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Archive for December 14th, 2005

Letting go of Perfectionism

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

LynnHI’m a funny mixture of character traits. I am artsy-fartsy and in some ways I can try things that seem unconventional and scary to other folks. I can paint my house trim purple and revel in it (in this town where folks will harass you in a good neighborhood if you paint outside the “classy” conformist beige-and-white color scheme).

I can dress strangely and look like I intended to look that way. I put colors together that others wouldn’t. I wear two or three patterned fabrics at the same time. I often wear three, four, even six items I’ve handknit, all at the same time (can you say “dorky?”). I see myself and others also see me as free and easy.

But there is another side to me. When it comes to my artful creations, I can become a control freak. I figure my art reflects on me and sometimes it’s important to focus on details. But sometimes I stop and I notice myself doing it when it is not useful or necessary, and I’m not proud.

When I was working with my Goddaughter, Sara, on her socknitting project, she was proclaiming herself a perfectionist and I let her know that it was not helping her progress. And yet I do this, too. I don’t brag about it but it’s there. And it pulls me back sometimes.

I was just reading Too Much Wool where she is talking about her progress on a complex cabled sweater (Celtic Dreams) and how she is letting go of perfectionism, dealing with being off by a stitch or several. She’s not ripping back, she’s figuring out how to go forward based on the current situation. In one case she was off by over 20 stitches and she made it work. Go, Cassie!

Mike Ross, centerNow, isn’t this how we have to “do” life? We get to today and deal with what is right now. Why not approach knitting that way, as well?

When I make things for store samples, I rip a lot. I knit and make mistakes and rip, because those samples are supposed to match the pattern. However, when I knit socks/bags/hats for me, I am fine with fudging a bit. I tend to be a sort of “make it up on the needles” knitter when it comes to accessories, anyway. And my students learn from this… Brenda in my Watercolor Bag class has been telling me how freeing it has been to knit a felted bag where one or two stitches off will just not be noticed.

But when I knit from other folks’ patterns, I obsess over matching their numbers. Part of that is because I usually knit other folks’ patterns when I’m doing something I don’t know as well (like cabled anything, or a sweater/tank top).

Right now I’m doing the Funnel Neck from Sally Melville’s Color book. And in two places I found myself not matching her numbers. Now, books can have mistakes but there is no errata on the XRX website for this particular pattern (there are some for other patterns in the book). So for now I’ll assume it’s probably right and I am the one who is confused – she’s the sweater knitter and I am not. But I can not figure out how to get her numbers, and so I am fudging. And in no case am I off more than 2 stitches, and that means that it will still fit.

LynnHSo I am practicing not worrying about perfection. About making something and it will work and it doesn’t match. Who will see that I was off 2 stitches when I wear it, anyway? (The row counts match, so sewing together will still work well.)

But it is good to face our real selves. And admit when that little character trait is not helping the situation. I just want to wear this sweater, I do not want to be ripping over and over (never mind that I did a LOT of ripping yesterday when I clearly forgot to decrease, etc…). And I did finish a second sweater piece last night, and it is two stitches wider than the other. But then again, this sweater has identical front and back measurements (and my body does not) so I can use those extra stitches where I need them.

It’s interesting… live music performance is a totally-in-the-moment experience. When you hit a wrong note, you just keep on going with a smile on your face and a lilt in your voice. And if you keep going, people either will not have noticed the note or they will forget soon. And I do live performing well, and honestly I’ve done it now enough times that I do not get nervous before I go on.

But recorded music… there is a reason that live albums are popular. When you record, you can re-do and re-do and re-do until it’s almost not like your act. In fact, Brian has put out several “Heftone Banjo Orchestra” CDs where he overdubs himself playing several different banjos, it’s something that is totally in the studio and can not be reproduced on stage.

I have trouble letting go with the recorded music. Once it’s on that CD, people will be able to hear every note that is not dead-on. And since I was trained in classical voice for about 5 years (I can pronounce Italian but not understand it) I am very hard on myself. Too hard. Because what we do now is not classical music, it is the popular music/early jazz of 1900-1930 or so.

Learning to let go is good. I don’t have high blood pressure, as my mother and brother do. And I don’t need to invite it by over-worrying.

And with that, I will now go teach children to knit. And children will not rip knitting out (to fix problems) under any circumstance! They want me to sew it together with a darning needle if there is a hole, and they will continue ahead, thank you very much! Gotta love the “babies.” They teach me to live in the minute, over and over again.

Images: 1)Me (dorky and unmatched but happy) at Wheatland Music Festival, 2003, staying warm with six knitted items I made myself. 2)Paul Bennett, Mike Ross and Brian Hefferan experiencing live music performance last Saturday night at Altu’s Ethiopian Cuisine. 3)Knitted fragment by a 5yr old boy at Foster Community Center.