Q for You: How do you feel about mistakes?

Q for You: How do you feel about mistakes?

Someone recently asked on Instagram for my thoughts on mistakes. And I was like, Where do I start?! Let’s see, here are a few of them:

1) Definitely make them! Early and often. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re likely not trying anything new. (This is a life lesson; not knitting specific.)

1a) All knitters make mistakes — it’s not something you grow out of. (The best gymnasts on earth still fall off the bars on a regular basis.)

2) Fixing mistakes is the absolute best way to learn and to grow your confidence and ambition, so again, make new and different ones so you can learn how to fix them!

3) The most common advice I give people is that you’ll never regret having taken the time to fix something that’s bothering you, but you might very well regret not doing so.

4) But also: Not all mistakes need to be fixed, in my opinion.

I’ve struggled with perfectionism (and “perfection paralysis,” as one of you said the other day) all my life, have been really working hard on it in recent years, and the fact that I just said “not all mistakes need to be fixed” is evidence of how far I’ve come. The initial question had been prompted by my admission to another person that I had left in a mistake, visible in the photo and in the one up top here, in the very first cable cross in the lower right. I knew it when I made it — I was right there and could have fixed it in two seconds, but I chose to leave it. The person who asked the question described herself as a perfectionist and talked about a project she had completed that was disappointing because it wasn’t perfect, which I obviously could totally sympathize with. My Instagram-sized response to her was:

“I mean, everything is fixable. You could pull out your I-cord and redo it, right? My rule of thumb is just if something will bother me in the end, I fix it. If not, I don’t. This tiny little thing, to me, is like getting that first ding in your new car — now that’s out of the way! I’m a perfectionist in life (it’s something I battle) but I don’t really believe in perfection in knitting. That tiny mistake I left makes it not only handmade, but uniquely mine.”

There are commonly cited legends of Persian rug-makers and Navajo weavers (etc) who hide a small flaw in their work on purpose because only God is perfect (or some variation on that). Someone else said something recently that I can’t track down now [EDIT: found it], but I think she said her grandmother would call a mistake a “humble spot,” which I love. LOVE. But for me it goes back to what I first fell in love with about William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement when I studied design history in school — their notion of placing value on the “presence of hand” in an object; evidence that it was made by a person and not a machine.

Here’s the rest of what I said that day, which is a newer thought for me, and one I haven’t fully fleshed out yet:

“I think there’s getting something right and getting something perfect. I’m only interested in getting it right. And only I can define any of those terms, anyway.”

You all know how much effort I put into getting things right — by which I mean getting the yarn and colors and fit and length and neck-shaping exactly (or almost exactly!) how I want it. But perfection doesn’t interest me. Just like the rift in the moss stitch and the misplaced black stitch in the colorwork pictured above — two other recent mistakes I’ve deliberately left — those two mistwisted purl stitches on the inside of my wrist will be my favorite thing about this fisherman sweater when it’s done: the inside joke or wink-wink between me and my genuinely one-of-a-kind sweater.

So that’s a lot from me, but I wanted to put the same Q to all of You: What’s your attitude toward mistakes? How do you decide what to leave and what to live with?

I’m looking forward to hearing from you on this, and wish you all a happy and relaxing weekend!


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82 thoughts on “Q for You: How do you feel about mistakes?

    • I once was persuaded to leave an edge on a baby blanket that I felt I’d done very poorly. It was to be a gift for a newborn and I was behind in finishing it. So I listened to my friend and left it. Some 7 or 8 years later, I still regret it and I’ll NEVER do it again. If I notice a mistake, I’ll go back and fix it even if I have to rip out inches and inches or start at the beginning again.

  1. I love your ideas about mistakes! And I agree with you. I have occasionally fixed a really bad, noticeable mistake that I know would bother me in a finished project. But little things here and there…I just leave them.

    (I will say that when I was knitting my Antler cardigan, I made a very obvious mistake in one cable in the yoke. I found Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s instructions for dropping the necessary stitches and unraveling back to fix it. And while it was terrifying at the time, it was one of the most satisfying things I’ve done in knitting, ha!)

