Mistaken Wisdom

Fixing feather and fan

A good quote came up in my Facebook news feed today.

Don’t cling to mistakes just because you spent a lot of time making them.

It’s attributed to Dr. Laura the radio psychologist, so I don’t think she was referring to weaving and knitting, but the words do sum up my philosophy a bit when it comes to crafting.  I discussed it a little the other day in my post on User Error.  I often come across people who embrace their mistakes and call them design elements even when they catch the errors before the work is finished. I just can’t adopt that viewpoint. Try to fix the mistakes when you can and as soon as you notice them and that will help you produce a better product. The time you have invested is wasted if the finished item makes you unhappy or you can’t sell it.

There is an oft repeated bit of folklore people use in defense of flaws that the Amish (or the Native Americans or the other artisan of the culture/ancient civilization) made a deliberate mistake in their work so as not to be prideful and offend God.  I think this is only a myth. It’s not often that we achieve perfection in our craft, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for it or fix it when we can.  Yes, you can probably find mistakes in my work, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t try to eliminate them. I will fix what I can when I can, even if that sometime involves starting over.

I once read in one of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books (I am paraphrasing since I can’t find the exact quote) “admire your work often, that is when you will find the mistakes while they are still easier to fix.” If we persist in clinging to and excusing mistakes just because we have already spent a lot of time on the project, we won’t become better at our craft.

When I teach knitting or weaving, I tell my students how well they are doing and how much they are improving and other good and truthful things about their work. But I also point out mistakes and discuss how they might have happened and how they can be fixed. I wouldn’t be a good teacher if I didn’t. I do assure them that the reason I am good at fixing things is that I make a lot of mistakes and I do my best to figure out how to fix them. Sometimes when trying to fix a knitting mistake, you can make it worse, and then have to rip out.  (Sometimes the only fix is to rip.) But if you never try to fix the mistakes you will never learn how to. Finding and fixing mistakes is a skill in and of its own that should be embraced as much as the craft.  By the way, I didn’t have to rip out the project for the mistake I am fixing above. I fixed it, and the afghan came out perfect.