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Home : Community : Newsletters & Stories

Newsletters & Stories

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A Journey of 1,000 Steps Begins with a Single Potholder
Knitting has taught me more about work, achievement, and perseverance than any class I ever took or any job I ever held,

I often procrastinate because the results of what I do can never live up to that dream of perfection I carry in my head. Rather than fail at something, I just won't finish it. I know I won't play the harmonica at Carnegie Hall; my drawings of cats won't hang in the Louvre; the book I write won't be “Wuthering Heights” -- so why keep working at it?

But when a Girl Scout taught me the knit stitch, more years ago than anyone wants to hear about, something compelled me to stick with it until I finished my first project. It was a pink acrylic potholder, and it was awful, but I wasn't discouraged -- I had done something most people freely admitted they couldn't do. (This was back in the hippie era, when crocheting was groovy but knitting was square. Almost no one I knew had the least idea how to knit; it was viewed as a rare, strange activity, like bee-keeping.) I kept making potholders until casual observers couldn't see the imperfections in them, then I went on to make my first scarf, first hat, and finally first sweater. By that time I had an inkling that perfection might be out of reach, but finishing a job, doing my best and constantly improving wasn't -- and, often, the faults I saw in my work existed more in my head, with the “perfect” ideal, than in fact.

While working my way up from potholders to sweaters, it dawned on me that even the biggest job is really just a series of small jobs, each one very do-able on its own. I knew how to make potholders; all I had to do was keep knitting a little longer, make several pieces, add seaming and maybe some decreases, and I had a sweater. Later I could add fancier stitches and more shaping. The worst was over once I'd made the potholder!

Still, there were setbacks, like the time I almost finished a sweater but ran out of yarn halfway up the second sleeve. Never mind that I didn't buy enough yarn in the first place, or that I didn't work both sleeves at the same time; I sewed in the finished sleeve, set the whole thing aside and ignored it for months. Then I found more of the yarn I needed, bought it and dug the sweater out again—but, alas, I had forgotten how to shape the sleeve to make it match the other. The finished sleeve was sewn in so tight I couldn't find the stitches, and I had put the unfinished one on a stitch holder and couldn't remember what size needles I had used. When I'd packed the sweater away I thought I'd remember the particulars of its construction. I was wrong. If I had only kept notes, or, as we said in the bureaucratic world I left recently, "documented the process," I could have avoided a lot of trouble. It was one lesson I never forgot -- now I keep notes on how I made everything from the mummies for Halloween, to where I planted the daylilies and what the cat is allergic to.

That sweater taught me another lesson: that deferring a goal doesn't have to mean giving up on it. Afterwards I
could pull out other neglected knitting projects (with the help of my notes), wade back in and finish them, earning a feeling of accomplishment that is much easier to live with than the guilt of knowing a never-to-be-finished sweater is buried at the bottom of my stash. And if I can revive a long-forsaken cardigan lacking collar, sleeves and button band, and pick up where I left off,  and finish it -- why not finish learning to play the harmonica, draw the cats, write the book?

After all, I've already made the potholder.


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