  2. I’m a bit of a knitting snob. I refuse to knit with acrylic or leave mistakes. My reasoning is that if it takes me 100 hours to make a sweater I’m going to use only good natural yarns and not make any noticeable mistakes. If I leave in a mistake I b come fixated on it every time I wear the sweater to the point of the mistake ‘becoming’ the sweater.

    • Yeah, like I said: anything that will bother me (which is generally anything that anyone but me would notice), I fix; and anything that won’t bother me, I don’t fix. If absolutely anything bothers you, by all means, fix it!

  3. On the other side I am a compulsive non-fixer. Mostly I just leave things that aren’t hideous and/or ruin my stitch count. But I’m working on a wrap now (Tailspin) and I have deliberately ripped back each short row section because the first time through I’ve forgotten increases or misplaced them and I really want this to look nice. Now, I’ve had to add a stitch every few rows when I’ve dropped an YO, but no one will be looking at the edging. For me giving myself permission to take the time to rip back is good. It saves me from being upset about losing time and forgives my penchant for spacing out and not following directions sometimes. :)

    • Oh yeah, a mistake that throws off stitch count is definitely a must-fix in my book — unless it can be fudged in an unnoticeable and unharmful way, like you’re saying. I think figuring out how and when to fudge vs what really needs to be ripped and fixed is an important skill to develop!

  4. My mom was Mrs. “Oh well, that will do”. She was a maker long before that was a “thing”. There wasn’t a craft or art form that she didnt try:everything from fine tailoring to rock polishing, to weaving and dying. She was good at some of it, simply horrible at others, but to her that was of no matter. If she enjoyed it, she did it, and no matter how it turned out, she used it, wore it, displayed it, whatever. Very few people I have known get as much joy from their lives as she did, have as many friends who do similarly odd things, or experience such consistent richness in their lives. On the other hand, she made me take out that sleeve cap and re-sew it over and over until I knew how to do it perfectly, because mastery…if not perfection…is important. To this day, I can knit a perfect sleeve cap, no pattern, and sew it in by hand immaculately on the first try.

    So in my own knitting, I try to do things correctly brcause i know how and I have mastered the technique. If I make a glaring mistake that will make me regretful everytime I wear it, I will fix it. But for that occasional crossed stitch, or unevenly spaced decrease and the like, it’s “Oh well…”

      • OMG, Ellen’s mom sounds like me! That’s what I came here to say! I have never been interested in becoming perfect at any one thing – only proficient at many things. As an interior designer, I’ve come into contact with maaaaaaany people who boast about being perfectionists and my observations have always led me to the conclusion that it’s actually kind of a crippling affliction. Instead, I boast of being a very productive good-enough-ist. I’d rather spend my time learning something new than fixing some flaw only I care about. (Which I guess means I don’t really care about it…) Doing things well is always important, but having a repeat be off by one stitch up in a hat crown, where it will be hidden in the fabric folds? Yeah, that’s good enough.

  5. I think I share your view of mistakes. I’ve taught a beginning knitting class and have told the students it’s up to them, try to figure out if it’s going to bug you, or how much it’s going to bug you. That’s sort of how I look at it. I imagine there are mistakes in everything I’ve made, whether I’ve caught them or not. If I see it, I rip back and fix lots of times, but sometimes I don’t. I like the ‘humble spot’ and ‘presence of hand’ quotes! And love the ‘getting it right v. getting it perfect’ perspective. I’ve taken up loom weaving recently and the other, more experienced weavers give me similar advice – ask if I’m enjoying it and learning from it, and will that mistake bother me later or not.

    • I think the best way to know is if it’s already bugging you! If you’re even having the debate with yourself, “should I fix that or not,” that alone is indication that it’s bothering you and you’ll be mad later if you don’t fix it while you can. Something that won’t bother me in the long haul won’t even bother me enough to debate it in the first place. Do you know what I mean?

      • Yes, exactly. And what you said above – will anyone else notice it? Which makes me think of another situation or level – if I’m knitting a gift – I think I’m much pickier then.

  6. I often repeat what an old knitting teacher of mine said: “It’s got that great handmade look!”

  7. Like you, I decide if it will be really obvious or not. I have used the corrections to learn from. Last night I ripped out an Afghan block I had just started because it hadn’t been going well and I ended up off by one or two stitches. Rather than continuing to struggle through, I restarted. Much better.

