A zero sum game

Every so often when I’m at a knit night or teaching a class or in some kind of group knitting scenario, a newer knitter has something happen to them that causes them to choose to rip out and re-knit knitting they’ve already done. (I say ‘choose’, because in the grand scheme of things, this is knitting, and in knitting you get to choose what comes off of your needles. Granted, some ‘choices’ are probably more adviseable in some circumstances than others, but there’s nobody stopping you from ignoring them if you so desire). And it’s generally met with visible sympathy by the group, because dudes, we have all been there. We understand what it’s like to experience a fairly intense existential crisis inside your head for the five seconds or so it took for you to realize the problem and the solution, before you ripped the work off the needles and started pulling.


The other thing that I have seen happen, often in tandem with the above, is an expression something along the lines of “oh I can’t wait until I’m a better knitter and I don’t make these stupid mistakes any more.” Well let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, if you are under the presumption that being a more experienced or skilled knitter is in some way related to making fewer mistakes, I am here to divest you of that assumption. (There are some people who would divest you of that assumption by laughing a lot. I may or may not be one of those people.) I’ve been knitting pretty hard core for about a decade and the projects on my needles come from my own brain as often as not, and dude, if there’s a way to do this and be perfect at the same time, I am still waiting for that moment to arrive.

This week I am in the trenches of a fairly heavy amount of design prep, and since the only way to get out of it is through, I’ve been making good use of my swatching, measuring, calculating, and generally all of the brain-related knitting skills I can, to try to head off as much of the potential mistake-making as possible. What ends up happening of course, is that the insanity happens all at once at the beginning rather than being neatly dispersed throughout. (I’m still not sure which is preferable, actually).


Sometimes it’s awesome and flows like a zen-filled river: I make a nice generous swatch, wash it and lay it out to dry, and when I check it the next day it comes out at a nice predictable gauge for the needle I used, and I sally forth and write up all the notes. Other days are like yesterday, when after working through a portion of the knitted piece, something niggled at me and I double (quadruple) checked my gauge swatch and realized I was off by one stitch. So, I dutifully went back and changed all my numbers – grudgingly, but it had to be done and so I did it. Then, later, when I was wrestling with a portion of ribbing and after re-casting on a second time that it still wasn’t doing what I wanted it to…and I realized with a sinking feeling that this was because I had mis-calculated the number of stitches in one of the cable panels that the ribbing was setting up..and I had to change all my numbers again.

Then, when I was knitting away on it again (this time with a large mug of theoretically soothing tea), I realized with an even sinkier sinking feeling that actually because the gauge change I dealt with in Realization #1 would in fact account for a bit more cable suckage and I didn’t actually need to make all of the changes I did as a result of Realization #2…and after a day of all that, I was finishing pretty close to where I’d started in the first place.

I suppose the moral of the story is that sometimes, even if it seems like you’re playing a zero sum game, there is still forward movement to be found. But this afternoon I’m still stocking up on potato chips. They’re awfully supportive of me.

May your weekend have successful knitting in it!
Happy Friday.




  1. danadoodle · ·

    I did a whole lot of that for the cardigan I’m almost done writing up. That plus the madelinetosh being slightly different colors between skeins = a lot of ripping. I’m still holding out for the upside of designing.

  2. Deadlysmurf · ·

    I’m sorry the knitting gods frowned on your progress!

    Out of curiousity (if you can/feel like telling): Is the gray cable swatch for the forthcoming Aran hooded cardigan design? Because if so I sense a Aran hooded cardigan in my near future.

  3. LauraSue · ·

    “Sinkier Sinking Feeling.” I love that. Not any of the stuff that happened to cause it, just the expression itself.

  4. Sounds we’re having very similar weeks. It can be discouraging, but it’s all part of the process, knit, rip, repeat, in the end it’s all worth it! Looking forward to seeing what you’re working on!

  5. Been there. Totally.

  6. I’ve always thought it shouldn’t be ‘Knit 1, Purl 1’ but rather ‘Knit 1, Rip 1′ !!!!! Keep smilin’ and carry on….! xxx

  7. In my 40+ years of knitting, I cannot possibly count the number of stitches that I have ripped out for one reason or another. I can say, without hesitation, that even experienced knitters, still make mistakes and RIP!! I did it several times yesterday, in fact! However, the older I get, the less perfectionistic (is that a word?) I am getting, and unless it is a glaring error, I “fix” it and soldier on.

