from a young age, usually involving a crash landing on my tailbone. however, the deep-seated fear i was experiencing went further than just trying to avoid a bit of physical pain. i was trembling and anxious from the moment i walked into the building, and it only got worse when i put on skates and attempted to not hit the floor.

as i was leaving the building (finally on solid ground, and predictably with an incredibly sore tailbone), i reflected a bit more on my extreme aversion to roller skating. i decided the root cause could ultimately be expressed with this handy venn diagram:

a venn diagram titled “‘i really dislike this’: a study in fear” in which the two sides are labelled “i am bad at this” and “i cannot control this.” in the center of the diagram is “roller skating.”

i hate not feeling in control. i also hate looking incompetent — actually, make that “imperfect”.

so i decided to come up with a project that would let me explore my need for perfection and control, by forcing myself to acknowledge and document my mistakes. roller skating is still a bit too traumatic for me at this point, so i chose knitting as a safer and more comfortable activity.

the rules

  • sit in a public place and begin a new knitting project
  • every time you make a mistake (any mistake), unravel the entire project and start again
  • rinse and repeat until you either the finish the project, or 45 minutes have passed
  • if anyone asks what you are doing, you can explain the project

the process

i bought some white yarn and new knitting needles at imagiknit and headed over to dolores park. i found a nice bench with a good view of the dog play area, unpacked my knitting needles, and got started.

unfortunately, it had been a while since i started a new knitting project so i fumbled around a bit with the yarn before finally googling the details of the long-tail cast-on. once i got started, i made good progress for a while.

actually, much better progress than i was expecting. six rows of garter stitch in, and i was breezing along with no mistakes. i was even getting distracted from my handiwork by people-watching, but my hands were on autopilot by this point and didn’t need much oversight.

i decided to switch things up a bit. i’d cast on 20 stitches, so i could do 5 knit, 5 purl, 5 knit, 5 purl.

except it turns out i had actually cast on 21 stitches instead of 20 as i had intended. first mistake noticed, time to unravel!

it was oddly soothing to pull the yarn apart. none of the passerby seemed to notice what i was doing, so i quickly began to cast on, being extra careful to count this time.

the yarn i had chosen was big and soft, made of three strands twisted together. the end was started to loosen after i unraveled the original project. while casting on, i accidentally put the needle through the middle of the yarn, instead of behind the whole thread. second mistake.

i casted on again, and this time made sure i had 20 stitches. i proceeded for a few rows, counting and knitting and purling without accident. i enjoyed watching the dogs play with each other, and noticed the other people out enjoying the late afternoon sun after a rainy morning.

i ended up getting a bit too distracted by some drama in the dog park between two friendly pit bulls whose owners were a bit concerned. i knitted an extra knit stitch instead of switching to purl. time to start over.

while i was casting on, a group of three young women came over and asked what i was working on. i told them “i’m knitting perfection.”

they were understandably perplexed, so i proceeded to explain: “it’s an art project. it’s going to be a perfect square, but every time i mess up, i have to start the whole thing over.”

we chatted a bit more, and they left with a parting question: “can you knit a bikini?”

(my response? “probably not. but i’m sure other people could.”)

i knit smoothly for a while after that. a group of men on motorbikes showed up and began doing tricks up and down the main ramp, popping wheelies and proceeding to ride up the steep slope smoothly with that front wheel triumphantly raised.

i didn’t think that i’d ever done anything nearly as difficult in my life. and then i dropped a stitch.

i started over again. the sun had almost about to set and i was getting cold. my hands were a bit stiff from the chilly air. i was about to knit the last five purl stitches in a row when i realized there were only four stitches left. a quick audit revealed i had an extra purl stitch from earlier in the row.

at this point, it had been 45 minutes and i was very cold. i packed up my bag and began to leave the park. a cop car arrived with lights blaring and proceeded to chase two of the men on motorbikes down the street. one men popped a wheelie in the middle of dolores street and rode up the hill at an alarming speed for only having one wheel on the ground. the other man waited a bit, then flipped off the cop and followed his friend.

i walked home. i had nothing of consequence to show after 45 minutes of work, other than the same ball of yarn i started with (which was slightly the worse for wear at one end).

the result

i first created this project focused on the knitting aspect, and how i would be responding and reacting to the process. what i hadn’t anticipated was how much i would enjoy sitting and watching other people in the park while doing this piece.

in some ways, i was even more willing to ignore my handiwork than usual. if i did mess up the knitting project, it would still contribute to the artwork as a whole. that freedom to allow mistakes meant that i could focus more of my attention on the people around me, instead of just staring at my work the entire time.

i find that i would like to return to dolores park with my actual knitting project, and spend the time people watching. but with one difference: if i make a mistake, i’ll just keep going and accept the imperfection in my finished product.