  8. My mother had a saying “…on a galloping horse you wouldn’t notice…” So, unless it is absolutely HUGE or I can correct within a row or two with minimal fuss, I don’t bother.

  9. I’ve struggled with perfectionism as well, but feel like I’ve finally got a handle on my projects being right for me. I fix what bugs me, but unfortunately most mistakes bug me, LOL. What really gets my goat, though, is when other knitters at knit group talk about mistakes and say, “Oh! It’s not a mistake; it’s a design element!” I get that they’re trying to be encouraging to whoever has made a mistake, but no, it’s not a design element if it wasn’t done intentionally. I think it does a disservice to encourage people not to fix mistakes, because then they aren’t learning how to do so. It’s like the comment above – “mastery…if not perfection…is important.” I love that attitude.

    • Knowing how to fix things is paramount, yes, and then you can choose on a case-by-case basis what to do about any given error — from tinking to laddering to ripping … or ignoring. But I don’t know, I don’t think trying to reassure someone that something is fine is necessarily the same thing as discouraging them from learning how to do proper fixes; in many cases they already know how. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, in other words.

  10. I leave mistakes – any and all. Just yesterday I enormously goofed a few rows of the lace on my Imogen tee…I figure it is a fine enough gauge that people won’t notice? Previously I knit two whole motif repeats of the lace on my Lola shawl with a mistake in my ssk’s (figuring out how to k2togtbl and how that reflected itself on the RS was a steep learning curve and by that point I was on those looooonnnggg rows at the end of a shawl where you cannot wait to finish….ripping back was unbearable). Bigger mistake, larger gauge, more obvious to me….I still don’t know if others will notice but I definitely can see it every time I look at the shawl yet I still wear it.

    I would like to say that I leave mistakes for a valiant reason but I don’t. Two reasons. One – I’m lazy (?) I don’t want to say that because the connotations are so so negative but I wish there was a way to say I’m lazy without it sounding so bad. Two – I knit in a bit of a void (no knitting friends/family) so the learning curve on FIXING mistakes seems steep and like a lot of work and I have no support team!

    • I’m always telling people if you only ever take one class, make it a class on fixing mistakes. Knowing how to fix things will totally change knitting for you. If there’s not a shop near you that offers such a thing, look for the nearest Stitches convention, or I’m sure there must be good a good online class.

    • It’s not lazy, it’s efficient… you aren’t about to waste your time on something that isn’t bothering you! :)

  11. I’ve become more laissez-faire as I’ve gotten older, and cleverer, about mistakes. Forgot a yarnover? Pick it up on the next row and while it will be tighter, it won’t be a mistake. Miscrossed cable? No problem to just drop those stitches and fix. Like you say, fix what will bother you.

    Having said this, I have no idea what to do with my mangled brioche hat WIP. I might have to rip it all, that brioche kicked my rear so badly. You talk about a “humble spot,” that thing is a humble black hole!

  12. We all seem to have a “mother” that was our teacher/advisor/mentor besides being a parent.
    Mine said: that mistake is your signature.
    She had made a wonderful knitted wall hanging and forever we noticed her “signature” though many other viewers did not. Now, I will treasure it forever. It brings me back to her immediately, and gives me comfort to make mistakes and accept them.

  13. The “presence of hand” is such an important factor! I once took a blacksmithing class where the instructor talked about the evolution of what made a piece “finished.” Back in the day before machining, the “finished,” “perfect” piece had no visible texture on the surface, because the idea of perfection was to eliminate the evidence of its handmade-ness. Now, as blacksmithing is a much less common art and nearly all of our knives, hammers, wall hooks, tent stakes, and whatever else are made by machines, the “perfection” of a handmade piece lies in its uniqueness and rustic, handmade charm. I think the same is true for fiberwork. While I’m a stickler for things that I can easily go back and fix, and I take great joy in the process of fixing those unexpected miscounts, twisted or dropped stitches, and pattern misreads, I also delight in the few that I miss or that are too far behind me to be worth my time. Those little humble spots (along with the memory and learning opportunity of having fixed the things that I did go back to) are the fingerprint that I made the garment and that it is unlike anyone else’s.