    I admire your fortitude with the whole designing process. I’ve only designed for myself so therefore have never had to worry too much about documenting what I’ve done since I’m likely only going to ever knit one of said object. But, for what it’s worth, your designs are lovely and worth every bit of effort that you put into them.

    I still see a Royale sweater in my autumnal future. And a Lakeshore shawl make my summer complete.

  8. Amen, Sistah!

  9. Yes! I’m trying my first double knitting project, and it’s kicking my bum. I keep telling myself that knitting with one hand was hard a few years ago, and knitting stranded colorwork was crazy-hard a year ago, and so I just need TO KEEP TRYING and someday, maybe, hopefully double knitting won’t seem so impossible.

  10. Good for you with sticking with it – your designs are certainly worth it. I’m a bit of a perfectionist but as clumsy as a clown, the combination of which usually means ripping at least every other day in projects. Makes getting to the end so much sweeter 🙂

  11. If by “there’s still some forward motion” you mean getting all those mistakes out of the way so that you can start from scratch for the 5th time and hopefully not make any more. Then yes, I’ve done that…

  12. The longer I knit the less I mind making mistakes. Sure, it can be annoying and inconvenient, but I would rather have what I knit be perfect, even if that means ripping and reknitting, than finish it and know I could have done better.

  13. Caitlyn · ·

    You’re right about the forward movement. As I was trying for the 4th time to pick up and knit stitches around a second armhole (after the first went swimmingly), I started to wonder if it was all going to be worth it. I kept thinking to myself, won’t the yarn look tatty and the stitches misshapen and the whole vest a mess? But now that it’s done and there’s only ends to weave in, I’m pleasantly surprised. It looks just fine. It was worth it. Mistakes can’t stop me from finishing; only quitting can.

  14. Claudia · ·

    Sometimes knitting doesn’t help you stay sane…but hang in there. I try my best to un-knit before I rip. But some projects just need a good pull-the-needles-out-and-rewind-the-yarn do over.

  15. I make “stupid” mistakes all the time. Enter last mistakes on a Cal….somehow lost 6 inches width wise…frogged it and redid….then I missed 3 important words ” continue in pattern until 30 inches FROM THE MARKER….I have to rip it again because it’s 7 inches too short…. hmph!

  16. I always tell new knitters that experienced knitters just make bigger mistakes faster. Some even let out a big sigh of relief when they hear that.

  17. Genia Potter · ·

    I’m just starting to actually do swatches correctly [or at all!] and now I see yours are much bigger than the 4 x 4″ that I see recommended. How big are they and do you recommend usually doing them that big or only if you’re designing?
    I hate leaving mistakes (if I see them in time), and find the satisfaction of a clean end product well worth the hassle of fixing them, but I have discovered with glee that if you swatch the pattern, you can make your mistakes on a small scale, and not have to rip out your new project 4 or 5 times before it gets going smoothly! Amazing…

  18. Deborah N · ·

    I have found that when I have a mistake back several rows, that putting the knitting down an doing something else for a while and thinking about the error sometimes lets me come up with a non-ripping out solution. You might have had realization #2 before ripping out if you had allowed some extra think time.

    Yes, I know it is easier to rip back and get it over with.

  19. Thanks for this post. I’m not a beginning knitter anymore, but I’m nowhere near expert. I’d say I’m “proficient”. A good time to start getting used to the fact that I will always, always have to retrace my steps. Embracing it is healthier than denying it 🙂

    I’m surprised no one mentioned your ring in the first picture. So pretty!

  20. Would love to follow your blog. Can’t find the place to sign up. Sometimes I feel so dense.

  21. totally off topic but i love the ring you’re wearing. would you have happened to get it from a specific jeweler?

  22. caityrosey · ·

    I think the only thing you really get better at is dealing with your mistakes and, if your’re really smart, acknowledging that they will happen and preparing for them in advance.

  23. A friend remarked lightly to me the other week, “You’re good at knitting things and ripping them up again.” Then, she came back to me and said apologetically, “I didn’t mean that you weren’t a good knitter… I just meant you’re good at realizing when you’ve made a mistake and not being afraid to fix it.”

    And I said, “Yeah. That makes me a good knitter.”

  24. Thank you for making me laugh! And for expressing what I’ve been feeling all week about work! I’m so glad I have the hook and sticks close by so I can knit/ crochet away the crazies!

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