    • I think we all underestimate how fun and rewarding it is to fix things! I’m always saying nothing makes you feel like a superhero quite like laddering down to fix a mistake.

  14. If the boo boo is bad, I will fix or rip back. I hate when you notice it late in the game. But I often find that after time and wearings, I don’t notice a tiny problem and forget it was ever there. It’s the decision problem of perfection procrastination that gets me down. Like the universe knows the right color or style/size and if I pick the wrong one, I’m doomed and have failed.

    • Yes. The person I referred to above who used the term “perfection paralysis” went on to say “that’s probably why my Archer is invisible.” Which is so totally the point.

  15. I love this post and all the comments. I have a Kilim rug in my dining room that is all reds and browns and there is a small kelly green square woven in the border of one end where all the others are tan. I bought it because of that square and it’s arranged in the room so it’s always visible. That green square makes it better than perfect … it makes it unique. Thanks everyone

  16. If mistake is back of sweater-who cares? I’ll never see it and the “front” just now became the “back”:)
    If knitting gifts, I usually take time to repair, for myself I am not so picky.

  17. For me, it’s the idea of how glaring the mistake is and if I can live with it. I knitted about 12″ in a lace scarf at the very beginning and decided to keep going. The next day, I decided that I couldn’t live with it and ripped it all out and started over. I was a quilter for many years and the Amish often put a wrongly placed block or applique in their quilts and called it their humility block because only God is perfect!

  18. My Inglis Mitts have a mis-crossed cable much like the one in your sweater, and while I didn’t realize it until the first mitt was finished, it hasn’t ever really bothered me (and I wore them all fall and spring!). When I look at them or a photo of them, I can see the mistake easily, but others have had trouble finding it unless I actually point it out. Mistakes can be like that, and in the same way our brains can read misspelled words the right way or add in tiny words that have been left out, I think our eyes can see knitting and see the whole picture as it “should” be, overlooking some mistakes with ease. So I feel very much like you do when it comes to mistakes, I think.

  19. I really like how you can explain the beauty of small mistakes and their unique stamp – I’ve always felt that way in my knitting when I cross a cable the wrong way, etc. and I’ve always thought of it like carving your initials on wet concrete before it dries.

  20. I love this post, Karen. Beautiful writing and inspiring sentiments.

    I am a fixer of certain mistakes …. mostly the kind that affect fit and/or my willingness to really wear the garment. But I also love the quality and imperfections that are the distinction of “handmade”. Perfection is more the province of machines.

    I think it took a couple of years of intense crafting for me to realize that seeing the mark of the hand is just as important to me in my paintings. This has loosened me up tremendously. Now, if I like a mistake, I welcome it. Which means it isn’t really a mistake, just something that was unplanned. ;-)

  21. I tell people all the time that’s how you know you’re human and you made this with your own hands, it isn’t perfect. I’ve left little mistakes and sometimes I’ll get through a knit without a hitch but I feel like mistakes are what teach me something new.

  22. I’ve been knitting for many years, but knitting seriously for only about 10. I’m more of a process than product knitter, and I’ve found the ‘victory’ of fixing a mistake to be incredibly satisfying. That said, I wouldn’t call myself a perfectionist. I remember reading Stephen West saying that most of his new designs are born from mistakes. So those are indeed design elements. I love Penelope’s story about her Kilim rug, and I also found the ‘ presence of hand’ phrase very comforting, along with your inside joke, wink-wink to your own errors. I fix things for my satisfaction, and really doubt that others look at our knitting with such a critical eye…..if they do, then that is their problem, not mine!
    I took up weaving a few years ago, and one thought about fixing weaving errors sticks in my mind: the weaving will be around for many years (longer than most hand-knitted garments), so it’s probably best to fix those.
    Thanks for such a great topic.

  23. I read something somewhere online a while ago that a mistake in knitting catches bad luck, so when I find a small mistake, I leave it there. I fix the big things, but a small mistake ends up in everything I knit.

  24. I come from a long line of perfectionists and I, too, have struggled with the stress that has brought me in my life. The expectations either from myself or others are incrediblly wearing and leach the joy out of anything. I’m an artist and I know this one intimately. So when I heard – many years ago – about the notion of deliberately leaving in a flaw in to acknowledge you’re not setting yourself up to be “god-like”, I went with it. That said, I still walk the line with what I sell. My art and craft pieces are very well made – overly so, probably – but they are NOT perfect. I don’t want my stuff to look like a factory made products! My knitted hats … well, they’re small enough that I can fix the mistakes and do. In bigger projects for myself, not so picky. (I’m learning!)

  25. Well said! I am definitely not a perfectionist in my knitting – I prefer to leave in a mistake, rather than fix it. But that’s mostly because I’m impatient and also unsure of how to fix it. Because of this, it’s taken me a looong time to figure out how to fix my mistakes. I’m currently working on the Ramble shawl by Andrea Mowry using two-colour brioche and there are too many mistakes to count! But, there are a couple of reasons I don’t feel compelled to just rip back to the start and start over again.

    1) The mistakes generally look like they “flow” with the pattern. And if you don’t have the original pattern to compare with, you might not know they were there (maybe that’s wishful thinking). I like to think of it as “freestyle knitting”.

    2) I need to take things one step at a time. Knitting this 2-colour brioche herringbone stitch pattern in the first place was challenging enough. I am completely fine if it doesn’t come out perfect the first time. If, on the other hand, I make a second 2-colour brioche pattern in a similar design or stitch pattern, I will make sure to research ahead of time how to fix mistakes. I feel like if I was to look up and do everything at once, I would just get so overwhelmed and not do it at all. So instead, I go easy on myself and tell myself it’s not a big deal that it has mistakes, because it’s my first time doing this type of technique!

    I also love that mistakes can be referred to as “humble spots”. I think I’m going to use that from now on! :)

  26. I love this question. I am a perfectionist who suffers from “perfection paralysis” in many other areas of my life. I’ve been knitting for about two years and made a conscious decision to let things go, muddle through, and figure it out so as not to cramp my newfound knitting joy. Yarn feels more forgiving and humble, and if I make a small mistake I have no problem fudging/camouflaging it. Yarn feels more wabi-sabi to me. I think the fact that I knit alone and don’t know many other knitters helps too – I don’t compare my work with theirs (comparison is the thief of joy, right?)

    Sewing, on the other hand, feels wayyy less forgiving to me, and I often agonize over pieces being slightly misaligned or not pressing seams perfectly enough. I’m new to that craft, too. Why does there seem to be such a big difference between the two?

    • Sewing is less forgiving in a lot of ways, but I think you’ll also find as you continue to knit that you’ll come to appreciate the knitting equivalents of pressing a seam perfectly and so. When you’re first sewing, you’re happy if the pieces hold together, and after time you really start to care about different ways of finishing the seam allowances just so. That sort of thing. And I think the same is true of knitting.

    • Emily, woven fabrics (for almost the whole part) are not flexible and forgiving as knitting. The part I love about knitting is that it is not like woven fabric, where once the fabric is cut… it is DONE! With knitting, if it is wrong, you can tink, ladder or frog your way out of it.

      Keep sewing. As with everything else in life, the more you practice, the more you learn. Go to the library and look for sewing books. You can learn quite a bit on the cheap.

  27. Wonderful post, Karen. I am actually thinking of relooking at my past projects and photographing my “humble spots”. Make an interesting retrospective. Thanks for the inspiration!

  28. At a fiber fest, I overheard someone say, “If you want socks that match, buy them at the store!” I used to feel that way but now I want my handknit socks to match. As a beginner, I was more tolerant of my mistakes, but the more I knit, the more likely I am to be bothered by things like jogging stripes or, in my weaving, unintentional floats. I consider myself a seasoned knitter but an amateur at other fiber crafts and am having trouble reminding myself that I learn by experimenting and making mistakes and figuring out how to fix them. My 6-year-old granddaughter also reminds me (through her enthusiastic actions) that the process is more important than the product.

  29. lol I still can’t see the mistake in the camel one, so good job not bothering to fix that one. :-) My rule for mistakes is “keep knitting and think about it” I did that with my current project, when I purled a section that should have been knit. It’s on the front band of a cardigan, the band is supposed to be twisted broken rib. The yarn is variegated, so loads of color. I kept knitting to see if it would bother me. It did. Those misplaced purl bumps were like a neon sign. I dropped each column back about 20 rows and picked it up with a crochet hook. Got all done, and realized I had missed one row on one stitch. THAT error is known only to me, and is only visible when looking at the reverse and seeing the carried yarn. I left it.

    I find that once I know there is an error in knitting, my eye goes right to it all the time, and it drives me nuts, so I almost always wind up fixing it. While I like the sentiment expressed my Morris, and a dear friend of mine used to say her mistakes were “how you know I made it myself.” I find if I CAN fix it, I want to. I want what I make by hand to be the best that it can be. But rarely are the things I make perfect. They are simply very well made by hand with love.

  30. The topic is interesting to me because it seems to speak to how we view our work. I’ve long been trained that anything with my name on it should be error free: no spelling or grammar errors – perfect and ready for publishing. Consequently I take that practice to my craft. That’s not being stuck with perfectionism; instead it’s making sure work I produce is the best representation of what I can do. With knitting, we’ve long battled “home made vs hand made”. I’m proud to produce hand made error free items. That’s what works for me. Leaving an error in my work makes me feel like ‘The Princess and the Pea’ and I just can’t do it!!

  31. Mistakes are good because they give you a chance to really understand what you’ve done. Then you can choose to continue or re-route. The only goal should be that we’re happy with the end result.

  32. My mother DEMANDED perfection in everything. As a result, I was a paralyzed perfectionist for decades. It RUINED my life! I can still do it, catch myself and have THAT conversation with myself where I recall that my father and grandmother (who both technically raised me until their deaths when I was young) expected only my best effort.

    My father was half Black Foot, and everyday teacher. He taught me the Indian way of purposely making a mistake at the beginning of anything created. I continue to this day.

    For my mother, good enough was not good enough until I became an adult and had mastered all my endeavors. Then she told me nothing would be noticed on a galloping horse. She could have told me that earlier!

    Learning any new skill takes time, and with it many mistakes along the way. That is the only way we learn. Looking back at my knitting proves that point in spades.

    If a mistake bothers you or changes the stitch count, CHANGE IT. Otherwise, consider changing it. Being more of a process knitter, I most usually go back and correct mistakes if I feel they are a real problem. I like to knit ‘well’, pay closer attention to gifts, but for me, if it is not offensive or will not be noticed on a galloping horse… I am good to go.

    Thank you Karen. I have enjoyed this question session.

  33. I have no idea where the mistake is in the camel cardigan! I make mistakes throughout my knitting. I guess I am pretty terrible at it, which is a source of much frustration for me. I am terribly inconsistent in my stitches. I don’t row out (where my purl rows and knit rows are different gauges in stockinette knit flat), but I’ll have patches of ladders, the odd accidental dropped yarnover (in stockinette, no less!) and my stitches are just all kinds of sizes. My knit fabric just looks kind of sloppy or “rustic” as another commenter put it. As long as I have this problem, I tend not to sweat mistakes as such, because stuff already tends to kind of look super-duper handmade. I hope this changes with time. I also hope that this feature of my already-made garments vanishes with time, as Elizabeth Zimmerman once theorized it must.

    Because messy and amateurish are already adjectives I’d use for my knits, mistakes on top don’t shatter any illusions of attainable perfection for me. How I long for that day, tho.

  34. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Interesting and insightful, as always! I don’t actually knit very often, but I crochet and sew a lot. And I’ve found over the years that if I’m making a project for someone else, (and I do often,) I will always correct my mistakes. But when it comes to projects for myself… I’m willing to let a few things slide here and there. For me, it’s enough to know that I have the capability to fix it, and I can make something perfect… if I want to.

  35. Mistakes…..sometimes starting to knit the pattern was a mistake. I didnt read through to the finishing…….I do not like steeking. That is a mistake. But mistakes in my knitting. As most of you have said, if it bothers me, or will upset the stitch count, I rip and redo. What I find a big mistake with my knitting is asking for another’s option. Now that is a mistake, on my part. Those who deem it a good thing to point out my mistakes……..think it through. I knit it, I read the directions, either misinterpreted or ignored them and you don’t think I know it…….I knit cables, love to add them to my knitting. Sometimes they go cocky, sometimes they go wonky. It’s all part of life. I struggled with perfectionism and collapsed because of it. Now, whatever life does, I go along.

  36. I tend to leave my mistakes be as long as they don’t mess with the functionality of the piece, like if I need to fix the fit or something. Otherwise unless its those first few rows that are setting up the a texture pattern I leave it be. I used to be “well its handmade” but nowadays I like seeing where I’ve been in my earlier projects.

    I seem to remember mistakes a little better then perfect knitting so a mistake is kinda like a time capsule back to that moment for me. Now when I look at my first sweater and I see the 20 purl stitches on the raglan sleeve that are suppose to be in the center of the sleeve it makes me smile instead of annoyed. That mistake makes me remember how cool it was to knit that sweater and how little I understood but the excitement I had while doing it.

  37. My approach to mistakes is similar to yours: I tend to obsess about them only if the item in question is for someone else. For myself, I will only fix it if, a, the fix is easy, or b, the mistake will bug the heck out of me.

  38. After knitting for a couple of years, I have now learnt to let go.. and mistakes (small ones) only add character to a piece and make a handmade piece truly handmade.

  39. This reminds me of a very vivid memory in which I dropped 5-6 patterned brioche stitches off my needles (a few rows away from a finished shawl) while taking the city bus to work. I immediately threw myself on the floor of the bus (in my work dress and in utter panic) to fix the mistake. I even received some cheers from fellow riders once the crisis was averted.

    Sometimes our mistakes or subsequent fixes are all part of the memory of making that finished project.

  40. Thank you so much for your post, Karen ! I was about to rip my fabric : I’m knitting stripes in the round for the first time of my life (would you believe it ? I’m 63 …), and I’m not satisfied at all, but after having read your post, I’ve decided to go on, and never mind : I’ll do a better job next time. The important is : I’ve learned !

  41. Hi Karen, I loved this post.
    Why is it that when someone says to me, ‘Oh, did you make that? It’s lovely’, my response is always something like ‘yes, it turned out quite well, apart from this little bit here where I went wrong’, or some such comment.
    On the whole my approach is to wear the item, and it’s usually a fitting issue that makes me go back and change something. For example, I made this cardigan, and only realised my mistake on the back once it was completely finished and sewn up, but there was not way I was going to rework it.
    (Not sure if the link works)
    The thing that does bug me, however, is that the shoulder seam is a little too wide for me, and I have should have foreseen this.
    Ho hum, onwards and upwards, as they say…

    • It is the weirdest tendency. It’s like when someone says “this is DELICIOUS!” and you respond, “I feel like it needs a little more salt.” Is it simply avoidance of accepting a compliment? It’s such a hard habit to break.

  42. My grandmother calls mistakes in knitting (well any handmade/DIY thing) “the artist’s signature” because it is now unique to anyone else’s. Ever since I heard that, I’m not so hard on myself for those little mistakes.

  43. As I’ve become a more confident knitter I’m more likely to fix my mistakes. But early on, before I knew how simple it was to correct things like a misplaced purl stitch in ribbing, I left them in. Now I’m teaching a friend to knit and I like showing her all my early mistakes so she doesn’t get disheartened with her own errors. I actually really love seeing these wonky mis-stitches. They’re so human. Another time I made a mistake while watching the news and I decided to leave the error in so that I would remember the particular news story that had caused my attention to slip, as a private reminder to myself.

  44. Very thoughtful post. I keep on making mistakes as I knit, as I am, like all human beings, imperfect. If I spot it, the decision factor is similar to yours: it does not drastically alter the project and it does not bother me, I leave it there. If, however, it really bothers me or negatively impacts the entire project, I go back and fix it. The advantage of learning to fix mistakes is that making them is not a catastrophe ( unless you nearly rip out a finished sweater by trying to undo a seam, which happened to me last week). I agree we should not shy away from them, they are making us better knitters and better human beings as well, reminding us that flaws are human and we should not expect perfection from ourselves or anybody else. I prefer the word “complete” than “perfect”. You are the only one to decide when a projet is complete in your eyes. It could be incomplete for someone else, but that does not matter.

  45. I would call myself a “perfectionist”, but with knitting, I can relax a bit. This is partly because I’m a adventurous beginner and very much, still learning how to fix my mistakes and read my knitting (note to self: must treat myself to a Craftsy “Fixing knitting mistakes” course. In the meantime, I’m not expecting perfection, but, I agree, with what you said–if it’s a big enough mistake to bother me, than I’ll have to fix it. As I’m still learning and have no family and very few friends who are knitters, this usually means a lot of ripping back, sometimes to the start. By the way, Karen, thank you for your blog–it’s always so helpful, fun and inspiring. Hoping you’ll do another “summer of basics”, cause I’ll be there–still nervous about sewing and not a quick enough knitter.

  46. In one of my hats, I made a mistake that brings me so much joy. It was the simplest hat — 100% garter stitch — and for a single stitch in a single purl row, I knitted. No idea why. But that one tiny stitch of stockinette in the rows and rows of garter makes me laugh every time I notice it.

    I sometimes have a perfectionistic kick, though I’m not usually a perfectionist. If a piece is for myself, I’m much more likely to ignore or try to disguise a mistake rather than fix it; if it’s for someone else, I would usually rip back (as long as I catch it within a few rows/a few minutes of effort). But that concept of the “presence of hand” is so beautiful — maybe it will make me relax a bit more about mistakes in pieces for my loved ones.

  47. There are mistakes and there are mistakes. Some mistakes typify the programming thought “It’s a design feature, not a bug.” Those are mistakes that take a piece in a new direction – YOs instead of a M1 for example might lead to a lacy look that alters the original concept, but is welcome anyway. Most of these I leave in and make the new normal, working other improvised mid-course corrections to accommodate.

    But mistakes that compromise wearability, or that stare with saucy impudence back at me every time I look at the project – those I fix. Missed cable crossings, lumpy seams, that one repeat of a stranded or intarsia design that’s a mismatch to its mates, floppy front button bands, all earn my ire and retribution.

    The corollary of all of this is that I try to AVOID these sorts of catastrophic mistakes whenever possible. I knit cardigan fronts side by side at the same time. Ditto with sleeves, so color placement and shaping are row-by-row comparable. I start with sleeves, using them a giant gauge swatches to confirm my pre-project counts. I use tons of markers between repeats in lace and stranding, so I can proof against prior work as I go. And for complex lace, I’ll keep a practice piece in heavier yarn going, to try out the tricky bits on a one or two-repeat wide swatch, prior to committing fragile lace yarn and risking ripping back rows of hundreds of stitches. I won’t say my work is blunder-proof, but as the biggest blunderer working on it, I do try to make it hard to make mistakes in the first place.

  48. I have heard that Native Americans (who were amazing artists and crafters — just look at their intricate beadwork) would always leave some mistake in a piece, because it reminded them that only the Great Spirit is perfect.

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  51. I’m not sure exactly how I decide, but I definitely follow the rule that if it will bother me then I’ll fix it. If I can live with it, I won’t. I once re-started a cable knit vest 3 times (after making considerable progress), because the mistake bothered me and I decided the only thing to do is start again from the beginning. Alternatively, just yesterday I made a mistake in the Wonder Woman shawl and decided to leave it. I get a strange pride in knowing which items I’ve knit that are actually “perfect” and which are not – although I know that I’m the only one who can tell. A few years ago I knit 4 hats for nieces and nephews and didn’t realize until all 4 were blocked that I’d made the same mistake on all of them. But the kids didn’t notice so it didn’t matter!

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  53. I’m way late to this party, but I love this conversation and all of these ideas. I also love the “humble spot” idea! The phrase “presence of hand” reminded me of a letterpress course I took. I adored the professor, and when someone lamented that they had made a mistake on a project, she replied with a grin “It’s not a mistake. It’s a handmade object.” It was said both jokingly and not-jokingly, and I’ve kept that phrase in my pocket ever since.

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